Sanctuary City,

TheaterWorks Hartford

By: - Apr 18, 2024

For centuries, people have entered the US legally and then overstayed their visas, becoming undocumented people with few protections from unscrupulous employers, lawyers, and others. They live in fear that any interaction with police could lead to deportation.

Long Wharf’s production of A View from the Bridge dealt with undocumented Italians entering the US in the ‘50s. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, many young Irish came to the US under these circumstances, as did others from all over the world.

Sanctuary City, the play at TheaterWorks Hartford through Sunday, April 25, deals with the consequences for the children, often very young, they brought with them, These children have no connection to their country of origin since their parents could never visit and return; the US is the only country they know.  Nicknamed “Dreamers,”  President Obama tried to legislate a way for these young people to become citizens; our national division over immigration policies prevented that. Thousands of “dreamers” remain in legal limbo; always with the fear of being arrested.

They are not citizens and have no path to citizenship.

Though the title refers specifically to Newark, NJ, it refers to all cities that have declared they will provide only minimal (if that) assistance to immigration authorities

The play opens with  G (girl) banging on B (boy’s)  window from the fire escape. She is escaping yet another episode of physical abuse from her mother’s current live-in boyfriend and needs B to provide an excuse to their high school.  Each is a senior in high school with the grades to go on to college, but there is no way to pay for it. They aren’t eligible for financial aid.

It is 2002, just after Sept. 11. 

In a series of overlapping dialogues, the two talk about their problems. His mother is my return to her unspecified country of origin.  Will he go with her, or can he manage on his own? G constantly needs excuses for missing school due to the abuse. She can’t show the bruises because if the school finds out, it might lead to interaction with the authorities. She spends many nights in his room, but sex never rears its head perhaps to the girl’s dissatisfaction.

Martyna Majok has an ear for how normal, casual conversation easily becomes a script that is repeated and repeated. It took a while to determine if these were ongoing conversations or just memories or dreams. But you realize each repetition is a different incident.

The dynamics change when G’s mother surprises her: She has passed the citizenship test and is now a US citizen; because G is 17, she, too, is now a citizen. She can go to college. B is still in limbo.

Marriage might be a solution, but immigration authorities are on the alert for “green card” marriages, often questioning both partners separately about minute details of their lives and relationships.

They begin to practice their answers.

The second half of this intermission-less play has a very different approach. Rather than the multiple short scenes, it is one longer scene. It takes place in 2007; G has finished college and returned home, checking in with B. The old idea of marriage comes up, but there is a complication. B is in a relationship with Henry, an upper middle-class student at a prestigious law school.

It is these developments that raise questions. First, it is clear that G has seldom seen B in the intervening years; she has made excuses when she comes home. B is in the same situation he was in before – an under-the-counter job and no future. But he is happy with Henry.

Throughout the scene, I kept asking myself questions for which the playwright provided few answers. Why hadn’t G kept in touch and seen B more frequently?  Why is she so angry with B? This is apparent at the climax of the play; she is irrationally angry with him.  Why has Henry has never investigated the laws regarding B’s situation and possible solutions? G seems to know much more than either B or Henry.

Co-directors Jacob G. Padrón and Pedro Bermúdez have kept the play moving. They handled the repetitive, overlapping dialogue well, particularly in the first half.  In their program notes, they write that this is a memory play as “B revisits his past.”  If this was their concept, it needed to be much clearer. I was surprised to read their comments after seeing the production.

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez are fine as B and G. At times, they are hampered by the deficiencies in the script. Miska Yarovoy does what he can with the underwritten and undermotivated role of Henry. At times, the character seems to exist just to make some points.

The set (Emmie Finckel), lighting (Paul Whitaker), Sound (Fabia Obispo), and projections Pedro Bermúdez effectively create time and place.

Sanctuary  City will engross you, if you can overlook the questions.

Tickets are at