Proctors, Schenectady, NY
The New Colossus, by The Actors' Gang Ensemble and Tim Robbins. Directed by Tim Robbins. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"I will stay alive . . . Burn this later."
Dear President Trump,
Remember Tim Robbins. He's that Hollywood guy who gave a speech disparraging Hilary Clinton (while supporting Bernie Sanders) during your first campaign. Well, you need to return the favor now by inviting his company, The Actors' Gang Ensemble, to perform their play, currently on tour, "The New Colossus" at the White House. It's about your favorite topic - immigrants - and it puts into proper perspective all you really need to know on this subject. There are twelve actors playing twelve immigrants whose stories extend back to freed slaves and extend up to our own time. They speak in twelve languages, too, sometimes all at the same time. It proves conclusively that the immigrant experience, then and now, Hispanic, Asian, or anything else, is just about the same for everyone. They show us in this 94 minute play with a pretty perky song finale that adds a few more minutes on at the end (finales come at the end, Sir, which is something to remember), exactly how strong even the meekest person can be when there is an important goal to pursue. I liked this play, learned a lot which you will also, and maybe you'll even like the play. There aren't a lot of words, but there's plenty of action and plenty of emotion, which I know you enjoy. And stay for the talk-back. You may turn out to be a star in your right. A real star, Sir.
The company; Photo: Ashley Randall
These folks aren't well dressed, but they are playing immigrants so you can understand that. But they not only look their parts, many of them are portraying their actual ancestors. For example Kayla Blake plays her own mother - Ann Margaret Wong; and Jeanette Rothschild is playing her grandmother Yetta Rothschild. Yes, Sir, there are Rothschilds in the play. Paulette Zubata portrays her mother Gabriela Mia Garcia. Now there's an example of good immigration, just the way you like it: except for her devotion to her heritage and historical background you could happily introduce her and no one would ever know about her Hispanic immigrant roots. In fact, most of the company play family members or family friends and they give almost chilling representations of them and their unique experiences getting to America.
The Cast and Their characters:
Pierre Adeli – Homayun Dideban, his father
Onur Alpsen – Mehmet Fatih Tras, his friend
Quonta Beasley – Sadie Duncan, based on her great-great-great-great aunt and research on post slavery Reconstruction
Kayla Blake – Anna Margaret Wong, her mother
Kathryn Cecelia Carner – Elin Matilda Nylund, her great-grandmother
Jeanette Rothschild Horn – Yetta Rothschild, her grandmother
Dora Kiss – Aranka Markus, based on her grandmother
Stephanie Lee – Ly My Dung, based on her mother and grandmother
Mary Eileen O’Donnell – Helga Schmidt, based on research
Zivko Petkovic – Mirko Petkovic, his grandfather
Mashka Wolfe – Tatyana Iosifovna Birger, her mother
Paulette Zubata – Gabriela Mia Garcia, her mother
Orchestra: David Robbins - guitar and percussion; Mikala Schmitz - cello
Pierre Adeli (French-ish) gives one of the most moving performances in the play as his own Dad, and Zivko Petkovic (behind in the full photo below) as his very own grandfather is wonderful. This is an amazing accomplishment as most of the dialogue in this play is conveyed in country-of-origin languages and pantomime. Yes, Sir, I said pantomime. More than half of the play uses physical expression rather than words so there is no difficulty understanding what's happening.
Mime, in fact, plays a large part in conveying an odd unifier to the stories told in this play. We are given the impression that for most countries the experience of being uprooted becomes pretty much identical to those from other places and cultures. There is universal fear and universal need. People being treated with derision and scorn, forced to leave their own ancestry behind, feel and react the same way. These twelve people from such different backgrounds end up doing much the same things seeking much the same ends. While this is something I have never considered, Mr. President, and I don't suppose you have thought of this either, what this play is showing us is how the human race survives everything from hope betrayed to grief and loss and the expectations placed on a country such as ours. Emma Lazarus is quoted in the play; remember her? "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door." These are stories of real people, real folks who may have worked for you, or been your tenants, or married your daughters (one of them, anyway). They need to be met, helped, introduced around to your gang.
Invite them to Washington, or to your Florida castle, I mean resort.
Zivko Petkovic and Pierre Adeli; Photo: Ashley Randall
Quonta Shanell Beasley; Photo: Ashley Randall
Amazingly, the play is not just concerned with immigrants from overseas (or overland if you include central America and Canada) but from within our own borders. Sadie Duncan, played by remarkable Quonta Beasley, is a freed slave from Tensas Parish, Louisiana, who makes her way north in 1830, nearly thirty years before the Civil War. Her passion and her difficulties are akin to those seeking refuge from elsewhere.
Stigmatized, abandoned and left to fend for themselves, all too often, Sadie and her cohorts are the foundation of this nation as the play shows us without telling us. They are the reason that most of us, including you I understand, are here, succeeding or struggling or getting by. But HERE.
With a wonderful production lit by Rosco Flanagan, who also probably did the over-whelming slides that amplifiy the themes and Tim Robbins' sensitively amplifying direction, this two performance run in our neck of the woods is far too short. But maybe if you bring them all to the White House it would highlight their talents and get them the same award you just gave to Rush Limbaugh. And you could do it on Television, too. Celebrate America, its historic heritage and its legacy, as a nation of nations (that's what the Natives have always considered it, after all - you know them, Senator Warren's folks).
Good luck with this project.
+ 02/08/2020 +
The New Colossus plays at Proctors in Schenectady, NY for only one more performance, the matinee on February 8. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-346-6204 or go to their website at proctors.org.