Quote of the Day: Each new group of immigrants goes through its initiations and ordeals, treated like outsiders, feared and mistreated. Some don’t make it, but others survive. They have children, build homes, and become part of the community. They become America. Me, summing up the experience of watching In to America by Griffin Theatre company, written by William Massolia, directed by Dorothy Milne, on tour, with its first stop at CLC in Brainerd, MN.
I did not attend this performance as a reviewer. I volunteered to usher, and I was interested in the play. I was expecting something more like Theater Latte’ Da‘s Steerage Song, but this was quite different. First of all, Steerage Song has music from the various countries and people represented, and it follows the story of a few people, including Irving Berlin. Although, some harsh realities are featured, the overall mood of the show is hopeful. Look at the legacy the Irving Berlin created! (I’d love to see this one again sometime, and my son wanted a cast recording of the performance.)
In to America is all dialogue, actually mostly monologues. It starts out with a Native American woman speaking, then goes into the immigrant stories, and often cruelties. With a cast as diverse as the stories they tell, the actors portray many people from various lands, giving first hand accounts about what happened to them, their immigrant experience. The show is drawn from actual letters, diaries, and documented historical events. It was like a trip to Ellis Island. We were all impressed with how the actors could switch to the various accents of the people they portray. Projections on a screen behind the actors on stage help to give us perspective on who is talking and where they are from. A few names are of well known people, but most are not.
This is not your textbook version of history. This goes beyond the battles and founding fathers. You hear the voices of people who built the railroads, worked in the fields and mines, forced into slave labor or indentured servants, driven from from homes, worked until their fingers bled, and saved every penny to send to family members who also came to America. America has long been seen as the land of opportunity.
Some of the stories were extremely harsh and hard to hear. They came from the survivors, the ones who didn’t die in the mines, the explosions, the concentration camps, or by freezing to death. The scene about the Chinese immigrants who built the railroads was particularly disturbing.
Stories that stood out to me, that brought a little humor and hope, were of the Irish sisters who worked, saved, and brought their brothers over to America. Then, they all worked to bring their mother over. The story of the peddler who pretended that he couldn’t speak English was funny. He charmed his way into the home of a family who looked kind. He warmed himself by their fire and sat at their table, all the time say, “Thank you.” They decided to give him a bed for the night. He thanked them with gifts, and finally, kind words, in English. They laughed about his lack “English,” and became friends, providing him a place to stay whenever he came through town.
Griffin Theatre Company is taking this show on tour. Brainerd, MN was their first stop. What a treat to be the first. All the actors are polished and solid in their characterization. They provided a talk-back after the show. Audience members asked some good questions. Some provided their own insight. I appreciated when the actors talked about their personal connection to this piece. They will be performing for middle school, high school, and college students throughout the country, as well as community performances like the one I saw last night. Visit the Griffin Theatre website for more info.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Do you know your family’s history? Write it down. It’s the story of who you are and where you came from.