Thursday, April 11, 2024

Sanctuary City - Theaterworks Hartford

The characters in playwright Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City are undocumented immigrants seeking to secure their American dream.  High school students, each with their own set of parental issues, live and work, mostly in the shadows to avoid detection and possible deportation.  Their names are never mentioned.  In the program, they are simply referred to as G (female character) and B (male character).  In a way, they are representative of all who have come before them and will come after them.

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

The first part of the show, a 100-minute, intermission-less production, is often absorbing with many compelling issues to digest.  However, the second half of the play, with its roundabout banter and quickly resolved complications, makes it a less than fulfilling work.


The play opens with G (Sara Gutierrez) pounding on the bedroom window of B (Grant Kennedy Lewis), seeking refuge from her abusive father.  Over the course of the next 60 – 70 minutes, Directors Jacob G. Padron and Pedro Bermudez intricately choreographs the duo’s interactions in a wave of staccato-like scenes.  They inventively utilize the Lighting, by Designer Paul Whitaker, and Sound, by Designer Fabian Obispo, to designate the changing clipped interactions, presenting exchanges from present and future angles.  During this timeframe, B and G’s relationship grows stronger, bonding over their shared circumstances, yet in an unrequited manner.  At one of their later night-time trysts, G announces that her mother has secretly obtained her naturalization papers, which now makes both of them citizens.  Her dream of attending college can now be fulfilled.  With a plan to aid her companion, she is off to start her next chapter of life.

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

In the latter part of the show, taking places 3 ½ years later, their relationship and grand plans have drastically changed.  A third character, Henry (Mishka Yarovoy), a law student, is introduced into the equation.  It was at this point that Sanctuary City becomes less captivating and convincing.  Arguments go in circles, motivations are questionable, and life-changing outcomes are briskly rendered.  A play that begins with energy and excitement peters out in the end.


The three-person cast is highly engaging with Sara Gutierrez (G) and Grant Kennedy Lewis (B) providing charismatic and sympathetic portrayals.  They convey a desperation that feels raw and real.  Their characters come across as slightly strained towards the end of the production which, to some extent, can be attributed to their maturing roles and unfulfilled dreams.  Mishka Yarovoy (Henry) is effective as an unexpected third wheel.


Mishka Yarovoy and Grant Kennedy in Sanctuary City.  Photo by Mike Marques.

Ms. Majok tackles the of-the-moment issue of undocumented immigrants– their hopes, dreams, and fears - with potent naturalness and urgency.  In the beginning, at least, her work is decidedly theatrical as the two main players and the overall scenario is laid out.  However, as strong as the initial stages of the play are, the final resolutions are hampered by unclear motivations and festering conflicts resolved too swiftly.


Directors Directors Jacob G. Padron and Pedro Bermudez adeptly guide the show through its compelling start, but falter somewhat at the end.  They artfully weave in Scenic Designer Emmie Finckel’s minimalistic set, with its veiled 9/11 photo collage and Mr. Bermudez’s projections.


Sanctuary City, playing at Theaterworks Hartford through April 25.  Click here for tickets, times and dates of performances.

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