Saturday, October 2, 2021

Theater: Sanctuary City

Sanctuary City (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Sanctuary City 
New York Theater Workshop 

Premise: “Thanks.” “It’s okay.” We hear this exchange a lot between B (Jasai Chase-Owens) and G (Sharlene Cruz). The thanker and the thankee switches between the two throughout the course of the play which starts with the two as high school students in Newark helping each other through family and immigration crisis (both teens are undocumented) and ends many years later. Newark is important as it is a sanctuary city where undocumented immigrants are supposedly safer than most cities. But September 11 had just happened, and these two friends are afraid this is the end of any safe sanctuary. As high school students, they come up with a “Hail Mary” plan to stay in America, but can they follow through after high school ends and real life begins? 

My Take: “Sanctuary City” is written by Martyna Majok, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for her play “Cost of Living,” but this play is similar to her other plays, including “queens,” which dealt with women finding a different kind of sanctuary in the borough of its name. “Sanctuary City” has two distinct parts, the first taking place in a sort of halting style, where scenes are played over each other as if Majok has many computer windows open to many YouTube videos of G and B’s lives, and she jumps between them every couple of minutes (or seconds in some cases). This presentation is disorienting and must have been quite a chore for the actors to keep track of to where they are in time and emotion. She keeps this style going until the last scene, which plays like a long, in real-time, one-act play where G and B must confront each other over their unfulfilled plan. This schizophrenic style is jarring and keeps the audience from being fully invested in these characters and their stories, which Majok wants to be universal (see their names), instead they end up rather generic. 

VIP: Rebecca Frecknell and Merrick A.B. Williams. Frecknell’s direction does yeoman work to help the audience orient itself as to where we are at any given time. Some lines are repeated: Are we in the same scene we heard it before or are we in a different situation altogether? Frecknell was able to make it clear with the help of stage manager Williams, who calls the technical cues during the performance. Bravo to both.