Playwright Martyna Mojak’s revealing drama, “Sanctuary City,” which opened Friday, at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, in the Frank and Katrina Basile Theatre, hits very close to home for me. The play, which is a compassionate look at the plight of undocumented residents brought to this country by immigrants without citizenship, couldn’t be more relevant for yours truly. That’s because Haughville, my near westside Indy neighborhood is fast becoming a major enclave for immigrants from Mexico and Central America. My assumption is based on pure conjecture but all one must do is notice all the brown faces and hear Spanish daily in the place that was once called “Little Mexico,” and is now my home.
And as far as the two main characters in Mojak’s play, who are so-called Dreamers, or those subject to the DACAS program (Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals), I have direct exposure to their situation because a married couple who live nearby, are themselves, “Dreamers.” Living a stressful purgatory existence, they are required to apply for a renewable two-year period of differed action from deportation and become eligible for an employment authorization document (work permit) in the U.S. And according to these neighbors, there are many more living in Indy who share their predicament. Consequently, it is this personal experience of mine and my own Mexican roots, which forms my opinions regarding Mojak’s play, which thoroughly captures the dilemma that Dreamers face daily.
Set in blue collar, sanctuary city of Newark N. J. the wake of 9/11, the often gripping and tension-infused drama tells the story of G & B (purposely unidentified by the playwright), two undocumented, highly intelligent and resourceful friends. G has a stepfather who abuses her, and B’s mother is returning to her country or origin, leaving him to fend for himself, depend on each other to survive their day-to-day struggles. Living under the radar in a world that has become ultra-Xenophobic, the pair’s relationship is not romantic and yet their bond runs deep. Loathe to give up spoilers, this review is no exception. Suffice it to say, the play’s first act, performed on a bare, dimly lit stage, is theatre that employs writing and technical devices, the likes of which I have never seen previously. With dialogue delivered at a breakneck speed with a staccato rhythm and lighting cues to match, the effect is often disorienting yet effective, as the two actors, both high school students at the time, share their most intimate thoughts when alone together. The second act, replete with myriad surprises, depicts them in a more realistic setting, five years later, during which the third character, Henry, posing a threat to the friend’s relationship, makes his appearance.
Deftly directed by Drew Vidal, himself a performer, this ALT production features a cast of three, all of whom turned in outstanding performances that were each honest nuanced, and convincing. All three born in the U.S. but born to immigrants, they include newcomers Senaite Tekle, a U. of Indianapolis grad as G. and Ball State third year acting student G, Diego Sanchez-Galvan as B. Carlos Medina Moldonado, who plays Henry, has appeared previously in several Phoenix and Indiana Repertory Theatre productions I have favorably reviewed over the years.
Based on their exceptional performances, and particularly their skillful delivery of voluminous amounts of dialogue, Tekle and Sanchez-Galvan can expect to have successful futures in the theatre.
Praiseworthy as well, for creating the world of the Dreamers, is the work of lighting designer Tim Dick, set designer Ryan Douglas, sound designer Mina Keohane and costume designer Anthony Sirk.
The brainchild of Chris Saunders, founding artistic director, ALT with its heart-rending production of “Sanctuary City,” continues to present contemporary theatre that reflects the lives of the marginalized. During a contentious era when immigration issues are the source of unprecedented division in our country, affecting those in our own backyard, ALT’s mission to give voice to the oppressed and unrepresented is beyond commendable and worthy of community support.
Tickets for “Sanctuary City” which runs through Sept. 24 at Phoenix Cultural Centre can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.org.