Pasadena Playhouse’s ‘Sanctuary City’ unflinchingly examines the devastation wrought by unkept promises.
In 2001, in Newark, New Jersey a high school girl, known only to the audience as G bangs desperately on the window of her best friend, B, begging to be let in. Something happened at home, something that’s happened a hundred times before and is going to happen a hundred times again. But, in spite of the late hour, his Mother sleeping in the other room, B lets G in where she seeks refuge in the safety of his bed.
For the first half of the play, the audience watches the pair of teens fight to find a little peace in a world that seems to be built for everyone but them. The structure of the first half is, at times, disorienting. Only stark changes in lighting against the bare-bones jungle gym that serves as a substitute for a more intimate set, and artful staging mark the passage of time from one moment to the next.
These moments skip and sputter and repeat and change. Occasionally hard to follow the fragments of story work together just like human memory. ??Imperfect, confusing, and difficult to trust.
Though there is no intermission, there are two distinct halves. The second, is set 3.5 years later in the apartment B has never left, when G comes back. Life has only gotten more complicated. B is in love with a man named Henry. G’s childhood promise to marry B for citizenship seems impossible to follow through on.
In Majok’s America, for G and B, ‘sanctuary,’ always looms on the horizon, just out of reach. A life free from worry, the chance to go to school, to marry for love, to visit family in another country – these things seem so mundane, but to B, they are only aspirational. Denied him by the time and space he occupies.
An audience sitting in the theater in 2022 knows that relief is on its way, but in 2007 B is trapped in his own life with no hope of escape. Not even in a so-called Sanctuary City like Newark. B, played artfully by Miles Fowler, reads as a tragic antihero for a new age.
Tucson native Ana Nicolle Chavez is a light on stage. G, who in less capable hands could read cruel and selfish, is selfish and selfless at once. Spiteful and vulnerable, in pain and intent on inflicting it. All the play’s characters are impossible to pin down, occupying a place of neither good nor bad.
The play feels painfully true to life. The ending, especially, at first glance seems unfinished, dissatisfying. B stands alone in his apartment, apparently with nothing. All hope of sanctuary stripped away. It is the play’s most honest beat. B confronts his audience, completely alone. The audience doesn’t know where goes, what happens, or how his life unfolds. They are with him in his desolate uncertainty.
‘Sanctuary City’ is a confronting and unsentimental picture of a distinctly American time and place. It should absolutely not be missed. It’s showing at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 9th. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Pasadena Playhouse’s website.
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