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Immigrants’ plight a sorrow-filled tale in ‘Fallow’

Jose Antonio GarciKendrThulstar 'Fallow' Steep Theatre. PHOTO BY LEE MILLER

Jose Antonio Garcia and Kendra Thulin star in "Fallow" at Steep Theatre. PHOTO BY LEE MILLER

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When: Through Aug. 17

Where: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn

Tickets: $20-$22

Info: (866)811-4111;

Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: July 14, 2013 5:19PM

After a painful breakup with his first serious girlfriend, Aaron, the smart, sensitive, well-heeled Cornell University student at the center of Kenneth Lin’s play, “Fallow,” decides to leave his obnoxious fraternity brothers behind and go in search of healing and a taste of real life.

He hooks up with a farmer and starts to learn (and fall in love with) the art of beekeeping. He then joins the ranks of the vast Latino work force — those both with and without work permits — that moves from one part of this country to another, following the harvest season for everything from blueberries and melons to tomatoes. Along the way, of course, this sheltered, privileged young man learns a great deal about the wider world, and about himself. He also ends up losing his life — not because of who he is, but because of who he is mistaken for being.

The plight of immigrants — both documented and undocumented, long-established citizens or in an existence just below the radar — is a hot topic these days, both on Capitol Hill and on stage. This Steep Theatre production of “Fallow” (a Midwest premiere) is ambitious, but flawed, and at times painfully self-conscious, and comes at the subject from dual perspectives. And as one of his characters insightfully observes: “We are both afraid of different things.”

Aaron (Brendan Meyer) is the son of a well-to-do doctor (who we never meet), and a mother, Elizabeth (Kendra Thulin), who admits, with considerable anguish, that she has never had to work a day in her life. She is now in a state of profound grief and rage. It has been a year since her son died from a brutal attack by a bunch of California “townies” who denounced him as “a beaner,” and she has flown from her Cape Cod home for a face-to-face encounter with the jailed boys. More crucially, she also wants to confront Happy (Jose Antonio Garcia), the Mexican-American taxi driver and family man who befriended (and was befriended by) Aaron, but failed to save him.

Aaron could easily be accused of “slumming” — playing at being a migrant worker who could leave the world of the downtrodden at any time. That certainly is how he is viewed by Danny (Nick Horst), a soldier who clearly joined the military because it was his only hope for a better future, and who now is about to be shipped off to war. But as the letters Aaron writes to his mom reveal, he is earnest and open and has a big heart, even if he is painfully naive.

One abiding distraction in the play concerns the all-important first meeting between Elizabeth and Happy — an encounter whose logistics are entirely confusing. Lin also has a tendency to telegraph his message when subtlety would be far more effective. But under the direction of Keira Fromm, the capable cast (which also includes Anne Joy and Peter Moore), brings an earnestness and poignancy to this story that suggests that no one is entirely safe in a country of deep divisions.

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