Curtain Critic: ‘Building the Wall’ in an age of building walls

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“Building the Wall” may not be the best place to take a first date. Then again, if you’re interested in testing your date’s deepest beliefs and analyzing the political future of America together, it will be the perfect play for you.

The iTheatre Collaborative bravely scales the wall of controversy to present audiences with a grim and gripping story whose terror lies in its believability.

“Building the Wall” is Robert Schenkkan’s provocative play that presents a future in which a terrorist attack spurns Trump to build internment camps for illegal immigrants. Inspired by works such as “Into the Darkness” by Gitta Sereny, Schenkkan’s play masterfully weaves American politics with historical parallels to Nazis and Latin American history.

A single table sits at the center of the stage, with two chairs on either side. This table separates Rick (Phillip Herrington) and Gloria (De Angelus Grisby). Everything, from the set design to the references to Trump’s wall, reflects the walls between people.

The reasons for these walls — racism, xenophobia, sexism — are all boldly brought to life. “Building the Wall” never strays from the topics it presents; it presents them head-on to illuminate how prejudices can spring to life and corrupt people.

“Building the Wall” has a slow first half, wherein the characters build up the story brick by brick with exposition and introductions. The play quickly picks up pace in the second act, when Rick begins to explain how the internment camps came to life and how quickly they deteriorated into a nightmarish hellscape. It is here that the themes of the depravity of racism and xenophobia are illuminated most brightly, bathing the story in rich context.

Herrington’s Rick radiates with emotion with his passionate recounting of his time as head of the internment camp. Unfortunately, Grisby’s Gloria rarely gets to shine.

Gloria has a two notable character-building moments in the first half of the play, in which she recounts the death of her brother and her first experience with racism. These short glimpses of vulnerability are quickly squashed by her confrontational harshness towards Rick.

This is worsened by the lack of chemistry between the two characters. Sadly there is never a moment when Rick and Gloria grow to understand each other or develop a connection; there is always a wall between them that forbids any genuine empathy.

Perhaps this is intentional and ties into the theme of the play. However, in a cast of only two characters, an interesting interpersonal dynamic would serve to compel audiences and add richness to their lacking characterization.

Despite the slow start, “Building the Wall” is an intense and powerful play delivered perfectly in its finale. I found myself disappointed when it ended so soon; the story was so intriguing that it elicited goosebumps. “Building the Wall” serves as a terrifying reminder of what could happen if campaign rhetoric were made reality.

The iTheatre Collaborative’s newest performance does a great job of connecting campaign rhetoric with historical allusions and their potential to be repeated.

While “Building the Wall” deals with Trump’s potential wall, the play scales the barrier of political controversy many works shy away from to deal a stark, bold and well-acted play.

Contact the columnist at sosulli2@asu.edu

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