THEATER PREVIEW | “Outside the Circle” explores unrequited love and living outside of “normal”


A new play commissioned by Pangea World Theater and co-presented by Teatro del Pueblo and Intermedia Arts takes a look at unrequited love, borders, and living as an “outsider” in today’s society. Outside the Circle, a new play by Andrea Assaf and Samuel Valdez, tells the story of a queer woman and man living with Cerebral Palsy, who meet by chance at a seedy bar in Tijuana and share stories about heartache living outside of “normal” society. The two writers also act in the production, along with Maria Vale, and are directed by theater and dance artist Dora Arreola.

“It’s been a multi-faceted collaboration,” says Andrea Assaf. “We created the play through a series of intensive residencies,” she says, which included two residencies in Mexico and two in Florida, where Assaf and director Dora Arreola are based. The sessions included writing the script and getting feedback on the writing. Maria Vale, a dancer with Arreola’s dance company, Mujures en Ritual, joined the collaboration early on during the improvisation stage, Assaf says. The addition of Vale made it possible to have three person scenes, which altered the play from a two person show to a three person show, with all three actors playing multiple characters, she says.

The two lead characters in the show are Rafa and Andy. Rafa is a straight male with cerebral palsy, who frequents a bar in the “red zone” of Tijuana. Andy is a lesbian character who needs a place to stay, and the only person she knows is a waitress named Ginger (played by Vale) who works at the bar. The two characters never would have encountered each other if not by chance, and are both stuck, according to Assaf. A lesbian and feminist, Andy is horrified by the entire environment of the bar, and has to sit next to Rafa, a regular. Eventually, the two share experiences of unrequited love- they both have a habit of falling in love with young, straight women who would never accept them.

A central theme to the play is being “outside social circles,” Assaf says. “We explore the inside and outside… who is inside, who is outside, and from who’s perspective. That has led us to a real deep interrogation of concept and normalcy. Who decide what’s normal?”

Another central theme is love itself, where two characters are failing miserably at it. They each have experiences with rejection, and the play looks at what happens to love when we internalize society’s phobias, Assaf says. “It’s hard for us to know how to love and be loved, especially if we’ve grown up as outsiders.”

The play also explores the notion of borders, and as a part of that conversation, the artists are hosting a special workshop with HypheNATIONS, a program that empowers immigrant communities through dialogue and theatre, on March 10, to explore themes evoked in the play including sexuality, (dis)ability, and the notion of being “inside” or “outside.”