Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Schenkkan uses Trump's rallying cry to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants and his campaign promise to deport any illegals in the U.S. as the backbone of the plot of this 90-minute one-act drama. Rick, an inmate in a high security prison in El Paso, Texas, allows Gloria, a college professor, to visit him so she can document the truth and the complete story of why Rick did what he did. Schenkkan slowly and meticulously lets pieces of Rick's past unfold as the events and sickening conclusion of his crime are revealed.
Through well-written dialogue that interweaves snippets of Trump's well-known stump speeches and future fictionalized events, Schenkkan creates three-dimensional characters and situations that provide Rick with realistic rationalizations for his behavior. While there are sufficient anti-Trump dings in the play, there are almost as many comments to help any non-Trump supporter better understand how he was able to get so many people to jump on his bandwagon and cast their vote for him. As Rick says, he "didn't feel little, put down, or ashamed" when he attended a Trump rally and found a connection with him, even though he knew Trump wasn't always truthful.
Rosemary Close's direction provides a heightened sense of realism in the piece with staging that is natural and multi-layered, and authentic, dynamic performances from her cast. As Rick, Phillip Herrington achieves a perfect balance between the man who you believe feels sorry for what he did, but also an individual, just like Trump, who found himself in a position of power, even if he wasn't truly qualified for the role, and who feels he did what was necessary under the circumstances. Herrington manages to create a man who you feel somewhat sorry for even though what he did was horrific.
De Angelus Grisby makes Gloria an inquisitive woman who is both cautiously observing Rick while also finding ways to poke and prod him in order to get him to reveal parts of his past to help better explain his actions. Grisby's constant shaking of her head and rolling of her eyes to show she doesn't agree with much of what Rick believes echoes the numerous loud disagreements they have, yet through her passionate performance she also makes Gloria somewhat empathetic to his circumstances.
Christopher Haines' drab set of cinder block walls painted institutional green forms a prison meeting/interrogation room, while Joshua Heath's natural bright lighting beautifully morphs into darkness to create an eerily bleak finale. Elle Broeder provides several authentic and shocking prison sound effects, and Rick's bright orange prison jumpsuit is both authentic and also, to me anyway, serves as a humorous send up of Trump's comical hair and skin color.
To many people it is still a shock that Trump is in the White House. Building the Wall helps better understand how that happened while also providing a warning as to the potential horrific impact a Trump presidency can have. iTheatre's production makes for an edge of your seat thriller with an ending that you pray never comes true.
Building the Wall at iTheatre Collaborative runs through November 4th, 2017, with performances in downtown Phoenix at the Herberger Theater Center. Information for this show and upcoming productions can also be found at www.itheatreaz.org.
Written by Robert Schenkkan