Sometimes, you want to go to the theater to forget about the frustrating politics plaguing the United States.
Sometimes, you want to go to the theater to have political views played out in a way that’s easier to understand.
Sometimes you need to.
“Building the Wall” is a thought-provoking play that may challenge or reiterate viewers’ political position. It’s being performed at Trustus Theatre.
“This play waves a red warning flag about a possible future if we are not careful about the seemingly insignificant choices that we make,” says Jim O’Connor, the play’s director. “The outcome of this script is plausible indeed, and if enough good people do not stay activated, our world, like the one we see unfolding in 2019 (in the play), can be one we do not choose.”
The play, written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Robert Schenkkan, is set in 2019. The Trump administration has detained millions of immigrants. A writer is interviewing the supervisor of a private prison, who is now a prisoner himself, as he awaits his sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated into the unimaginable.
“Small choices, when added together, can make for giant outcomes,” O’Connor says. “Getting along and going along can be very dangerous. If audience members are saying things such as ‘I never thought about it that way’ or ‘Gee, things are more frightening than I thought’ or ‘Let’s get involved,’ the production will have done its job.”
The play is making its Southeastern premier Oct. 6-14 at Trustus’ Side Door Theatre.
Trustus Theatre artistic director Chad Henderson says plays like “Building the Wall” are created for the times we live in, and he’s proud Trustus is the first theater in South Carolina to produce the play.
“That’s an essential part of the Trustus mission: to provide contemporary theater for audiences seeking to examine the current cultural and societal landscape,” Henderson said. “While this production can be viscerally viewed as a dystopic political thriller, it’s ultimately a powerful exploration of the human experience.
“The stakes are high in this show. People’s lives are at stake. We’re introduced to two characters trying to find the truth after a disastrous political move made in secret. This play asks us to stay vigilant and to stay active – to continue making our voices heard. To continue believing in democracy where the voice of the people shakes the landscape of our national experience. This play is a warning. It also happens to be a suspenseful play with a nail-biting pace that cites the familiar present, and shows us the unimaginable circumstances that could result from an unwatchful society in the future.”
We asked O’Connor to tell us a bit more about what to expect from “Building the Wall.”
Q: What are the challenges of directing a political play?
A: Directing is primarily about occupying the audience’s time in an interesting, exciting and entertaining manner. The subject matter comes after that and varies by the time frame, intent and genre of the script. Directing a politically focused contemporary script demands more attention to actual details.
The goal is to make it interesting to every member of the audience. Some will find it confirming, some will be made to reconsider, and some will be annoyed – all legitimate responses to entertaining and exciting theater. A big part of every conversation, I believe, will be about given the immediate past, might this be the coming future?
Q: How do you find a balance between making a point and being entertaining?
A: There is really not a dichotomy here. My intent must be to always be doing both. Theatre is not a lecture; nor is it a circus. It shares imparting information and content with a lecture, as well as being entertaining, like a circus.
Q: What are the most satisfying parts of directing this play?
A: Telling stories is the centerpiece of theater. … The most joy is realized when the story is told clearly, powerfully and in an entertaining manner.
Q: How do you hope audience members react? What kinds of conversations do you hope they have on the way home?
A: The most disturbing aspects of the production is the fact that the script refers to items you have read in the newspaper and discussed with you friends within the past several months. You know much of this really happened. The script, which is set in 2019, is a speculation on what might be a possible next set of events that we might have to read about.
Q: What are the most disturbing aspects of the play?
A: Much like the events we have read about in the recent past, many things in the production are disturbing. There have been many up and downs about immigration and expulsion, both of which are disturbing.
Q: Why should folks come see “Building the Wall?”
A: People’s time is what the theater solicits. It asks that the audience decide that doing this is the best use of their time. The hour and a half spent visiting with the characters in “Building the Wall” as they wrestle with current events in an exciting and entertaining way is well worth the time. It will excite them, on occasion make them laugh, get them to rethink their positions, maybe change a position and, above all, maybe view the future is a new way.
If you go
“Building the Wall,” a political thriller by Robert Schenkkan
WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 6-7; 3 p.m. Oct. 8; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11-12; 8 p.m. Oct. 13; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 14.
WHERE: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
▪ A Talk-Back with cast and panelists will follow the 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 14.
▪ Two performances will have Spanish supertitles (a translation displayed on a screen, in this case, beside the stage) – 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and 2 p.m. Oct. 14.