by Beki Pineda
BUILDING THE WALL – Written by Robert Schenkkan; Directed by Chip Walton. Produced by Curious Theatre Company (1080 Acoma, Denver) through July 27. Tickets available at 303-623-0524 or curioustheatre.org.
In 2001, Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci led the cast of a movie called CONSPIRACY which documented the 1942 Wannsee Conference in Nazi Germany. A dozen or so generals sat around a conference table coolly debating the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Displaying the emotions of the Board of Directors of an automobile factory, they discussed the pros and cons of extermination methods, disposal techniques, transportation in and out of work camps, distribution of “assets,” public relations, etc. It takes a few minutes to realize they are discussing people.
BUILDING THE WALL illustrates the gradual disintegration of the moral compass of one man representing a nation. Just like the people sitting around that table 77 years ago. It starts off with a problem that needs to be solved which results in a policy that may or may not make some sort of sense. Which then becomes a set of regulations which may or may not reflect the spirit of the policy. Which are passed down to the implantation mechanism – usually normal workers who are given a job to do whether they understand it or agree with it. Then complicate the situation by creating a demand greater than possible for implementation . . . . and perhaps withhold resources. And, Voila, you have an ICE detention camp. Basically good but overwhelmed people given an impossible task with diminishing resources.
Schenkkan foresaw these problems when he followed the campaign rhetoric of 2016 to its logical conclusion and wrote BUILDING THE WALL as a forewarning of things to come. Now two years down the road, it’s disheartening to realize how many of his predictions have come true already. We are to the withholding resources section by now. The fictional solutions created for the production will not – can not – be allowed into the real life counterpart.
As a theatrical production, BUILDING THE WALL could not be simpler. A bare room with a table and two chairs. Obvious cameras watching everything while two characters discuss what happened in one camp and why. A relatively neutral historian is interviewing the supervisor of a camp. He is in prison for charges at first unspecified. We learn that those above him in the chain of command have been silenced or remain silent, leaving him to bear the burden of actions he was ordered to take. The agonizing tale is slowly drawn out of Rick played with understated but heart wrenching authenticity by John Jurcheck who originated the role in the first production at Curious two years ago. At first suspicious, he finally seems relieved to be able to tell his side of the story. Chicago actress Celeste M. Cooper is his interrogator mixing genuine curiosity and accusatory anger in equal measure. Her outrage becomes tempered as the story unfolds but never to the point of absolving his actions.
We must remember that all the Schmidts and Mullers sitting in the beer garden seventy years ago also said, “Nothing like that could happen here.” Today we can sit at the bar after a show like this and theorize what coulda – shoulda been done differently and how it would never happen here. And then we turn on the news . . .
A WOW factor of 9.5!!