BWW Review: Azeotrope's Brilliantly Horrifying BUILDING THE WALL is a Must See!
Lately friends have been asking me what shows I'm most looking forward to this holiday season. And while it's not a happy Christmas show I keep answering "Building the Wall" currently being offered from Azeotrope at 12th Avenue Arts. Then those friends look as me quizzically, I assume expecting some frothy musical or holiday classic at which point I say, "the new play from Robert Schenkkan, who wrote "All the Way" and "The Great Society" about LBJ" at which point those quizzical looks, rightfully, turn to ones of excitement and intrigue over another dose from a genius playwright. And now, Dear Readers, that I've virtually had the same conversation with you, you can understand why I tell you this is a play NOT TO MISS and how you MUST go get your tickets now. I'll wait. Did you do it yet? OK. Now on with the review.
I was fortunate enough to see a reading of this piece a few months back at ACT which had Schenkkan in attendance where he shared how he wrote the play in the days following the election of Donald Trump as President. Many of us had a sense of dread in those days and Schenkkan has managed to sum up our fears in this semi-hypothetical tale. In this world as in ours, Trump is President and has attempted several immigration bans. But in the hypothetical world when a terrorist incident hits the country the bans and deportations go from blocked executive orders to reality and eventually spin out of control leading us to a conversation between a former detention camp guard now prison inmate Rick (Tim Gouran) and a college professor Gloria (Shermona Mitchell) as she tries to get to the heart of how Rick could do what led him to being incarcerated.
Sure, it's a seething indictment of the divisiveness that the current administration has instilled into our society and yes, if you happen to be a Trump supporter then this probably isn't for you. But for the rest of us it's a fascinating and terrifying look as where we could be going all too soon and all too easy. And lest you think it's completely one-sided, Schenkkan does a beautiful job making this die hard Republican Trump supporter sympathetic and we can actually see why he would be drawn to him.
Director Desdemona Chiang nails the build of tension of the piece as well as keeps the staging lively even in the face of a two-person conversation which can become stagnant quite easily. It also helps that she's assembled two powerhouse performers. Gouran completely disappears in the role of this single-minded man but never goes to a place where he would look stupid or malevolent, just caught in a situation he had no way of controlling. And you can see the arc of his journey through his life even as he tells it in the 80-minute conversation. And Mitchell brings in a wonderful sense of strength to the role, even as the person whom the audience would latch onto and identify with, she lets us in to a sense of sympathy for this man through her own humor, anger and ultimately compassion.
These are, simply put, two incredible performers, lead by an incredible director, in an incredible play that's as simple as it is profound. And I'll say it again, it MUST be seen! And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Azeotrope's production of Robert Schenkkan's "Building the Wall" a gut punch of a WOW (my highest rating). And if after seeing the show you think, "well that could never really happen" my only response is, "wanna bet?"
"Building the Wall" from Azeotrope performs at 12th Avenue Arts through December 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.azotheatre.org. And you should note, Azeotrope is offering admission to "Building the Wall" at no charge, giving patrons the option to pay what they wish at the end of the show. No one will be turned away for lack of funds, although reservations are strongly recommended. Half of the seats will be available for reservation online, with the other half at available at will call, first come first serve, starting 30 minutes before curtain.