At first glance, Caridad Svich’s The Tropic of X seems like an ordinary science fiction play depicting a dystopian future. However, it is clear that Svich grounded this political drama in reality. Criticizing North American colonialism, capitalism, and consumerism, the narrative becomes a commentary on the negative conditions that such structures create. The Tropic of X features an entertaining cast of actors with effective lighting, sound, and costume design techniques which contribute to its convincing depiction of the future.
The audience is greeted with a stage resembling an impoverished urban community. Graffiti on concrete walls, wooden huts lit by a single flickering light bulb, and mountains of garbage bags set the tone for the lives of people that have been discarded by the upper-class. Using explicit symbols of nationalist ideologies in the script, such as the forced use of English and suppression of any other language, The Tropic of X effectively communicates its themes of injustice without distracting the audience from the occurrences of its principal narrative. The two main characters, Mori (Braulio Elicer) and Maura (Arlen Aguayo Stewart), are two lovers comparable to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship is challenged by a society that is exploiting them for crimes like selling drugs and prostitution, which are their only means of providing for themselves. These themes are only an introduction to the darker occurrences of this performance, as agonizing fight scenes, and the prolonged torture of one of the characters standing bare-skinned, present the harsh reality of poor communities in an uncensored manner.
Mori and Maura’s romance relieves some of the play’s tension. The two are often seen playfully punching the air while making jokes about the last tourist they robbed. As the two look for any form of excitement in their monotonous lives, Kiki (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon), a transgender woman who is an escort in the slums, seduces Mori into the drug trade. This ongoing conflict creates great tension between the characters, as what once started out as a friendship with Kiki becomes, for Mori, a risk of descending into a life of drug addiction, forcing him away from Maura. Hilton (Gitanjalijain) narrates the story as a radio host. One such radio announcement warns of Fabian (Eric Davis), a mysterious character who prefers to stick to his cloak-and-dagger nature while he kidnaps new victims, tortures, and brainwashes them. Mori eventually becomes a victim of Fabian’s practices, leading Maura to a rescue mission driven by passion to save the love of her life. These five characters each portray a dog-eat-dog existence, in Svich’s criticism of a society too fixed on individual success and disregard for the impoverished.
Vivid technical components complement the narrative extremely well, allowing a deeper immersion into the scene. Latin-style drums playing in the background, designed and composed by Mariano Franco, reflect the globalized nature of the world the characters inhabit. Other sound-related elements, such as the gunfire of police coming to dismantle drug operations, or the voices of characters communicating telepathically, add to the authenticity of the worldbuilding. Sonoyo Nishikawa’s lighting design is one of the performance’s most notable aspects, as blood-red hues douse the stage after a stabbing, or lights flash neon green and pink when the characters get high.
The Tropic of X is an explicit, daring play that is not afraid of depicting the realities of economic inequality. A diverse ensemble of characters whose stories are underscored by evocative technical elements make up an entertaining performance with realistic underlying themes. While the play may not be as romantic as Romeo and Juliet’s story, The Tropic of X is a cautionary tale that depicts what may arise from the political nature of the present.