Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 7, 2024

REVIEW: TheaterWorks Hartford, “Sanctuary City”

TheaterWorks Hartford, Hartford CT
through April 25, 2024
by Jarice Hanson
“Sanctuary City” at TheaterWorks Hartford is an ambitious contemporary play by Martyna Majok, the author of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Cost of Living.” The 90-minute play is written in three parts and structured (somewhat) like a three-act play.
Photo Credit: TheaterWorks Hartford
The characters are “B” (for Boy) played by Grant Kennedy Lewis, and “G” (for Girl), played by Sara Gutierrez. It is no accident that these characters do not have an identity in the sense of having a name. They represent the many boys and girls who find themselves undocumented in America and burdened by the limitations made on them by the decisions of their parents. A third character is introduced in the third part of the play. It is “Henry,” played by Misha Yarovoy, who upends the situation and forces B and G to rethink their plans and choices.
All three of these characters are courageous, and the actors who inhabit them are likable. Each is smart, resourceful, and kind. The audience can’t help but hope for a happy ending. Still, there is an overriding feeling of gloom that permeates the situation, so that when the inevitable conclusion arrives, we feel a level of empathy that teaches us a lesson about people whom we may not understand. This is good playwriting, and excellent acting.
The play is set in the Ironbound section of Newark, shortly after 9/11. The place is a bleak, poverty ridden area known as a tough place to live. Immigration has just become a major topic for the country, and the fear immigrants experienced then, as now, is a constant undercurrent of the play’s meaning and message. When we meet B and G, they are children, facing an uncertain future, but as they grow and get to know each other, they hatch a plan for their long-term survival. Each lives with their mother, and each of those mothers are representative of so many single mothers who want the best for their children. When the children grow to be young adults living in America, we see a very different viewpoint of survival and desire.
This play was developed in partnership with Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, and is listed as having two co-directors, Jacob G. Padrón, and Pedro Bermúdez. The publicity for the show states it as an “immersive environment,” largely due to Bermúdez’ stunning video projections and video design, enhanced by Emmie Finckel’s imaginatively spare set. The multi-media aspect of the show is visually arresting and flawlessly executed, but despite the augmented backgrounds and suggestion of three-dimensionality as characters are displayed against a series of screens that suggest a maze, the play itself is almost unabashedly traditional in structure and impact. The special effects are nice, but the message of this play is what stays with the audience and gives this play a social currency unlike others.