Los Angeles (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s chest-thumping nationalism and harsh immigration policies are the subject of a new play depicting an apocalyptic America where stadiums are turned into prisons and people become sick, hungry and frightened.
“Building the Wall,” which opened last weekend in Los Angeles, was written by Robert Schenkkan, a two-time Tony winner who co-wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”
The play is set in the very near future, after the Trump administration makes good on a pledge to hunt down and arrest millions of unauthorized immigrants by imposing martial law. But things get horribly out of hand.
Schenkkan told AFP that the play is a very personal response to what he sees happening in the United States and many other countries: a “nativist, anti-immigrant, right-wing and proto-fascist” movement.
Trump took power in January with a promise to deport millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally and build a wall along the border with Mexico. He started off by making it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest unauthorized migrants.
All 100 minutes of the play unfold in just one place and with only two characters.
Gloria, played by Judith Moreland, is an African American history professor and Rick — Bo Foxworth — is a white Republican from Texas who oversees a privately owned prison and carries out a policy that would be unthinkable today.
His orders under martial law are to capture immigrants and their relatives and expel them from the country.
But what if no other country wants them? That is exactly what happens.
Jails become jam-packed as other solutions are sought, such as using a stadium as a prison. That what Latin American dictators did in the 1970s and 80s, and even creating a death camp disguised as an airport.
In this imaginary future, Trump has been impeached and removed from office, but little is said of the new government — only that people responsible for abuses are being put on trial, including Rick.
“I’m not saying that’s exactly what’s going on here,” said Schenkkan, 64.
“What we are witnessing, what we are experiencing, is a concerted attack on fundamental American values.”
– Latin voices –
Most immigrants living illegally in the United States are Latinos. Trump has said some Mexicans crossing the border are rapists and drug dealers.
In the play, although he does not appear on stage, the hero is a Latino adolescent held in the prison overseen by Rick.
The play, which depicts an unthinkably grim future, is an exercise in fiction, which allows for analysis of the Trump administration’s “quite hateful, divisive and incendiary rhetoric.”
“The success or failure of Trump’s authoritarian power will hinge entirely on the response of individuals” out on the streets, Schenkkan added.
“We are seeing both — an enormous outpouring of resistance on the part of many, many people, but we are also seeing, to my mind, a shocking level of complicity already from ordinary citizens and professional politicians and experts.”
Although aiming to entertain, the play tries — quite literally — to send a message to the US president.
As people file into the theater before the show, everyone gets a postcard addressed to the White House, complete with a stamp from the US Postal Service, to send off to Trump.
Throughout the play, the audience never sees the wall Trump wants to build and in fact does not know if it has even been erected.
But the play does leave audience members with a queasy feeling, as the wall is built out of bricks made from fear and isolation.
In addition to the production in Los Angeles, six US cities have expressed interest in staging the play, which could also travel to Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and New Zealand.