In the near future, people wear wristbands that trace their movements. Police are private contractors, smartphones contain all a citizen's data and convicts are detained in for-profit prisons. The world of Camino is closer to ours than Minority Report. Any day, we could fall headlong into this lifestyle. Just wait.
But Camino, the premiere production of the Hiawatha Project, is still a kind of science fiction. Yes, writer Anya Martin based her script on the true story of Milton Mejia, a young Honduran immigrant who was stuck in a private prison. And yes, you will find familiar horrors, like backfiring computer systems and psychopathic corrections officers. But Camino takes a step farther, into a land of talking birds and the Government Private Sector, America's official corporate wing.
Satirizing the details of this true story will affect people differently. The style of the Hiawatha Project is to combine movement, multimedia and mythology -- but above all to produce plays of social concern. Certainly, Camino is courageous, illustrating the cruelties of our ever-tightening corporate police state. And Martin uses humor to make her story bearable; dialogue is smart, sharp and witty, not to mention spoken in three languages.
But you may wonder: Why all the video projections? Why must the coyote -- an idiom immigrants use to describe human traffickers from Latin America -- be a literal coyote? Camino is clever, but with such serious nonfiction, the folklore and high-tech background can be distracting. In one scene, a Congolese man describes his mother being mutilated by militiamen. In another, a flock of birds argue about how to ford a river. It's like sticking an Anderson Cooper segment in the middle of Watership Down. Some people will love the swirl of narrative. Others may wince.
Camino succeeds because of its excellent casting, which includes more than a dozen actors. As three incarcerated men, Monteze Freeland, Sam Turich and Ricardo Vila-Roger perform with ultra-realistic flair. As women in search of their "disappeared" husbands, Claudia Duran and Gab Cody delicately balance suspense and comedy.
Whatever its tropes, Camino will make you think about immigration, a topic that Pittsburghers rarely own. Our city is filled with visitors and refugees, some of whom fear for their lives. Camino takes a clear standpoint, and the heroes and villains are obvious. Then again, when it comes to for-profit imprisonment, shouldn't they be?
CAMINO continues through Sat., Sept. 24. Dance Alloy Theater, 5530 Penn Ave., Friendship. 412-715-6968 or hiawathaproject.org