Theatre in Review

Griffin Theatre’s In To America is a stark reminder of the contributions made by the many immigrants that have come from all around the world and have made the United States what it is today. In writer Bill Massolia’s multicultural story, American history is retold by several immigrant narratives where sixty personal stories are shared spanning over thirty countries. The play begins with the American immigration experience from Jamestown in the early 17th century and covers the 400 years since, many of its stories remarkable as they are daring. 

We hear the good and the bad. In many stories we get a taste of the shameful mistreatment immigrants received upon their arrival, the brave new world of vast opportunity they were seeking no more than a hostile environment that spews hate for the simple fact of being different. In others (not nearly as many) we hear how immigrants were received with opens arms, their dreams fulfilled as their new home offers the new life they had so desperately had hoped for. In this condensed history lesson we also learn the hardships endured throughout perilous journeys in leaving their own countries in daring escapes from their own native countries. 

“We never crossed the border. The border crossed us,” we are profoundly told from Juanita Andersen who portrays a Mexican landowner after being squeezed out by new arrivals during the Manifest Destiny.  

The series of monologues flows quickly as the story follows a timeline that is rich in information covering such events as congress adopting the uniform rule in 1790 so that any white person could apply for citizenship after two years of residency, the Dred Scott decision in 1857 declaring free Africans non-citizens, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902, Native Americans made citizens in 1924 and the 1980 Refugee Act that removed refugees as a preference category, reducing worldwide ceiling for immigration to 270,000. Many, many other significant policies are brought to light that have had an effect on immigration.

Artist Director Bill Massolia comments about the production, “In To America owes a great deal of its inspiration from my own family’s immigrant roots.” 

He was also inspired by Ronald Takaki’s award-winning book A Different Mirror where it is stated “In the making of multicultural America, the contingent’s original inhabitants were joined by people pushed from their homelands by poverty and persecution in Asia, Latin America and Europe, and pulled here by extravagant dreams. Others came here in chains from Africa, and still others fled here from countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam. These men and women may not have read John Locke, but they came to believe that ‘in the beginning all the world was America.’ They envisioned the emerging country as a place for a bold new start.”

He further states, “Marginalized and degraded as the “Other” minorities came to believe even more fiercely and fervently than did the founding fathers in the ‘self-evident truths’ that ‘all men are created equal’, entitled to the ‘unalienable rights’ of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. 

In To America also explores the paranoia regarding immigration held by one such founding father quoting Benjamin Franklin, "Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."

The play’s theme is strong in reminding us that America has been made on the backs of immigrants, boasting many great achievements and spotlighting a handful of prominent “new Americans” who have truly made a difference in our country’s progress. In the end we get a picture of hope, unity and promise.

Dorothy Milne directs while the cast in this insightful piece includes Juanita Andersen, Katie Campbell, Jennifer Cheung, Aneisa Hicks, Christopher W. Jones, Francisco Lopez, Adam Marcantoni, Sean McGill, Rasika Ranganathan, Omer Abbas Salem, Scott Shimizu, Jason VonRohn and Elizabeth Hope Williams. Each actor plays multiple characters from all over the world, transitioning very well from accent to accent, adding to the play’s genuine nature in relaying a spirit everyone can identify with.  

In To America is just the play that will prompt many to go back and research their family lineage to discover their own journey to America.

In To America is being performed at Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage through April 23rd. Tickets are $38 and valet parking is now available. For tickets and/or more show information click here

         

  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I decided to review this wonderful new play by Aaron Holland partly because I loved the title and in spite of the mention in the PR materials saying that Holland’s inspiration were in part from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

I’m so glad I did because this play about one young “everyman” or “everywoman” as the case may be,  Amari Bolkonski, (played wonderfully by Armand Fields) has so much to say to all of us about the necessity of self love and friendship in overcoming life’s sometimes crippling blows to our sense of identity.

In Bailiwick Chicago’s Princess Mary Demands Your Attention, Amari is suffering from agoraphobia and OCD in part because his mother, Countess Bolkonski, (Pam Mack) openly disparages her youngest son by comparing him unfavorably to his distant older brother who is in her eyes, “the real man” in the family.

Luckily Amari runs into a few young gay club kids who become his “new family” and his closest friends and confidantes as he struggles to get out from under his mother’s controlling, domineering, apron and on with his own life.

Nathaniel (TJ Crawford), Bastian (Omer Abbas Salem) and Christian (David Kaplinsky) do a fantastic job of bringing these funny and sympathetic characters to life. Their scenes together are really fun to watch and seem to come from a very real, natural place.

Pam Mack does a wonderful job with the role of Countess and redeems her character’s seemingly abusive treatment of her youngest son in a truly heart wrenching scene telling Amari that she is truly sorry and that he must start to love himself as he is, after she has suffered a debilitating stroke.

The character of Stacy (Rus Rainear) is Amari’s fairy godfather of sorts, a flamer who has watched over Amari since his father’s death as a child and given him a place to work in his food stop since Amari is afraid to leave his house and deal with people in general. Rus Rainear is adorable in this role and gets many laughs with just a “look” or gesture.  Stacy’s undying support along with Amari’s loyal buddies who help him dress up and get him out of his basement  Amari realizes over time and with the hallucinated appearance of his own personal “Queen Mary”  inspire him to break out and realize that his hiding and self pity are ruining his life.

I thought director Lili-Anne Brown did a fabulous job integrating music from the period and strobe lights and smoke and into the piece in a way that maximized the laughs, glamour and fantasy world of Amari and his friends while keeping Amari’s transformation grounded in a very touching way that anyone gay or straight, male or female, can identify with.

In the lobby before the show the audience was encouraged to write on an index card the thing they feel is holding them back in life.  Also there was  a “wig room” with costumes and accessories for audience members to try on “Princess Mary’s glam clothes and wigs and take a “selfie”, which really appealed to me because it made me think about applying the play’s ideas to my own life before I even entered the theater.

I highly recommend this funny yet poignant piece by Holland not because it is perfect and needs no further editing but because in its current incarnation it is so joyous and uplifting one cannot help but feel moved and entertained by it. 

Princess Mary Demands Your Attention is being performed at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater through February 21st. For tickets and/or more information call 773-871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org.

 

*Photo - (left to right) TJ Crawford, Omer Abbas Salem, Armand Fields and David Kaplinskyin Bailiwick Chicago’s world premiere of PRINCESS MARY DEMANDS YOUR ATTENTION by Aaron Holland, directed by Artistic Director Lili-Anne Brown.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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