Building The Wall: The Handyman’s Tale

James Badge Dale, Tamara Tunie. All photos by Carol Rosegg.

Building The Wall: The Handyman’s Tale

By Ross
It’s a shocking thing, to see this disturbing yet powerful play about this moment in time right here and now in America and what our possible future could be if something terrible were to happen on our soil. A tragic event could become the fuel to send an already scary world spiraling into a not-so-hard to believe nightmare. I won’t say more about what happens in Robert Schenkkan’s gripping new drama because half the thrill is being a part of the inching forward into the possible. But to then walk out of the New World Stages where Building The Wall opened a few days ago to the news of the horrific tragedy in Manchester the night I saw this play is chilling to the bone.
This is a play, as directed impressively by Ari Edelson, that was born on Election Day in America when that man who’s name I hate to mention became the president. This is not fiction, but fact.  Schenkkan’s fiction begins with James Badge Dale as Rick, a true believer in the slogan, “Make America Great Again”.  But something has gone terribly wrong for this gung-ho supporter, as we find him a prisoner in solitary confinement at some prison facility somewhere in America.  He’s prisoner #2147, and Tamara Tunie, as the liberal professor, Gloria has arrived to interview him.  To get the story right. The story that didn’t come out in the courtroom.
The room certainly looks and sounds the part (kudos to scenic designer: Antje Ellermann, costume designer: Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting designer: Tyler Micoleau, and original music and sound design by Bart Fasbender) from the crashing and eye popping effects that starts this story moving forward.  Building The Wall feels very important. The conversation between these two solid characters, both intensely and purposefully played by these two fine actors, feels true and real. I have to say though, that as the story unfolds, I found it harder and harder to understand why this scenario was actually taking place.  If all that these two are discussing are actions and events that we are meant to ingest and believe in, it feels highly unlikely that a very liberal black professor would be allowed anywhere near this interrogation room or this man.  Rick denies that race or racism are at the root of whatever it is he has been charged with, but regardless, the topic hangs over that room like a infectious disease. What did he do? is the question you can’t avoid thinking. That being said, if you don’t think about the artificial set-up too much, and just accept that this is where we are, the rest of the play drives forward like a landslide turning into an avalanche.  And it’s frightening to listen to or imagine.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is being slowly teased out week after week on Hulu, and it’s glorious to behold.  The two concepts are cut from the same cloth. The ‘what might happen if’ a big terrorist attack gave our government the authority and the power to declare martial law over the country.  If they had a reason, as they did in The Handmaid’s Tale, is it out of the question to think that the tragedy would be used to strip away our rights and create a new world order? This is what we are asked to believe in Atwood’s dystopian future when a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship is installed and slowly takes away the rights of the citizens of America.  Would it be so hard to believe that if something terrible would happen in America now, with our leadership the way it is, that a similar avalanche might happen at any given moment, and not in some dystopian future. The U.K. has raised its official threat level from severe to critical, meaning, as reported by the, “an attack is expected imminently” bringing in the army for the citizen’s protection because of the terrorist attack in Manchester.  Building The Wall makes a terrific and terrifying case that some terrible things might happen if something similar happens on our soil. Will we see it coming? Will we be ready to resist?

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