A Two River ‘Crossing’ on Bridge Ave

Former Two River Theater associate artistic director KJ Sanchez returns to Red Bank to perform her autobiographical solo HIGHWAY 47 — part of the free CROSSING BORDERS festival of works by Mexican-American playwrights.

When the curtain came down (literally) on the final performance of Jacques Brel at Two River Theater, you’d reckon that the folks at the Bridge Avenue artspace would take a bit of a beach-blanket breather, prior to prepping for the September start of the new season.

Well, you’d be wrong, as Artistic Director John Dias and his TRTC team retire the English-Français phrasebook in favor of an ambitious, four-day, free-of-charge bilingual project that brings them almost to summer’s doorstep.

Produced with a nod to New Jersey’s fast-growing Mexican population, Crossing Borders showcases a set of new works for the stage by young Mexi-merican playwrights; the heart of a festival that also comes equipped with live music, discussion, dance, food and — among other surprises — the return of a familiar face from TRTC seasons past. And did we mention that it’s all free?

Tanya Saracho writes and directs two separate offerings in the free CROSSING BORDERS series, going on at Two River Theater from June 9-12.

Curated by acclaimed theatrical director Jerry Ruiz, the festival unfolds between Thursday, June 9 and Sunday, June 12 inside the Two River building’s “black-box” Marion Huber Theater, and centers around readings of four plays that “break away from stereotypical depictions of Mexican or Mexican-American characters,” in the words of Ruiz.

“The issue of ethnic identity is a complicated one,” the director adds, “and this festival is designed to allow for a multiplicity of perspectives.”

Ruiz mans the director’s megaphone for the June 9 kickoff, a transposition of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to present-day Northern Mexico, in which the matriarch of a faded upper-class family comes to grips with the loss of the family estate to the local drug cartel. Written by actor-playwright-director Tanya Saracho, El Nogalar plays at 7pm, preceded with a 6pm Festival Launch Party catered by nearby Señor Pepper’s.

In the Raúl Castillo play Two Tears in a Bucket, a New York woman visits the Texas border town in which her deceased lover grew up — meeting his estranged family and uncovering the truth about his past.  Felix Solis directs the play reading, presented at 7pm on June 10.

The afternoon and evening of June 11 offer up two full-length plays, beginning at 2pm with an English language reading of the Karen Zacarías play Mariela in the Desert. The drama of a Mexican artist family forced to confront uncomfortable secrets as its patriarch nears death will also be presented in Spanish (under Tanya Saracho’s direction) at 3pm on June 12.

Frequent followers of Two River Theater will remember KJ Sanchez as the company’s former Associate Artistic Director, who departed last year to establish her own troupe under the name American Records. A director of several mainstage productions (including a fun version of Noel Coward’s Private Lives set in Argentina) and co-creator (with Emily Ackerman) of the celebrated Iraq War veterans’ chronicle ReENTRY, Sanchez told redbankgreen in a 2010 interview of her life growing up as the youngest of twelve children in a New Mexico ranching family.

”I felt like I didn’t fit in,” the future theater professional explained. “The pigs and the steers that I brought to the fair weren’t as good as everyone else’s.”

Sanchez explores the history of her hometown — and an inter-family land feud that nearly destroyed both clan and community — when she returns to the stage that she praised as “better than any grad school” on the night of Saturday, June 11. She’ll be performing her autobiographical one-woman show Highway 47 at 7pm, under Ackerman’s direction.

The Crossing Borders festival wraps up on July 12 with a special “Neighbrhood Party” that begins at 5pm, and features performances by Xochipilli Compañía de Danza Mexicana as well as live music from Jorge Ventura y sus Fantasticos.

Admission to all of the events is free of charge, and attendees can reserve tickets online here. Check the TRTC website as well for updated info on casts and special guests for a panel discussion presented at 4pm on June 11.

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