Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Sanctuary City
TheaterWorks Hartford
Review by Fred Sokol

Grant Kennedy Lewis and Sara Gutierrez
Photo by Mike Marques
Sanctuary City, at TheaterWorks Hartford through April 25, is searing and emotional throughout. The first half is heavily punctuated with glaring lighting and percussive noise which, after a while, distracts. The final portion of this 90-minute drama stuns with a heartfelt crescendo of feeling.

Martyna Majok (who deservedly received the Pulitzer Prize six years back for Cost of Living) writes with sharp acuity. G (Sara Gutierrez) and B (Grant Kennedy Lewis) are Dreamers (youthful immigrants) who are desperate to survive in America. It is 2001, and each is a frightened adolescent in Newark, New Jersey. B studies hard but hasn't the fiscal support to attend college and his visa has expired. G flees her mother's violent boyfriend more often to spend time with B at his apartment. Eventually, B's mother does leave this country and G settles into B's place. Their relationship is tight but not sexual. Even if G and B don't always agree, they are mutually protective. G and B do have many moments when they vocalize questions concerning their relationship. G manages to go away for undergraduate study in Boston. She has left both the sanctuary city of Newark as well as the apartment. Those periods G and B spent with one another are not forgotten. When G goes away, she carries with her a ring B gave her.

The first 45 staccato-like scenes of this intense production blast the action forward. Flashes of light and bursts of sound separate one exchange from the next. The obvious intent is to augment Majok's superlative scripting. Perhaps directors Jacob G. Padrón and Pedro Bermúdez collaborated on the decision to utilize the special effects. These designer elements, however, temper the playwright's electric-like dialogue. One wishes for a decrease which would allow even greater opportunity for expression. The author intentionally provides disconnected dialogue and this could work exceptionally well on its own, without the extras.

The final component of the play begins several years later as G makes her return to Newark and also to B's apartment. She discovers that another individual, Henry (Mishka Yarovoy), is now on the scene. The tenor has shifted and, thankfully, the actors proceed without multiple visual/auditory supplements. We have an atypical sort of love triangle. Henry is, by comparison, more polished than G and B and has his eyes on a career as an attorney.

Sanctuary City is consuming, provocative and immersive. Majok's exploration of the word "sanctuary" addresses, too, the keen value of friendship. G and B are both anxiety-ridden throughout the first 45 minutes or so. She leaves and B's journey continues with Henry's presence. At the end of the play, as G exits, she wishes B "Good luck." He is isolated, finding himself alone.

Each moment counts and the three disciplined actors never miss a beat. The show depends upon exquisite timing to fully actualize the import and impact of Majok's language. The performers (all of whom are making their TheaterWorks Hartford debut) pulsate consistently. Directors Padrón and Bermúdez push pace, particularly early on. The audience is within proximity of the stage and the actors, positioned downstage, are undeniably convincing with their portrayals. Sanctuary City is a reality experience and it is impossible to escape its potency and intimacy.

Martyna Majok is a truly gifted writer. The aforementioned Cost of Living, focusing on disabled and able people, premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016. The writer came to this country as a girl and lived in a working-class New Jersey locale. She has spoken of her own youth when her mother began to learn English and worked assiduously to provide for the family. Majok, who did graduate study both at Yale Drama School and Juilliard, fuses political implication through personal relationship. Sanctuary City is profoundly piercing.

Sanctuary City runs through April 25, 2024, at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-7838 or visit