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Schenkkan’s Wall

Robert Schenkkan

By Luis Hernández

The newest play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan was written in direct response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration. It is an urgent call to action that will have its world premiere in San Miguel de Allende.

Building the Wall
By Robert Schenkkan
Starring Cynthia Simmons and David Galitzky
Directed by Alan Jordan
Wed‒Mon, Jul 5–10
Shelter Theater, Vicente Guerrero 4, Col. San Rafael
250 pesos
Tickets for sale:
Tesoros Boutique, La Biblioteca
Shelter Café

The playwright Schenkkan spent three years writing The Kentucky Cycle, the series of nine one-acts that won him the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1992. He spent 21 months on a first draft of All the Way, which won him the Tony Award for best new play in 2014.

Building the Wall, a disquieting response to the dawn of the Trump era, took him just one week to complete. He wrote it, he said, in a “white-hot fury.”

Many theaters around the United States, and the world, acting with unusual speed, have already agreed to present the play in a series of productions, shaping an early response to an embryonic presidency that has alarmed many theater artists. Alan Jordan secured the rights to present Building the Wall in San Miguel.

“We no longer live in a world that is business as usual—Trump has made that very clear—and if theater is going to remain relevant, we must become faster to respond,” Schenkkan said. “We cannot hope to be useful if we can’t respond until 18 months after the fact.”

The play, set in 2019, is in the form of speculative fiction, or future history. In it, a writer interviews a prison executive awaiting sentencing for his role in a Trump administration effort to detain and deport large numbers of immigrants after a terrorist attack in the United States.

“It is not a crazy or extreme fantasy,” Schenkkan said. “It’s very solidly grounded in current American law, and Trump’s rhetoric, and his most recent executive orders.”

In an interview with BBC Newshour, Schenkkan noted that “Donald Trump is not unusual or extraordinary… this is the playbook of authoritarianism. The question, of course, is not what Donald Trump will do. It’s what we, as citizens, will do to respond.”

Schenkkan, also a screenwriter who wrote this year’s Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge with Andrew Knight, penned Building the Wall the week before the 2016 election. The play had a developmental reading shortly after the election at the Lark in New York and was then circulated by the National New Play Network, an alliance of nonprofit theaters. Four quickly agreed to stage their own productions while sharing credit for the world premiere.

“Building the Wall is a raw passionate warning cry,” agrees director Jordan, who’s previous shows for Caja Negra include I Am My Own Wife, Diary of A Madman, House, The Tricky Part, and By the Waters of Babylon, also by Schenkkan.

“As soon as I read this play, I postponed my remount of I Am My Own Wife, which was set to open in July,” Jordan reveals. “Securing the rights for Building the Wall was not easy, and I think our excellent production of By the Waters of Babylon helped close the deal.”


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