“Augusta and Noble” Shines Light on Uncertain Life of Being an Undocumented Immigrant
by Conor Green
“Augusta and Noble,” produced by the Depaul Theatre School, is a story of self discovery and acceptance. It successfully uses the traditional coming-of-age story formula to express the burdens and identity struggles that encumber immigrants in America.
The play begins on the eve of Gabi Castillo’s first day of high school at none other than Northside College Prep. However, instead of packing her bag and getting ready for bed, she is having a hushed conversation with her father, played by Thalis Karatsolis-Chanikian, late into the night. Her father is trying to explain to her that he must go back to Mexico because her abuelo is very ill. Gabi, played by Mariano Castro, is visibly upset and struggles to understand why he would abandon her and the rest of his family the night before she starts a new and very intimidating chapter in her life. Before she knows it, he is out the door. Something seems off about the situation, but Gabi does not know exactly what.
That night, Gabi is terrorized in her dreams by a “coyote” who is intent on claiming Gabi's stuffed bunny as payback for his brutish attempts to get her parents over the border before her birth. The character of the “coyote” surely adds some artistic value to the plot, but it seems forced. When Gabi wakes up the next morning in a cold sweat, all she remembers is that she had a nightmare. This foreshadowing establishes some dramatic irony in the story. The audience now knows that Gabi and her family came to the U.S. illegally, while Gabi is completely in the dark about it.
As Gabi gets ready for school, her mother shouts, “Remember to pick up Jesus from the neighbor’s after school! I’m working late, you have to make dinner!” Despite her mother’s very intense demeanor, it is obvious that she cares a lot about Gabi and wants her to be successful. Because it is Gabi’s first day, her mother insists on taking the Blue Line and the Kimball bus with her to school so that she doesn’t get lost. The commute from her home on Augusta Boulevard and Noble Street is rough for Gabi, but she believes that the quality of education at Northside is worth the trouble.
At school, Gabi is immediately overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of Northside, which is seamlessly conveyed. Never in her life had she been in such a fast-paced, competitive learning environment. The stage artists deserve a lot of credit for the accuracy in which Northside’s building is portrayed. The play incorporated defining aspects of Northside’s building, such as the POW/MIA flag waving out in front and the iconic maroon lockers.
Gabi eventually finds refuge in her fourth block World Studies class, where she meets her soon-to-be best friend Ricardo Wojciechowski, played by Gregory Fields. The teacher, Ms. Chang, assigns a project that requires each student to interview someone who came to America as an immigrant. Gabi immediately thinks of her mother and runs home right after school to prepare her questions. When Gabi’s mother finally gets home from work, Gabi is sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her. Gabi asks her mother how she came to America and why she did it, but her mother is visibly uncomfortable by the questions. She refuses to say anything more than, “I wanted a better life,” leaving Gabi very frustrated. At this point, the script and storyline are starting to become a bit too predictable. How can Gabi not see through the deceit of her mother?
Gabi goes back to school the next day empty handed and has to explain to her teacher that her mother would not answer the questions. It is only after a heartfelt one-to-one with her teacher that Gabi starts to understand the magnitude of the situation. That night, Gabi confronts her mother and demands to know the truth. Her mother tearfully explains how she and her husband (Gabi’s father) had made the journey across the desert while she was pregnant and that she had given birth to Gabi along the way. She then says that Gabi’s father has to cross the desert again to see Gabi’s abuelo, which terrifies Gabi. Gabi is in shock and doesn’t know what to make of it all. Eventually, she offers gratitude to her mother for all the sacrifices she made. If it wasn’t for her, she would have never been able to go to a school as great as Northside. This is by far the most moving scene of the play, as it illustrates why people risk it all to come to the United States in pursuit of a better life.
Overall, the play was very strong, even with an unspectacular script. Not only was the acting and stage art phenomenal, but the story’s central theme is one that is more important than ever in today’s society.