Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Weak Writing and Unmemorable Music Defeat
Take Me America at Village Theatre

Also see David's review of Mary Stuart and Interview with Tommy Tune

Eric Polani Jensen
Village Theatre has an honorable commitment to producing fully mounted new musicals as part of its main-stage seasons. Notable works have included Iron Curtain, Girl of My Dreams, Making Tracks and The Gypsy King, all of which began in developmental productions the past few years at Village, as did this coming winter's It Should Have Been You, a smart and surprising musical comedy. Other new works (Anne of Green Gables and The Ark ) may be less worthy, but still have redeeming qualities. I found virtually no redeeming qualities or entertainment value in Village's season opener Take Me America, an overly earnest yet all on the surface adaptation of the documentary film Well Founded Fear which tells, as does the musical, of the asylum process of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), in which foreigners who are already in the United States, having fled their home countries, have the opportunity to apply for asylum, and then face the scrutiny of the INS officials who either approve or deny each case. Bill Nabel's book is uninvolving and his lyrics trite and cliché ridden, while Bob Christianson has written sound-alike music from the louder-is-better school.

Though the seven case studies should affect us, they do anything but, as the authors have made Gary, the youngest and most callow of the three case workers, the central character in the piece. Actor Aaron C. Finley sings his vibrant voice out, but we aren't interested in his story arc. Sadly, though, as written, the asylum seekers are mere stick figures, so we don't get involved with them either, despite able direction from Jerry Dixon. The only character to move and involve me was Village stalwart Eric Polani Jensen as Asif, and only because of the range of emotions and empathy created by the actor's committed performance. The other asylum seekers are played with commitment and strongly sung by Iris Elton, Heather Apellanes Gonio, Ben Gonio, Diana Huey, Ekello Harrid, Jr., and J Reese, but to no avail. The material constantly lets them down, and, as the senior pair of case workers, veteran character talents Leslie Law and Dennis Bateman do their level best with sketchy and unsympathetic roles and the weakest songs in the show.

Director Dixon, obviously trying to save a piece in shambles, employs projections designed by Martin Christoffel and and Laura Kaminsky to sometimes distracting effect. I appreciate, however, the set design of Scott Fyfe, with its images of an INS office filled with rows and rows of file cabinets cascading into the horizon. Musical Direction by Tim Symons is decent when it isn't way over-amplified.

The show ends with the decisions as to who gets to stay in the U.S. and who does not, and it plays out like a bad retread of the conclusion of A Chorus Line. A retread played once more without feeling.

Take Me America runs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through October 23rd and then runs in Everett from October 28th through November 20th. For tickets or information contact the Village Theatre box office in Issaquah at 425-392-2202 or in Everett at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at

Photo: Jay Koh

- David Edward Hughes

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