Denver theater review: Fear wins in ‘Building the Wall,’ a sociopolitical drama
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: “Building the Wall,” a sociopolitical drama.
When: 6:30 p.m. nightly through Wednesday, April 19.
Where: Curious Theater, 1080 Acoma St., Denver.
Cost: Tickets start at $25.
More information: Visit curioustheatre.org for tickets. Try the theater’s restaurant partner, Charcoal, at 43 W. Ninth for dinner before the show. It’s a two-block walk to the theater.
DENVER — It happens with dismaying regularity throughout history. It happens quickly. And it happens both purposefully by the main actors and through complicity by others who didn’t say “no” when they could have.
Using a mix of ripped-from-the-headlines reality of the past six months and a disturbingly realistic bit of fiction about what could lie ahead, playwright Robert Schenkkan tackled what the descent into fascism looks like in “Building the Wall.” Now playing to packed houses at Denver’s Curious Theatre Company after a run in Los Angeles, “Building the Wall” zeroes in on a national tragedy through the story of just two characters: a former prison guard now incarcerated himself and a history professor given the chance to interview him.
Don’t expect “Building a Wall” to be some kind of exhaustive indictment of the Trump Administration. As one conservative patron mentioned in the after-show talkback session, he was glad that’s not all it was. While Shenkkan uses the current set of events as the backdrop, the point isn’t fear of Trump.
It’s fear itself. And what happens when we give in to it.
As the professor, actress Brynn Tucker plays Gloria — a young, liberal black woman who sees in the prisoner Rick (John Jurcheck) her polar opposite. A Trump supporter and high school dropout, Rick was a soldier and later head guard at a private prison where rounded-up immigrants were housed like cattle.
The action gets rolling slowly, as Rick and Gloria circle each other warily around a conference table on a spare, black-box set. To get to the truth, each of them will have to dispense with their caricatured notions of the other and, for the 90 minutes of this one-act show, somehow learn to speak and understand the truth of the situation.
Rick is in prison because he’s done something horrible. Schenkkan’s script teases at the nature of his crime for the first half hour, but ultimately the details — though despicable — aren’t as important as the historic arc they represent. What happened in Texas under Rick’s watch sounds eerily similar to events that occurred under Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Stalin — pick your dictator. The villains are real, but the slide into authoritarian rule is, ultimately, enabled by the society that put him in power.
As directed by Bruce K. Sevy, “Building the Wall” builds from a scene of two strangers who thought they could never understand each other to a shared revelation that they’re both living in a country they no longer recognize. And how did it happen? Is Rick like William Calley in Vietnam, hiding behind the excuse that he was just following orders? Or, as he argues, would it just have been someone else at the doomed helm if not him?
With the play presenting more questions than answers, the Curious Theater has arranged for every performance of “Building the Wall” to be followed by a talkback session with the actors and guests from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. It’s worth sticking around for 30 minutes after the show to participate. If democracy dies in darkness, works such as “Building the Wall” are the life support we may well need.
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