When we think of documentaries or docudramas, we think mostly of film and television. Stories of real people, often including their own words, have a rich onscreen history. All the President’s Men. The Last King of Scotland. The Crown. These docudramas resonate in large part because we know their stories to be true and their characters to be real.
Detained, now playing at the Fountain Theatre, was created in the less familiar tradition of a Living Newspaper. This theatrical form played a role during the Russian Revolution; in the U.S. it was part of the Depression-era Federal Theatre Project. The purpose of Living Newspaper plays was to present true stories to drive activism.
Detained was similarly created. The cast and audience weep together, in sympathy and frustration, as its real and personal stories unfurl. The stories ask painful questions: “How has the U.S. transitioned from Ellis Island and a view of immigrants as valuable contributors to today’s era of detentions and deportations?” “Where is the justice in detaining and deporting long-time, engaged U.S. residents, especially those on a path to citizenship?”
Historical context is woven through the heartbreaking stories of parents taken from their children, hardworking and underpaid immigrants removed from jobs they were the only ones willing to do. The detained are left for months and years without the right to have an attorney provided, sometimes shackled and in solitary confinement. In general, all had a minor brush with the law at some point in the distant past that has become an excuse to detain them.
A cast of eight inhabits multiple roles, as immigrants from Guatemala, Colombia, Eritrea, Haiti and Ghana, as well as ICE agents, judges and an immigration attorney at the heart of the action. Theodore Perkins opens the show with a moving speech about the American Dream. Additional ensemble members are Liana Aráuz, Christine Avila, Will Dixon, Yumarie Morales, Jan Munroe, Marlo Su and Michael Uribes. They channel the characters they play, giving voice to their grief and desperation.
Immigration attorney Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project commissioned Detained. Haitian-American playwright France-Luce Benson wrote the script and Los Angeles theater fixture Mark Valdez directed. The play grew out of interviews with long-time U.S. residents held in immigration detention, and with their family members, advocates and attorneys, as well as ICE representatives. An indictment of U.S. immigration policy and a cry for change, Detained gives voice to the voiceless and, true to its goal, inspires action.
Performances of Detained continue through April 10 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm and Mondays at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $25–$45; Mondays are pay-what-you-want (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) and has secure stacked parking available for $5.Proof of vaccination and masking is required.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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