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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
Take Me America a meager look at an interesting issue
Arts & Entertainment
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Take Me America a meager look at an interesting issue

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Take Me America
Village Theatre
Issaquah: Through October 23
Everett: October 28-November 20


You can't beat the talent onstage in this small-cast world-premiere musical, Take Me America, at Village Theatre. The voices are gorgeous and the acting is heartfelt. Everyone seems to truly believe in what the musical has to say.

I guess that can be summed up as 'America is still the place people come for freedom.' The musical is billed as being about immigration. It more properly is about asylum. It's about refugees, not average folks who want to change countries for average-folk reasons, but people who are actively afraid of living in their country and often need to move somewhere safe.

However, the 90-minute show doesn't do a great job of helping tell any one of the six stories of despair in any fully comprehensive way. This is not a typical musical with one arc, one story, one resolution. The opening song, which is very moving (though somewhat repetitive), has a theme of 'Take me, America. I'm the one you want, I'm the one who wants you the most!' And these people are desperate.

We meet Isabella (Heather Apellanes Gonio) from El Salvador, who has had family members killed and has heard vicious stories of throats getting cut and rivers turning red with blood. She is asked by somewhat clueless American official Michael (Dennis Bateman) why she wants asylum, since she has not been directly threatened. She sings a song about being 'next' after asking him if threats to his family don't affect him, as well.

Asif (Eric Polani Jensen) has had his wife murdered by fellow Gazan Arabs, but is berated by newbie American official Gary (Aaron C. Finley) about whether he wants to take revenge and whether he is Hezbollah or Fatah. Perhaps he is only wounded emotionally, and is not in danger of being killed; he just wants to move away from the pain of his wife's death.

Wu (Ben Gonio) and Fan (Diana Huey) have to leave China because he is a persecuted Chinese poet. Do we learn how China persecutes poets? Not really. Wu has a speech in Chinese where he acts out being tortured in prison, and the actions look clearly tortuous, and he collapses on stage. It's never translated and we don't learn the details. Gary wonders if somehow he's being played. Is immigration really important enough to cause Fan to offer herself sexually to him?

J. Reese, a wonderful actor/singer who has newly transplanted to our area, plays the most ironic role and sings the most ironic song. His character, Jean from Haiti, has been bullied and targeted for being Gay. He is truly in danger, yet when he has tried to apply for asylum before, he says, they don't think he's Gay enough! He sings a song asking how he is supposed to look to be believed as being Gay, suggesting that next time he should appear in drag.

Malith (Ekello Harrid, Jr., whose wonderful mellow voice can move one to tears) is a tormented minority in his native Sudan. Zara (Iris Elton) is a confused pregnant mother from Algeria, ready to give birth to twins, who implies that she killed her other 6-year-old daughter rather than have her go through female circumcision.

The three American officials are supposed to be the gamut that the asylum-seekers run through. Michael is the law and order guy, using a rulebook with a rigid interpretation of the law. Gary is the new kid getting mentoring from Michael, and Marsha (Leslie Law) advocates leading with the heart, even occasionally letting people in who maybe aren't candidates under the law.

Gary is the only character who changes. There's a beginning, middle, and end to his learning, and he ends up being the lead. Finley does a fine job with what he's given, yet inherently he is not the lead, and shouldn't be. None of the American officials are portrayed in any way that supports the idea that they are good at their jobs or deserve to be the gatekeepers. It's unfortunate.

Director Jerry Dixon cast the show brilliantly, of course, and technical support is also great. The visual aspects of the show (by Scott Fyfe) are typically top-notch, with a simple file-cabinet motif that implies the hundreds or thousands of files representing all the people who want to come here. Sometimes, projections on the surface of the cabinets transform the location for a magical moment.

In fact, the 90 minutes pass in a beguiling way, and it is only on reflection that one fully realizes how little content there was, and how meager a light was shone on this large issue. In this case, earnestness of purpose does not produce desired results.

For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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