Dreamer J. Antonio Rodriguez, seen in Dayton with ‘Hadestown’ tour, forced to stop performing due to DACA delays

Credit: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Credit: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Musical theater and politics collided in Dayton when the national tour of “Hadestown” played its March 12-17 engagement at the Schuster Center.

Playbill reports J. Antonio Rodriguez, the tenor with a superb falsetto who portrayed the heroic, lovestruck Orpheus, played his final performance March 13 due to bureaucratic delays surrounding his status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

Rodriguez is among the nation’s “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to America as children. Playbill says the actor was born in a small town in Mexico called Francisco y Madero. Childhood health issues that required frequent hospital visits prompted his parents to immigrate, ultimately settling in Oklahoma.

“I came when I was 2 years old,” says Rodriguez, who is now 26 and hasn’t been back to Mexico. “I didn’t make this decision, but now I have to suffer the consequences. I’d rather be in the United States than anywhere else in the world. It’s my home. But it also doesn’t feel like home. Because every two years, you’re constantly reminded: I’m not really a part of this country. I have to ask permission to be a part of this society.”

Created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, DACA allows eligible young adults to work and study in the U.S. Rodriguez, no longer legally able to perform, told Playbill he has been waiting on his status to be renewed for three months, a process he says used to take, at most, a few days. However, he is not alone in his fear of deportation. The Washington Post reports there are 500,000 current DACA recipients who could soon lose their status. A federal judge in Texas has ruled President Joe Biden’s reinstatement of DACA, which was suspended during Donald Trump’s administration, violates federal law. The case could eventually come before the Supreme Court.

There is still broad support for Dreamers across the country, particularly from the National Association of Evangelicals, but obstacles remain in Congress. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who introduced a Dreamers bill in 2017, told Reuters that helping Dreamers or other people in the U.S. without legal status is “toxic” and “off the table for years now” because of the southern border crisis.

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

As for Rodriguez, whose credits include off-Broadway and regional productions, Playbill says his days “right now include going to the gym, checking the USCIS DACA Portal, and waiting.” He joined “Hadestown” in 2022 and has not been released from his show contract, which expires May 13. He also continues to travel with the cast, waiting for the moment his DACA status is renewed so he can return to doing what he loves.

In a prime example of art imitating life, Rodriguez says he finds himself reflecting on the song “Papers,” an intimidating, eerily relevant moment in Act 2 of “Hadestown” centered on Hades scolding Orpheus upon his arrival in the Underworld.

“You’re not from around here, son.

Don’t know who the hell you are but I can tell you don’t belong.

These are workin’ people, son!

Law-abiding citizens.

Go back to where you came from.

You’re on the wrong side of the fence.”

“Holy crap, this is really hitting close to home,” he told Playbill. “I was singing ‘If It’s True,’ and I couldn’t get through it. It was just so hard to sing that song and be in that situation.”

Having been impressed with “Hadestown” on opening night, I’m still amazed to think about the emotional weight behind Rodriguez’s charming, endearingly heartfelt performance. Who would’ve suspected his livelihood was in immediate jeopardy?

His brave testimony is a vivid reminder of how important it is to always embrace your purpose passionately. Whatever you do, whatever brings you joy, savor every moment because you never know when it will be the last.

Right Now with Russell spotlights arts and entertainment news every Friday and as news arises. From the latest in local arts to the latest in film, music, TV, theater, awards season and other hot button topics, the goal is to fill you in on what’s new in order to satisfy your entertainment cravings. He can be reached at Russell.Florence@coxohio.com.

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