More than a hundred people watched in awe at a (one night only) stage reading telling the tale of a security guard turned bureaucratic clerk and jailer who murdered thousands.
Robert Schenkkan is a Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award winner, three-time Emmy nominated writer. He is the author of fifteen plays: All the Way, The Great Society, Shadowplay, By the Waters of Babylon, Handler, A Single Shard, Devil and Daniel Webster, Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, Final Passages, The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune, Heaven on Earth, Tachinoki, The Dream Thief, and The Kentucky Cycle (Pulitzer prize, Tony and Drama Desk nominations). Of these plays The Kentucky Cycle is the one that caught my eye. Playwrite Robert Schenkkan received a grant from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays for The Kentucky Cycle. The Kentucky Cycle has Pacific Northwest roots. The play premiered in 1991 at Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington. In 1992 The Kentucky Cycle won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. My cousin Lavinia Moyer-Hart, who grew up in Puyallup and performed in Seattle at the Empty Space Theatre, co-directed with Patricia Ansuini The Kentucky Cycle, Parts 1 and 2, for which Ansuini and Hart won best directors and best play of the 2003 – 2004 season, awarded by The Oakland Press. The dialog is poignant, lyrical, and from the heart. That description echoes on in Schenkkan’s play, Building the Wall.
Inspiration comes from the strangest of places. Such was the beginning of Building the Wall with Shenkkan’s remembrance, “Several years ago I stumbled across, ‘Into That Darkness’ by Gitta Sereny. It is an attempt to understand the bleakest of the Nazi horrors by focusing on one ordinary man who for a brief moment, found himself with unlimited power. The past is often the future and in this play I have imagined a not so distant time to come in which President Trump’s rhetoric has found its full expression. While the current political crisis is extraordinary it is not new, the authoritarian play book is well established. Create a constant state of crisis which only a ‘strong’ leader can solve. Encourage fear, divide the populace, and scapegoat minorities with appeals to nationalism, racism, and isolationism. Smear your opponents as unpatriotic and tell the press to ‘just shut up and listen.’ The question, of course, is not so much what the Authorities will do but how we, the citizens, will respond. Sickened by the hate, by the constant assault, will we succumb to our fears, avert our gaze, and look after our own interests? Or will we enthusiastically put our shoulders to their dark wheel? Or will we resist. To those who say that could never happen here in this country, I reply, maybe so, but that of course will depend entirely on what you do.”
Randy Clark of Dukesbay Productions directed the stage reading of Building the Wall presented at Tacoma Little Theatre. Clark says, “I found this script last September down in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s bookstore and immediately knew I had to produce it. I believe our country is in crisis and this is a well-written play about how far our fear might drive us.” Chris Serface (seen with two audience members of Building the Wall), the managing artistic director of Tacoma Little Theatre continues to reach out within the theatrical circles of Tacoma and Pierce County. Dukesbay is located in the Merlino Art Center in downtown Tacoma. Randy Clark is a board member at TLT. Randy and his wife Aya Hashiguchi Clark spend their energies, “Promoting independent theatre in Tacoma, and providing a voice to artists of all ethnicities.”
A professor, played by Ieisha McIntyre visits a convicted murderer in prison. On the advice of counsel, he never spoke in his own defense during his trial. The killer has agreed to tell his story. In the guise of checking her notes McIntyre reads from her script. The professor, a black woman, at first confuses the killer who wants to make it clear that he is not a racist. He then tells his story prompted by questions and comments from the professor.
The administrator, played by Scott C. Brown tells how he went from a high school drop out to a security guard and then on to a military policeman and finally to a private security firm management lackey. Clad in an orange jumpsuit, Brown tells the mundane story of a workaday Eichmann (praised by Trump) who is constantly playing catchup as he deals with processing, overcrowding, and finally gassing “illegal” immigrants and others all in the name of building the wall. Brown’s presentation was stunning. A standing ovation was almost the final payment. I wish Scott had been quicker changing to street clothes. I’ve never seen that many people waiting around after a stage reading performance at TLT. Scott missed many accolades. This play or this stage reading of the play needs to be duplicated and shared with other audiences everywhere in America.