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Bobby Bermea: All along the ‘Borderline’

12-year-old actors Eli Ingraffea and Mila Kashiwabara talk about the joys and challenges of starring in Milagro's new play about surviving along the Southwest border – complete with ghosts.


Ghosts and stories abound along the "Borderline." From left at Milagro Theatre: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez, Eli Ingraffea, Mila Kashiwabara, Christine Anjelle, Patricio Mendoza. Photo by Mirifoto.
Ghosts and stories abound along the “Borderline.” From left at Milagro Theatre: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez, Eli Ingraffea, Mila Kashiwabara, Christine Anjelle, Patricio Mendoza. Photo by Mirifoto.

You might not think two twelve-year-old children would be the proper vessels for a story about one of the most volatile and divisive issues facing America today – but you’d be wrong.

Borderline, Milagro Theatre’s production of Andrew Siañez-De La O’s new play, which runs May 3-18, stars Eli Ingraffea and Mila  Kashiwabara, two blossoming young talents of the Portland stage leaping into some of the toughest material of their young lives.

Before Borderline, Ingraffea had only one professional credit to his name, a short film called Stretch. On Kawishabara’s resume is the standard fare you might expect from a child actor: Matilda, Dragons and Tacos, A Christmas Carol, that kind of thing. But then it’s heavily punctuated by much darker forays into mature-themed subject matter, including Alexis Scheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord (Crave Theatre), Titus Andronicus (Portland Playhouse) and now, Borderline.

Borderline, as the title suggests, deals with one of the most volatile issues facing our nation today – the so-called border crisis and what, if anything, to do about it. But Siañez-De La O’s script goes beneath the soundbites, slogans and social media: It gives faces to the faceless masses, voices to their stories, and lifts up the dreams and ghosts that both haunt and yet sustain them.

Borderline is a story about stories, how they define us and how we use story to deliberately shape the parameters of our lives. It is a play that lives in several realities at once; some raw and dirty and mundane, the stuff of our everyday existence; others more fantastical and dreamlike, the material of our myths.  

An early draft of Borderline was first presented as a staged reading at Milagro back in 2019 as part of the company’s Ingenio new-plays development series; and, incidentally, the reading featured Kashiwabara’s older sister, Lulu (now in college,) as Rosita, the role that Mila now plays. The script made a splash half a decade ago and, after a couple of stops in Los Angeles and El Paso, among others, now gets a full production in the Rose City.

Left: Eli Ingraffea. Photo: Kitta Bodmer. Right: Mila Kashiwabara. Photo: Jennifer Alyse.


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Kashiwabara and Ingraffea are young people of uncommon intelligence, sensitivity and self-possession. They would have to be to take on such emotionally charged roles in such a multilayered play. It wasn’t always easy. “Understanding my character has been the most challenging part,” says Kashiwabara. “She’s really complex. She’s been forced to grow up earlier than she should and take care of her younger brother. It’s almost like she’s a mother figure.”

For Ingraffea, the tough part was keeping the narrative clear for the audience. “Enzo conveys himself through his storytelling,” he says. “I create who the villain is with my stories. I’m talking about a monster; I’m talking about a mom who’s willing to sacrifice everything for her kids.” And just conveying the bullet points of those stories through Enzo isn’t enough. “You really have to stick it to the audience,” he says. “They really have to know what you’re saying. They really have to see how you carry the symbolism.”

Borderline is an ensemble show: Ingraffea, Kashiwabara, and their castmates, Patricio Mendoza (Tony) and Christine Anjelle (Veronica), make up the four protagonists of the play. The always-reliable Osvaldo Gonzalez provides the troubled counterpoint to the four young people fighting for survival in the Southwest desert, and is the fulcrum on which the play balances. “He’s technically the villain,” Ingraffea says with a laugh, “but we need the villain.” 

Director Anthony Green Caloca, like Gonzalez a long-time Portland favorite theater artist, has a personal investment in the world of the play. “I grew up five minutes from the border, down in Chula Vista,” he says. “When I was about the kids’ age, we had this long canyon about half a mile behind our house, and we came across some migrant workers sleeping in the underbrush during the day, hiding. As kids, we started freaking out and scrambled up the hill to our bikes and rode home and my mom said, ‘There’s nothing to worry about Tony. They’re just here for work.’”

When speaking of his young artists, Caloca practically glows. “Mila’s awesome,” he says. “She’s got a significant amount of experience. Eli is really a great young man. Just to see the growth he’s had in the past couple of weeks has been amazing.”

Eli Ingraffea (left) and Mila Kashiwabara, with Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez on guitar in "Borderline" at Milagro Theatre. Photo by Mirifoto.
Eli Ingraffea (left) and Mila Kashiwabara, with Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez on guitar. Photo by Mirifoto.

And having excellent young artists is imperative to achieving what Caloca and Milagro hope to achieve with their production, because young people are at the heart of the real-life issue. “The play was written in 2019,” he says, “prior to the election, when families were still being separated. These are kids. These are people just trying to make a better life. They’re being demonized because people want to win elections. We have to take a stand against the fear that is being shoved down our throats. Do what’s right.” 

Besides the sociopolitical resonances in the play, and the personal plights of the characters themselves, there have been other, more technical challenges for the young actors. “Fight choreography,” laughs Kashiwabara. “It’s really cool but it’s hard, because I’m in a lot of it.” 


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But getting to work with veterans has been a useful and rewarding experience for both. “I’ve been able to learn a lot from people that are around me every day,” says Kashiwabara. “It teaches you about professionalism. Watching how they act teaches you life lessons.” 

Ingraffea concurs. “Getting to meet and see how to work with all these new people has been a great experience,” he says. “I’m a bit new and it’s so great to learn from them.”

Both speak excitedly about their futures in the performing arts. “I’m very happy I got to have this experience,” says Ingraffea. “In the future, I’m definitely planning to work more in the theater industry.” 

“I love doing theatre and musical theatre,” says Kashiwabara. “In the future future I want to be an actor on Broadway or Hollywood. Something big like that.”

In the meantime, she and Ingraffea and their team of fellow artists are trying to tell a story that is both bigger and smaller than the national discourse, and remind us of a basic, fundamental truth too often forgotten. “The characters are really relatable,” says Ingraffea. “They’re all normal people.”


Correction: Mila Kashiwabara’s name was misspelled in several places in this story, and has been corrected. ArtsWatch apologizes for the error.


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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bobby Bermea is an award-winning actor, director, writer and producer. He is co-artistic director of Beirut Wedding, a founding member of Badass Theatre and a long-time member of both Sojourn Theatre and Actors Equity Association. Bermea has appeared in theaters from New York, NY, to Honolulu, HI. In Portland, he’s performed at Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Profile Theatre, El Teatro Milagro, Sojourn Theatre, Cygnet Productions, Tygre’s Heart, and Life in Arts Productions, and has won three Drammy awards. As a director he’s worked at Beirut Wedding, BaseRoots Productions, Profile Theatre, Theatre Vertigo and Northwest Classical, and was a Drammy finalist. He’s the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy and Rocket Man. His writing has also appeared in and


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