Jesuit Performance of BOXCAR
“Boxcar” Receives Rave Review by Martha Humphries
The Jesuit Philothespic Society, in association with the Jesuit Multicultural Student Union, produced the award-winning play Boxcar by Silvia Gonzalez S., a play about risk, courage, and desperation based on an actual incident in Sierra Blanca, Texas, in July 1987. Tragedy struck this small west Texas town when 18 men died in a sweltering boxcar left on a rail siding. The men, who were journeying northwards into the United States in hopes of a better life, suffocated in temperatures that reached 130 degrees.
At Jesuit’s invitation, the award-winning playwright, who currently lives in Powell Butte, Oregon, attended the opening night performance. “This is the first high school to do the play. I wanted to see if it could work at this level because it is such heavy duty material,” says Gonzalez. “I just had a sense that this performance was going to be something special, and it was. It’s like a professional production. I can’t believe they are kids.”Father Gene Sessa, Jesuit teacher and director, says the play has two purposes – to tell the story of the immigrants and to provide a better understanding about the struggles they face. To prepare the students for the play, Fr. Sessa arranged for them to speak with someone who actually came into the country in a boxcar and took them to visit the local Holocaust Museum. While at the museum, they encountered a man who himself had been transported in a boxcar during World War II.
While the play deals largely with the issue of immigration, it also explores the questions of a person’s roots and cultural identity. The cast members come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Frank Arrieta, a senior at Jesuit who was born in Venezuela, played Roberto, a border patrol officer with Mexican American heritage. Arrieta, who had never acted before, took on the role of Roberto just three weeks before the play opened when the student who was originally cast in the role came down with mononucleosis. Struggling with the “Boxcar” Receives Rave Reviewsconflicts between his job and his heritage, Roberto is one of the main characters of the play. “For a young kid, Arrieta has his passion,” says Gonzalez. “That’s something special for a young man to portray all those emotions.” Two other students also stepped in to fill roles just nine days before the play opened.Jesuit’s Social Justice Club, Amnesty International, Debate Club, Drama Department, and Honors English Seminar, held additional discussions with the author prior to the performance. When she read about the incident in Sierra Blanca, Gonzalez felt compelled to do something. “I knew this was going to happen again and again. I felt I had to do something. Somehow inspiration hit me to write some scenes for this play. The characters just spoke to me. It was the first play I had ever written focusing on immigration issues.”