One of the central themes of Christian spirituality is the understanding of all the faithful as pilgrims, travelling through this world, on the way to a heavenly home. It is also a central theme of Luis Alfaro’s truly extraordinary “The Travelers.”
Among the most ancient of Christian traditions is that of the desert monastics, who take the idea of another home quite literally, abandoning their earthly homes for their monastery, where they endeavor to live as if they had already arrived in heaven.
Of course, the obvious difficulty is that no matter how much one might want to escape the world for the monastery, one can not leave one’s self behind. And the self invariably comes to the desert carrying a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage.
The traditions teach that it takes a lifetime to form a monk. The process requires that each monk, both in community and in the solitary confinement of the cell, must wrestle with and ultimately conquer internal demons that separate each one from God. To bridge the gap of separation between human and God is an absurd, perhaps hopeless ambition, beyond any possibility of achievement unless granted by virtue of a grace given by a God whose existence is, at best, uncertain.
Paradoxically, each traveling monk who arrives at the monastery vows to stay there forever.
“The Travelers”, then, are a group of monks, or would be monks, or monks-in-the-making, or monks by accident, or monks by force. One at least was left as a baby. Another cannot remember living anywhere else. One arrives at the start of the play, shot in the chest, perhaps a Christ figure, perhaps not. One disabled monk lives in the bathtub because he hasn’t the use of his legs. And here they are, starving, longing for God, in search of forgiveness, salvation, a good meal, a good laugh, a bit of understanding.
After the arrival of the wounded man, nothing happens, so they talk. They talk about life. They talk about their pasts and their possible futures. They speak of their favorite saints. One is in love with St. Teresa, as gentle as a dandelion. The new arrival, rapidly being swallowed by the brotherhood, avows a taste for St. Christopher, the patron of travelers. Another dreams of his life as a former Circus Clown.
All of these reflections on the meaning of life and the sustainability of vocations are being brought to a head because the archdiocese has decided that the Church will no longer support the monks. And private donations have dried up a long time ago. It seems there is little relevancy for these eccentric outsiders, addled with God talk. No wonder Brother Ogie prefers to remain in his bathtub.
The men have been soul travelers all their lives, but now it seems they must travel on physically. But can they? Will they?
“The Travelers’ is a play that trucks in theatre of the absurd, so very little actually happens. The plot, such as it is, goes around in circles, the dialogue hides as much as it reveals.
But, make no mistake, this is wonderful, meaty stuff, delivered by a superb ensemble of actors, that will stay with you. These monks are kin to Beckett’s Estragon and Vladimir in “Waiting for Godot.”
The reference to Beckett’s great work is no accident. With “The Travelers,” Luis Alfaro may well have given us a masterpiece.
“The Travelers” continues an extended run at the Magic Theatre through March 12, 2023. For further information, click here.
Rating: ***** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“The Travelers” by Luis Alfaro. World premier produced by Magic Theatre. Director: Catherine Castellanos. Props Designer: Samantha Alexa. Creative Consultant: Tierra Allen. Assistant Director: Perla Vanessa Barraza. Costume Designer: Abra Berman. Research Dramaturgy: Maria Frangos. Technical Director: David Garnder. Costume Design Assistant: Rachel Heiman. Sound Design: Sarah Huddleston. Movement Director: Patricia Ong. Set Designer: Tanya Orellana. Stage Manager: Jo Davita Ortiz. Projection Designer: Joan Osato. Lighting Designer: grisel/gg torres. Assistant Stage Manager: Lauren Quan. Composer: Christopher Sauceda.
Brother Juan: Juan Amador. Brother Danny: Daniel Durque-Estrada. Brother Yiyo: Guillermo “Yiyo” Ornelas. Brother Brian: Brian Rivera. Brother Ogie: Olgie Zuleta. Brother Nancho: Kinan Valdez.