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Theater Review: “Building the Wall”

 Joe Paulson and Lucinda Moaney.
Photo credit:
John Howard

Hannah Arendt called it “the banality of evil” when she asserted in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that the Holocaust was carried out not by sadistic monsters, but by conformist clerks and self-interested middle managers.

Today, we have the notion that building a wall – physical or psychological – will save us from exposure to the “others” who, it is claimed, only want to come to our country to do us harm – or at least to take our jobs, or our welfare.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (“The Kentucky Cycle”), seeing parallels between the two, wrote “Building the Wall,” an unsettling cautionary tale about what he fears could happen here. The play is in its San Diego premiere through Feb. 4 at the Pt. Loma Playhouse.

“Building the Wall” is a jailhouse conversation between African American history professor Gloria (Lucinda Moaney) and inmate Rick (Joe Paulson), whose horrific crime will be revealed at the end.

Be prepared to listen to both sides of the immigration debate, preferably without judging. That’s a tall order, I discovered. It’s easy to peg both of them politically; harder to listen to their stories dispassionately.

The year is 2019, the imaginary crisis a terrorist incident in Times Square that “irradiated” two square blocks, allowing Trump to impose martial law. A drive to round up undocumented aliens has resulted in massive jail overcrowding. Rick was the supervisor of a private prison where unimaginable things happened.

Gloria wants to understand what really took place, and will give Rick (who did not testify at trial) the chance to tell his side of the story.

It’s risky to write a play which offers no action, only words, though I could name a few that do it successfully. “Building the Wall” pulls you in with its timeliness and the skill and conviction of Moaney and Paulson.

“Building the Wall” dives right into a problem the middle of the immigration debate. It may make you squirm at times, but that only points up the fact that this is a problem the country needs to solve, and soon.

Bravo to Pt. Loma Playhouse for bringing this important piece of theater to local audiences.

The details

“Building the Wall” plays through February 4, 2018, at the Point Loma Assembly, 3035 Talbot Street in Point Loma.

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 800-5497 or www.pointlomaplayhouse.com