Basically every play now seems as if it's about Donald Trump, but Robert Schenkkan's Building the Wall is actually about Trump. Set in 2019, when mass deportations have taken effect, the play was written by the Pulitzer Prize winner during one weekend in response to Trump's inauguration.
Theaters across the country have scrambled to squeeze the play into their pre-planned seasons, including Triangle Productions in Portland. Building the Wall is only one act and features only two characters. In a white-walled room, an unnamed liberal history professor (Andrea Vernae) interviews Rick (Gavin Hoffman), a now-detained former warden of an illegal immigrant camp. Throughout the interview, the progressively disturbing details of what happened at the prison camp are slowly revealed.
Built on the slippery-slope argument and staged in a liberal political bubble, the play risks being worst-case-scenario fearmongering. Clear parallels with the Nazi state are drawn from Rick's psychological profile—he was an everyman who went along with atrocities at the camp. But Hoffman and Vernae give nuanced performances that prevent their characters from seeming like mere props to make a political point.
In one scene, Rick gets riled up when the professor presses him about why, if he was so against what was happening, he continued to let the situation get worse. Rick jolts up from his chair and raises his voice. He accuses her of having the luxury of outsider bias. "You guys"—historians, intellectuals, liberals—"always have the answer after the fact," he yells. Eventually, he reveals that he was afraid of losing his job because his wife was pregnant.
It would be easy to imagine the professor condemning Rick for putting his personal security above the greater good. But instead, looking at the floor, she solemnly responds, "That must have been hard for you." He agrees, calmly sitting back down, and the interview continues.
You don't get the sense she's just trying to pacify him. She seems to be genuinely trying to offer Rick the open-mindedness we might feel he's lacking.
SEE IT: Building the Wall plays at the Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., trianglepro.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, April 27-29. $15-$35.