The view of the stage is a view of a wall, impenetrable and white, with a jagged ladder running partway up the side, like smoke rising up to a slot of a window that marks the sparse allotment of light and air in a space that might be a prison. To the right, man (Raúl Mendoza) sits on the floor, back against the wall, knees to his chest, barely distinguishable from the bags and bottles that lie beside him.
Mexico’s Teatro Línea de Sombra’s “Amarillo” begins with a simple image to tell the story of a man named Juan—or Pedro, Fernando, Manuel, Hugo, Javier, José, Luis—who has crossed the border between Mexico and the United States and vanished. He runs and leaps against the wall again and again, saying in Spanish to an audience held in the accusing glare of bright house lights, “What are you looking at if I’m nobody?” He traces his body with his fingers, mapping its presence with gestures that indicate its absence: hanging, slitting, shooting. His face is doubled in close-up by a projection that is soon replaced by the faces of others who have disappeared; his body is fanned out and repeated in white light like an outspread wing as he dangles precariously high from a rung of the ladder. He is a ghost.
“Amarillo” unfolds in dense layers of sound, material and projections in a series of tableaux that present the briefest of glimpses into a variety of lives that flash by as fast as bodies clinging to a moving train—just one way, we are reminded, immigrants find their way onto American soil or, rather, American sand, which is poured onto the stage in copious quantities, often from punctured cellophane bags, like piped icing. The actors speak of dehydration as much as they speak of border patrol and coyotes—if he is gone, does it matter if he is dead, hiding or erased from the eyes of all who hunt for him, which also include the women (variously, Antígona González, Alicia Laguna, María Luna and Vianey Salinas) left behind. Throughout, the buzzsaw voice of Jesús Cuevas, dark and pervasive, wails in echo and counterpoint. (Irene Hsiao)
Teatro Línea de Sombra at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 East Grand, (312)595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, $25-$54. Through October 29.