Steamboat playwright brings national story to local limelight in “Maricopa: An American Border Tale” |

Steamboat playwright brings national story to local limelight in “Maricopa: An American Border Tale”

Chief Players actor Christian G. Nieves performs as Vicente Ortiz in "Maricopa: An American Border Tale."
Michael Edward Staley/courtesy
If you go: What: “Maricopa: An American Border Tale” When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18 Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $10 for ages 12 and older

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs resident Jorge Avila remembers the first time he learned about Joe Arpaio.

“I saved a lot of money for my county,” said Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona during a 2009 NBC interview. “To feed my dogs, I spent $1.29. To feed an illegal inmate, I spent 88 cents.”

“I will never forget that quote,” Avila said.

The local author was compelled to act immediately after he watched the interview. His self-published novel, “La Marcha de los Rosados,” which details acts of discrimination and harsh treatment of Latinos in Maricopa County, was released in 2010.

Through interviews, Avila documented stories from people who lived through the county’s hard-hitting approach to illegal immigration. In 2015, the book was adapted into the musical, “Maricopa el Musical,” which was directed by Juan Parada and premiered at Los Angeles’ Margo Albert Theater.

On Saturday night, those characters and their stories will come alive again in “Maricopa: An American Border Tale,” which will take the Chief Theater stage at 7:15 p.m.

Written and co-produced by Avila, the one-man show is produced by Christopher Wadopian, directed by Michael Edward Staley and stars Christian Nieves.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Nieves, who has become a well-known personality on stage with the Chief Players, will perform six different characters adapted from Avila’s work that he and Staley spent the last year working on. It will also be the last show Nieves will perform in Steamboat before moving to Texas.

“To see the person in front of you and to hear the message – from six different characters – it’s so much more direct than reading about it or seeing something on television,” Avila said.

The “Maricopa” story starts in Maricopa County, with Arpaio, infamous for forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in the outdoor jail known as “Tent City.” 

With a reputation for severe correction practices and a crusade against illegal immigration, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in July 2017, and President Donald Trump pardoned him in August of that year. In January, Arpaio announced he’s running for the United States Senate in Arizona.

“It feels like this is a taboo subject, and people refuse to talk about,” Nieves said. “But it’s something to talk about – especially now with him (Arpaio) running for Senate.”

Avila said the show is about the pursuit of a dream and the pursuit of happiness and a better life.

“It’s about the struggles people have to go through based on where they were born and the color of their skin,” Nieves said. “It’s something that’s been going on forever, even now.

“I get to express what others are unable to or aren’t allowed to because they are being held in tent cities or immigration camps,” Nieves said. “Their voices are not being heard — this is giving them a platform in a way.”

The most challenging aspect of the performances for Nieves has been taking on six distinct characters with no reliance on other cast members.

“There was something about him, how he moved on the stage performing the different characters and how he took on each of those personalities,” said Avila. “I knew he would be perfect for this role.”

Staley said the staged reading is a unique opportunity to see a work in progress. They hope the staged reading will reveal what resonates with the audience before they take the production to Denver.

“We hope the momentum is there following the Colorado New Play Festival to make theatre goers hungry for these type of shows,” Staley said.

“I wanted to do this show in a way that allowed people to create their own opinions about the situation,” Nieves said. “I don’t want it to be too biased or have people confusing this performance for a political statement.”

In advance of Saturday’s performance, the Chief Theater, in partnership with Bud Werner Memorial Library, hosted a screening of “The Joe Show,” a documentary film featuring Larry King, Steven Seagal, Hugh Downs, Ted Nugent, Dan Ariely, Noam Chomsky, Lisa Allen and Joe Arpaio.

The presentation was held in honor of “Maricopa: An American Border Tale.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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