Ni una mas. Ni una mas. Ni una mas.
La Ruta- written by Isaac Gomez and directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member, Sandra Marquez- takes place 20 years ago, yet this story is full of similarities to the world in which we now live. Here in the United States, we have the Me Too Movement. Latin America has the Ni Una Mas Movement.
Isaac Gomez’s La Ruta follows femicide (the deliberate killing of women because they are women) in Cuidad Juárez. It is important to note that femicide is a global reality that isn’t unique to Mexico. Since the early 1990’s, thousands of women have disappeared without a trace in Juárez.
La Ruta begins with friends Marisela (Charín Alvarez) and Yoli (Sandra Delgado) waiting for Yoli’s daughter, Brenda (Cher Álvarez) who works the night shift at the maquiladora (a factory in Mexico run by a foreign company and exporting its products to that country). When Brenda doesn’t get off the bus, suspicions arise on her co-worker and friend, Ivonne (Steppenwolf Ensemble member, Karen Rodriguez). But, Marisela worries that Brenda was murdered like her daughter, Rubi, who disappeared several months before Brenda. The action of the play tracks these women’s lives over the course of two years.
Karen Rodriguez truthfully shines through her performance as Selena look-alike, Ivonne, who carries so much trauma, guilt, and grief. Mari Marroquin, Isabella Gerasole, Laura Crotte, and Alice da Cunha thoughtfully and carefully hold the world of the play in their hands through their performances. Cher Álvarez’s portrayal of sixteen year old Brenda is nuanced and specific, compared to the doe-eyed teenager trope we’ve seen before. Sandra Delgado and Charín Alvarez play off each other is one of the most iconic and powerful dynamic duos I’ve ever seen onstage. Name a more iconic dynamic duo. I’ll wait.
La Ruta has made Steppenwolf history twice. First by producing a play written by a Mexican playwright and featuring a cast solely comprised of all Latinas, all on the mainstage. Having this play produced at Steppenwolf is huge because it reminds us not only do our stories matter, they demand to be heard after being silenced for so long. I hope seeing this story produced at Steppenwolf will inspire other Chicago theatres to not only produce our stories, but that our stories will sell their houses!
Watching La Ruta made me feel things I didn’t expect to feel. While watching these women fight for their lives, I felt extremely privileged because I was born on the other side of border. I felt privileged in that I don’t have to worry whether or not I’ll make it home when I am getting off of work. As a Latina theatre-maker, I felt seen. I felt like I exist in this world that thinks it knows Mexicans. La Ruta it taught me how to feel again, how to listen and feel for these women, and that it’s okay to ugly cry in public.
Isaac Gomez has crafted not only a lyrical and necessary narrative. He has also brilliantly crafted a call to action on a series of events that have transpired for far too long without any punishment for the perpetrators. Isaac clearly notes, “Every single woman in this play is based on a real person. And although some names have been changed for their protection, the violence they face and their resilience have not. I made a promise to these women that their stories would be heard by as many people as humanly possible, and through this world premiere at Steppenwolf, we are one step closer to keeping that promise — to bear witness and carry their stories forward.”
“They let him go.”-Marisela
No, it is not. La ruta isn’t just a bus. To the women and their families, la ruta is the excavation of secrets and violence against women within the entire patriarchal system. It’s the government, the police, owners of the maquiladoras, the boyfriends, drug traffickers and sex traffickers.
La Ruta isn’t a musical, but it is a play with music. The music and songs are used as a storytelling technique, wherein they play a vital role. Laura Crotte (Desamaya) leads the ensemble through perfectly timed music. Traditionally, the songs featured in La Ruta: “La Bruja” (The Witch), “Cielito Lindo” (Lovely Sweet Ones), “Son Del Obrero” (Worker’s Song), and “Sietes Soles” (Seven Suns) are sung by men. Hearing them sung by seven Latinas on Steppenwolf’s stage challenges the very notion of what la ruta stands for. It further confronts the world’s perception of Mexican and machismo culture.
The set design by Regina Garcia is fundamentally el barrio. Light pink crosses with names of women and girls adorned with various flowers are thoughtfully placed surrounding the thrust of the stage. The security bars that cover the windows, can be seen as a barrier. But their symmetrical filigree is incredibly familiar for a girl from Downtown Los Angeles. Projections designed by Rasean Davonte Johnson color in the psyche of the women of Juárez and Regina Garcia’s set, the effect of which is of strikingly powerful.
Immediately following La Ruta was a post-show discussion. I like to stay for these discussions to hear what resonated for folks, their thoughts, and to see if there some methods the moderator used that I can add to my artist tool belt. But this discussion completely rubbed me the wrong way when the moderator didn’t know about the status of the women in Juárez today after multiple audience members asked. After the third or fourth request, the moderator instructed us to, “Go ask someone working front of house, they should know.” Luckily, there was an audience member whom is a professor of anthropology from Juárez, Alejandro Lugo who spoke up and wrote a book (Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts) on the missing women. Then, the moderator directed the specific questions about the women to Professor Lugo. Who is responsible for answering these questions, the expert of the theatre producing La Ruta? What happens to these questions when the expert isn’t present?
The fact that Steppenwolf didn’t know whether or not femicide is still happening in Juárez felt like a disgrace and silencing the current stories of the missing women and their loved ones.
I decided to find out some answers for myself. In 2015, The National Citizen Femicide Observatory found that each day, roughly six women are killed in Mexico. As Isaac Gomez reminds us, “Once you know, you can’t unknow.” Now, you can’t unknow that every day, in Mexico, at least six women are murdered just for being women.
BIAS ALERT: Isaac Gomez is a mentor and friend.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow,
Production Title: La Ruta
Steppenwolf Theatre Co. (1650 N. Halsted St.)
Now playing through January 27, 2019
Charín Alvarez (Marisela), Cher Álvarez (Brenda), Laura Crotte (Desamaya), Alice da Cunha (Woman of Juárez), Sandra Delgado (Yoli), Isabella Gerasole (Woman of Juárez), Mari Marroquin (Zaide), and Karen Rodriguez (Ivonne)
Playwright: Isaac Gomez
Director: Sandra Marquez
Scenic Design: Regina Garcia
Costume Design: Christine Pascual
Lighting Design: Jesse Klug
Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel
Projection Design: Rasean Davonte Johnson
Music Direction: Zacbe Pichardo
Vocal Direction: Andra Velis Simon
Dramaturg: Polly Hubbard
Fight Choreography: Gaby Labotka
Company Voice and Text Coach: Gigi Buffington
Artistic Producers: Greta and Patrick Zakem
Production Liaison: Karena Fiorenza
Production Manager: Brianna Parry
Casting Director: JC Clementz, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Christine D. Freeburg
Assistant Stage Manager: Amanda Landis