Penned by Juan Jose Alfonso and directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos, MIDDLE OF THE WORLD makes its West Coast debut at the Rogue Machine in Los Angeles in 2024. Playwright Alfonso, himself an immigrant, is the perfect person to tell this tale, which had its world premiere in 2023 in Boise, Idaho. Alfonso is a television producer who had worked on over 25 shows, as well as on documentaries like “L’Arbitre, winner of the United Nations prize in 2010.
Christian Telesmar and Cheryl Umana – Photo by Brooke Burton
To quote Alfonso: “The central relationship in this story came to me as I was thinking about the intimacy of two people from radically different walks of life coming together in a moving vehicle while stuck in traffic. Often times, we’re surprised by what we learn. How many stories have we heard about the Uber driver who used to be an engineer in Belarus, a surgeon in Cuba, or the CFO of a pharmaceutical company who now drives just for fun…the character of Victoria is based on an amalgamation of three well-known South American women who had to fight incredible odds in chauvinistic cultures to gain a voice in their own governments and eventually make it to the top. And yet in the U.S. we have failed to elect a female president.”
Dan Lin and Christian Telesmar – Photo by Brooke Burton
The time is 2018, and the place is New York City – with flashbacks to Quito, Ecuador, in 2015. Successful financier Glenn Joyner (Christian Telesmar) has called for an Uber, never suspecting that its arrival may change his life forever. The driver just happens to be the powerful and direct Victoria Rojas (Cheryl Umana), late of Ecuador, where she served as President until yet another South American coup. As the vehicle winds its way through traffic-clogged streets, the two strangers discover each other with a surprising intimacy as they recount their stories. It seems that Glenn rose from humble beginnings in a black ghetto to achieve fortune in his chosen field, while Victoria went in the opposite direction after refusing to “play ball” with the U.S. government and instead stood firm in her own beliefs – until her regime was summarily replaced. Forced to leave her country, she also left behind her only son, a son she longs to see again. How will each of these two very different people find common ground? Or will they? MIDDLE OF THE WORLD delves into what makes – and what breaks – a relationship. And how relationships change people in crucial ways.
Cheryl Umana and Leandro Cano – Photo by Brooke Burton
Skilled director Guillermo Cienfuegos slowly weaves the story of two strangers fated to meet at a crossroad in their lives. The talented cast breathe life into their individualized characters, with special kudos for the talented Umana and Telesmar. Each cast member leaves his stamp on the proceedings. Nicholas Hewitt’s scenic design is spare but works well with Andrew Hungerford’s lighting and Peter John Still’s sound. In fact, the production team does a powerful job of making less more.
Dan Lin, Christian Telesmar, and Cheryl Umana – Photo by Brooke Burton
MIDDLE OF THE WORLD will definitely appeal to most audiences, especially those with a history of unexpected relationships (which is most of us) and those who may have been transplants at some point in their lives. The play is timely and fascinating as a study of both interpersonal relationships and international relationships. The Rogue Machine has done it again!
Cast of MIDDLE OF THE WORLD at After-Party – Photo by Elaine L. Mura
MIDDLE OF THE WORLD runs through March 4, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Rogue Machine performs at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Tickets are $45 (seniors $35; students and children under 18 $25). Pay-What-You-Can Fridays on 2/2/24 ($10+), 2/9/24 and 2/16/24 ($15+), and 2/23/24 ($20+). For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.