Lisa Ramirez’s To The Bone is not only a vicious melodrama about the lives of a group of immigrant women working in a New York poultry factory, but also a philosophical disquisition. The disquisition is just as vicious as the melodrama, showing what happens to people when they live outside the law. And by outside the law, I don’t mean that the workers are undocumented -- though most of them are -- or that their illegal status makes them ersatz criminals. No, Ramirez is after something more elusive and terrifying: a world where the law does not exist, and, paradoxically, is always in full force.
The daring Ubuntu Theater Project is always flirting with some combination of high art theater, rip-out-the-gut tales of woe, and liberationist politics. Heady, artsy, and visceral, the company provides a much-needed antidote to the toothless posturing that passes for political theater in the Bay Area. In To the Bone, director Michael Socrates Moran and his excellent cast plunge into Ramirez’s unsettling slice of everyday nightmare with a subtle and sure step.
Strikingly, our first glimpse of this hell is one of simple routine. A house full of women struggles to maintain what seems to be an unending cycle of work, home, food, sleep, and work again. It’s close to an animal’s life, though these animals are cursed with dreams and imagination.
The haunted Juana (a terrific and subtle Sarita Ocón) falls into a fugue state every night, reliving the moment before her daughter’s disappearance at the border. Olga, the only one with a green card, is bitter and ready for revolt, while desperately trying to guide her skater punk daughter Lupe to a better life. And the good-natured Reina’s front of cautious optimism hides a brutal realist who cannot and will not imagine escape.