As the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe continues to spiral, Mosaic Theater Company of DC goes beyond the headlines to diagram hopeful refugees caught in a web of chaos, bureaucracy, and prejudice in Africa and ultimately, Israel. Mosaic’s soul-stirring Promised Land asks audience members to take a hard look at their own perceptions and ask themselves “What if that was me?”
The play opens with an arresting visual – the entire cast confined in a chain link cell lit by a single bulb, their hands splayed above their heads. It sets a claustrophobic, hopeless tone that carries through the entire play.
After the cast explains Israel’s recent refugee policies, they begin a multi-part narrative of migrants caught in a cycle of desperation and social upheaval. Kathryn Tkel tells the sordid story of Nadak, a 12-year old East African separated from her father and her home. Tkel describes a never-ending cycle of refugee camps, long desert treks, and terrifying raids. The trail of misery, seen through the lens of childlike innocence, packs an emotional punch.
As the scene turns from Nadak, Gary Kai Fletcher enters for the first of many dispiriting hearings in Israeli detention. As Sudanese migrant Ali, Fletcher exercises perpetual optimism in repetitive dealings with Israeli immigration officers, but his wounded eyes reveal just how his struggle to escape a war-torn homeland. His pleas fall on the deaf ears of Aaron Bliden, who nails the role of a jaded, cynical case officer determined to dismantle Ali’s case for asylum.
And on and on it goes. Brayden Simpson relates a harrowing journey across sand and sea, captivating the audience with devastating sequences of loss and perseverance. Awa Sal Secka contributes a tearful portrait of a mother desperate to create a sense of normalcy even as her little family flees from rebels and police alike. Audrey Bertaux and Felipe Cabezas round out the picture with convincing turns as Israelis torn between anger and sympathy as their quiet lives are turned upside down by a flood of migrants.
THE PROMISED LAND
February 16 – February 28, 2016
Mosaic Theater of DC
at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Rehearsal Hall
641 D St NW
Washington, DC 20004
1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $15 – $30
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Check for discounts
Director Michael Bloom has worked wonders with his tight-knit group. The action slides seamlessly between perspectives, eventually building to a captivating climax wherein refugees from throughout the 20th century plead for sanctuary, reunion, and a new life. Set and lighting designer Andrew R. Cissna is the play’s unsung hero for his immersive mise-en-scene. His minimalist backdrop and set pieces interlink with dramatic projections to create a grander sense of scope and history. Eric Shimelonis’ sound design completes the illusion, at one point using WWII radio broadcasts to recall historical parallels to the current refugee crisis.
Mosaic has been working at an incredible clip in its ongoing “Voices From a Changing Middle East” festival. If you catch one play in the dizzying series, make it Promised Land. Its unvarnished tapestry of struggle and survival will leave you shaken and more mindful of the simple humanity of those in need.
Promised Land by Shachar Pinkas and Shay Pitovsky . Director: Michael Bloom . Featuring Audrey Bertaux, Aaron Bliden, Gary-Kayi Fletcher, Awa Sal Secka, Brayden Simpson, Kathryn Tel . Set and Lighting Designer: Andrew Cissna . Composer and Sound Designer: Eric Shimelonis . Costume Designer: Marci Rodgers . Stage Manager: Keri Schultz . Produced by Mosaic Theater Company of DC . Reviewed by Ben Demers.