BWW Review: Spooky Action's NEW GUIDELINES FOR PEACEFUL TIMES
In April 1945, the war in Europe had all but wrapped up, but it would be another month before the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender. As such, new immigration policies had yet to be drawn up for refugees in other countries, such as Brazil, where a lot of former Nazis were said to be heading.
Bosco Brasil's U.S. premiere at Spooky Action Theater, "New Guidelines for Peaceful Times" is named after these forthcoming regulations.
During this nebulous time, an overworked Brazilian immigration intake officer (Carlos Saldaña) with his own problems meets with a Polish man who (Michael Kevin Darnall), who has just gotten off a cargo ship without any luggage, hoping to start a new life working agriculture in South America's largest country.
The office in which they meet, about 20-by-30 feet square, is also where the audience of about 40 is watching. We're all enclosed in what seems to be a packing crate from that same cargo ship - with the slats of the walls leaking in the port sounds of water and ship horns.
And in this little world, Brasil's 2001 play becomes a give and Take That encompasses the much larger questions of immigration and borders that engulf the world today.
As directed by Roberta Alves, it becomes a psychological exchange in which each retells his worst war horrors.
For Darnall, it's a tricky performance - coming into Brazil with halting familiarity of a new language, though the Portuguese is all turned to English (in a translation by Luciana Kezen). Though there are remnants in the text about pronunciation of particular words that doesn't always translate.
How much he knows and how much he's holding back is unfolded as the very succinct play goes on, answering the questions of what a country needs from immigrants, and what riches that could be added as a result.
It's a nifty battle of wits with at least one surprise turn. That it all happens within this wooden cage devised by Teca Fichinski, with nuanced, shifting light and sound by Kyle Grant and David Crandall respectively, means we're all in this argument together.
"New Guidelines for Peaceful Times" shows the power of theater in both illuminating such issues, and the ultimate effect the art form can have on all our lives.
The playwright is donating all of his royalties from the play to the AVSI Foundation, an international NGO supporting refugees and migrants around the world.
Running time: 58 minutes, no intermission.
Photo credit: Michael Kevin Darnall and Carlos Saldaña in Spooky Action's "New Guidelines for Peaceful Times." Photo by Teresa Castracane.
"New Guidelines for Peaceful Times" continues through Oct. 28 at Spooky Action Theater, performing at the Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St NW, Washington. Tickets at 202-248-0301 or online.