The action in “Las Cruces” — a new play that is currently being presented in the Premiere Series at Kean University — takes place in the city of that name, in southern New Mexico. Yes, it’s a real place, and its name means “The Crosses.”
By the end of this topical and deeply emotional play, it becomes clear that all of its characters — dealing with each other in a remote section of town that’s “500 miles from the nearest Starbucks,” as one character puts it — have crosses of their own to bear. Protective layers are stripped away, until the bitter truth is revealed: It’s a cathartic process, with some good black humor along the way.
What’s the topical part? I can’t tell you that without spoiling the play. But I can say that playwright Vincent Delaney and director John J. Wooten (who is also the producing artistic director at Premiere Stages) don’t seem interested in making any kind of political point about it, but just want to show the human toll of one very disturbing aspect of modern society.
The play — which is being produced after being selected from more than 400 submissions in Premiere Stages’ 2016 Play Festival — starts with Sheridan (played by Brian Sutherland) arriving at a rather shabby-looking trailer in the middle of nowhere, at night, with coyotes howling in the distance. It’s pitch black, and he has a flashlight with him. Someone is already living in the trailer, though — a 16-year-old girl named Soledad (Diomargy Nuñez) — but she scurries off, apparently not having any right to be there in the first place.
Sheridan, who has the look of a mild-mannered inhabitant of suburbia, stays, and Soledad, who seems like an urban youth — she’s tough and highly guarded in every way — returns from time to time, in the ensuing days. The two form a sort of a bond: She’s suspicious about him, and he really has no idea what to make of her, but there is something that is drawing them, platonically, to each other.
Meanwhile, we see home movies of someone — Sheridan’s son, or maybe Sheridan himself as a child, or maybe someone else? — and flashback scenes of the child’s mother, Jane (Charlotte Cohn).
Sheridan and Soledad keep dancing in circles, trying to figure out what’s going on with the other, and the mystery of where Jane and her son fit in is eventually revealed.
There are some brutal moments along the way, but that’s unavoidable. This is a story of coping with brutal reality, and it’s not one you will easily forget.
“Las Cruces” is being presented as part of the Premiere Stages series at Kean University in Union through Sept. 18; visit kean.edu/premierestages.