Pasa Re­views Build­ing the Wall and Qual­ity of Life

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

We shake our heads in con­ster­na­tion over the Nazi ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps, the Killing Fields of the Kh­mer Rouge, or the Rwan­dan geno­cide, but we re­as­sure our­selves that at least it could never hap­pen here. Robert Schenkkan is not so sure. In­censed by the tone of last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the dis­tin­guished play­wright chan­neled his emo­tions onto the page. The re­sult was Build­ing the Wall, a the­ater piece that sug­gests that so­ci­etal evil — re­volt­ing, crim­i­nal, un­think­able evil — need not ap­pear as a pre­med­i­tated sys­tem put in place whole­sale, but may in­stead spread its fa­tal em­brace in­cre­men­tally when peo­ple are too dis­tracted to pay at­ten­tion. Schenkkan re­ceived the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Ken­tucky

Cy­cle and was again in the spot­light when his All the Way (star­ring hon­orary New Mex­i­can Bryan Cranston in its Broad­way run) won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014. He would have a good shot at get­ting his plays pro­duced where and when he wants, which for a writer of se­ri­ous, con­tent-driven plays such as his would nor­mally be Off-Broad­way or in a ma­jor re­gional the­ater. This time, how­ever, he took a pop­ulist ap­proach and au­tho­rized a “rolling pre­miere” at smaller the­aters — a run in New York, but also in Los An­ge­les, Den­ver, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and for three weeks through Sun­day, July 2, at Santa Fe’s Adobe Rose Theatre, where it is di­rected by Kristin Good­man.

In this two-char­ac­ter work, Glo­ria, an aca­demic, se­cures a prison in­ter­view with Rick, who has been con­victed of what are grad­u­ally re­vealed to be crimes against hu­man­ity. How did this hap­pen? The tale starts with facts — ac­tual head­line sto­ries from early 2017, such as At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions voic­ing sup­port for pri­vately run jails. Then imag­i­na­tion takes over. In the af­ter­math of a ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent, the pres­i­dent activated his cam­paign prom­ise to round up un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents and ship them out of the coun­try. Lack­ing a rea­son­able sys­tem to process these peo­ple, grunt em­ploy­ees like Rick, pres­sured by bosses eye­ing the bot­tom line and al­ready over­bur­dened by the nor­mal de­mands of life, im­pro­vise their way to a place they never wanted to be.

The play has short­com­ings. In fact, it’s hardly a play; it’s just two peo­ple in a room par­tic­i­pat­ing in a di­a­logue. Near the out­set, Glo­ria voices re­grets about how lit­tle time she has been al­lot­ted to plumb Rick’s story and then launches into a rather long mono­logue — not great time man­age­ment. Sev­eral dis­cur­sions into her own story and po­lit­i­cal back­ground dis­tract from the main thrust, although Danielle Louise Red­dick plays the part with such pol­ish, sin­cer­ity, and com­pas­sion that one ap­pre­ci­ates those side­bars all the same. Todd Anderson, in a laud­able per­for­mance as Rick, earns grudg­ing sym­pa­thy from the au­di­ence by the end. Most view­ers will find that this ab­sorb­ing piece gets be­neath their skin.

Less so Jane Anderson’s lead-footed play The Qual­ity of Life, pre­sented by New Mex­ico Ac­tors Lab and also con­clud­ing its run on July 2. Through the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two cou­ples, it takes on more eth­i­cal-po­lit­i­cal is­sues than any sin­gle play should try to shoul­der. Il­le­gal drugs, as­sisted sui­cide, unas­sisted sui­cide, re­sponse to a child’s murder, re­sponse to a pet cat be­ing eaten by a coy­ote — it’s all there. In this pro­duc­tion, Anderson’s char­ac­ters re­main card­board cut-outs whose stodgy, cliché-rid­den con­ver­sa­tions are mostly polemics rather than the­ater-wor­thy di­a­logue. — James M. Keller

Per­for­mances of “Build­ing the Wall” con­tinue at the Adobe Rose Theatre (1213-B Park­way, 505-629-8688) through Sun­day, July 2. “The Qual­ity of Life” plays through July 2 at Teatro Paraguas Stu­dio (3205 Calle Marie, 505-424-1601).

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