Building The Wall Inside Scoop
by Kayla Cohen
Every play performed at Park Theatre has a backstage story. They usually begin with Artistic Director Jez Bond lying flat on his back, balancing his laptop on his knees. “It was a scroller...” he recalls reading Building The Wall for the first time - “scroller, as in the digital equivalent of a page-turner,” he qualifies. Jez reads 300 plays each year in the hope of finding something as thrilling as this. It was unfortunate, then, that Park Theatre had already spent its budget for the year and had absolutely no money to spare. No matter! A few conversations and new patrons later, Jez had reworked the financial plan of his theatre and could take on one more play.
The critics agree it was worth it.
Set in Trump’s America, playwright Robert Schenkkan imagines just how dystopian American society could become. He asks the audience to consider Trump’s infamous plan to build a wall at the Mexican border as more metaphorical than physical. The wall Schenkkan envisages is much worse than bricks and mortar.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” Jez says, “and it’s very relevant for the political climate today.” Park Theatre does not shy away from using theatre as a political tool he tells me, adding “we theatre-makers do what we can to affect change.” The sound of change, according to Jez, is the buzz of a post-show audience all disagreeing with each other. “The drama continues if the audience leave with different opinions,” he explains.
Well, the drama certainly continued for my family on our journey home. Half of us thought the protagonist was lying and the other half insisted he was telling the truth. When I asked Jez to clarify he waived the question, “It’s not part of my job to believe him or not. My job is to communicate the ambiguity.” The tension is most acute, he explains, when the audience are forced to doubt the protagonist’s reliability as a narrator. During rehearsals, the cast combed through the script and distinguished moments of truth from embellishment and moments of sincerity from manipulation. It is this kind of attention to detail that makes the play so darn dynamic and captivating to watch.
Jez worked closely with lighting, sound, and set designers to conjure the atmosphere of a high-security prison. The stage is lit by the unforgiving fluorescent beams of an interrogation room. Sound effects of screams and hurried footsteps interrupt the flow of conversation from time to time, reminding the audience that the onstage action takes place within a much larger prison. Finally, the set/pièce de résistance is a glass box enclosing the stage on all four sides. “The audience cannot help but feel like voyeurs into a top-secret conversation,” Jez describes the concept. Indeed, the box heightened the realism of the play so much that I thought I finally caught a glimpse of that elusive Fourth Wall.
Building The Wall plays at Park 200 until Saturday, June 2nd.