Confronting Immigration Head-On
Friday, December 14, 2007
When "The Nation of Immigrants Project" hits the stage next week for a series of readings, its subject matter may make audience members uneasy. If so, they wouldn't be the first to be troubled by the play's themes of cultural estrangement: At one point in rehearsals, an actor dropped out of the production after having qualms about expressing one character's virulently anti-immigrant views.
Then there's the playwright himself. Patrick Crowley, a freelance theater educator and teacher at Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights, developed the play in collaboration with the Young Playwrights' Theater out of workshops and interviews with young, largely Latino members of Washington's immigrant community. At times, Crowley says, he was "crippled by fear" of being perceived as the benevolent, patronizing white man. "Should I be the one writing this?" he asked himself again and again.
In the end, Crowley concluded, his piece, which he says is "not for the shy," needed to be not just personal but "dangerous for me." Which meant letting the work give full, uncensored voice to two families, one Anglo, one immigrant. Recalling a recent visit with his own Norwegian grandmother and great-aunt, whom he was shocked to hear express anti-Mexican sentiments, Crowley says his hesitation to speak up at the time was anything but cowardice. "I would rather sit there and listen than confront her," he says, explaining that that is the artist's role: to collect material from everywhere, including, if necessary, one's own life.
Besides, there's a difference between confrontation and conversation. "That's why [I do] theater," Crowley says. "I want to increase the dialogue."
The Nation of Immigrants Project GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW 202-387-9173.http:/