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Review: Sanctuary City at Arena Stage

A rough cross-country journey for Martyna Majok's excellent script

Review: Sanctuary City at Arena Stage
L-R Hernán Angulo and María Victoria Martínez in Arena Stage's co-production with Berkeley Repretory Theatre of Sanctuary City.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Martyna Majok is easily one of the modern-day theatre's finest playwrights. You might remember her play Ironbound being performed at Round House Theatre a few seasons ago. You might also know her as the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Cost of Living which concludes a successful Broadway run at Manhattan Theatre Club this week.

One of her latest plays Sanctuary City is currently being performed at Arena Stage as a co-production with California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre. It tackles the very timely and important topic of dreamers and what lengths they will go to in order to stay in this country.

B (Hernán Angulo) and G (María Victoria Martínez) are childhood friends. They are living in Newark NJ undocumented. B has overstayed his visa and is now in danger of being deported so G offers to marry him so he can stay in this country. The complication is that she is going to college in Boston via her mom getting her naturalization papers.

A few years pass with no communication between B and G. B has fallen in love with Henry (Kim Fischer) and when G returns to Newark, things get messy to say the least. B and G had a relationship for many years and now B must choose how and with who he will continue his life.

Time for a full disclosure. Me and my wife might have been two of the only people (Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith not withstanding) sitting in the Kreeger that saw this very production out in California, so I have something to compare with.

The show came here with the same trio of actors and set. Unfortunately, director David Mendizábal left his Associate Director Cara Hinh to handle the staging for this cross-country transfer. To be fair, Berkeley Rep's stage is closer to the Kogod Cradle with the audience on top of the action so maybe that would have helped matters but Hinh somehow managed to take all the tension out of Majok's script. That is not an easy fete. The big scene between the three characters toward the end of the show throttled you out west but here it just seemed flat as if Hinh forgot she had to play the show to the balcony of the Kreeger.

Martínez as G is the strongest of the three performances. She actually was the only one of the acting trio that kept her performance from Berkely Rep intact thank god! Angulo as B I did not care about this time around which is a bad thing. Fischer's Henry was at times inaudible which is also not good.

Ultimately, I would like to know what happened to Sanctuary City at Arena Stage. The topic is timely. Majok's script proves again that creating good theatre is very possible these days in the correct hands. Unfortunately, Sanctuary City got lost in translation on its 3,000-mile cross-country journey.

Running Time: One Hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

Sanctuary City runs through November 27th, 2022 in the Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage which is located at 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, DC.



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