Detained: a Play that Exposes the Intricacies of a Failed Justice System in the United States

Currently Playing at The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles Until April 10th 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardasht

Foreground: Will Dixon,Rear: Michael Uribes, Marlo Su,Theo Perkins, Liana Aráuz, Camila Ascencio. Photo by Jenny Graham

I have to be really honest here. Being from the Tijuana-Mexican border the stories of immigration legal, illegal, asylum, you name it, are ingrained in our beings. So, because it is something we live and breathe, sometimes theatre pieces that have overused this narrative of mostly illegal immigration, become a turn-off. When I saw the title Detained, the immediate thought was "here we go again". But, after reading more about the creatives it got very intriguing. Written by 2021 Lorraine Hansberry Award-winning, Haitian-American playwright France-Luce Benson, conceived and co-created by immigration attorney Judy Rabinovitz, special counsel for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and directed by Mark Valdez, the world-premiere at Fountain Theatre Detained is a raw, straightforward play that exposes the intricacies and countless flaws in the American system. The stories shared throughout the play are real, based on interviews with longtime U.S. residents held in immigration detention, and with their family members, advocates, attorneys, and representatives of ICE. Luce-Benson says it is a living document, and boy is it. Not only does it touch upon dreamers and their children referred to as "anchor kids", it goes deeper exposing how the U.S system continues to fail its citizens by practically vanishing them when all the paperwork is there and in order. People that have been in the States for decades, work, and pay taxes, have a green card but got an unpaid ticket or something in their record. Even military veterans that served the country, even them have been detained and with stories to share. This is a powerful play that will make audiences think twice, reflect and consider what is really happening out there.

From the Obama administration that bought many good things but is also the administration with the most deportations, to Trump and we all know how that went, and now Biden and the COVID 19 pandemic. Inhumane conditions that are blind and deaf to reason. There are murderers, predators, violent criminals out there walking free. Yet, these people that made a mistake that could have easily been handled through a fine or community service, are punished basically for life with lingering consequences passed to their loved ones.

Christine Avila, Marlo Su, Camila Ascencio, Liana Aráuz. Photo by Jenny Graham
The play has a very simple dynamic but exudes powerful storytelling. Eight ensemble members interpret a range of roles that mostly are in orange jumpsuits that they mix and match with other wardrobe pieces like jackets and vests speered by costume designer Jeanette Godoy. The set design by Sarah Krainin is a gray area with a door giving the idea of prison but more so, limited space which I also interpreted as a symbol for the lack of clarity or even common sense in the system. Matt Soson as the media designer has actors also film with phones on stage and it is projected to vertical screens that are on the gray walls which gives it a raw, emotional vibe that is accentuated by lighting designer Christian V. Mejia along with composer and sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett. The ensemble is going at a high, moving pace throughout the almost 90-minute show.  We see lawyers, people in custody, ICE officials, and a judge. Wonderful work with emotional delivery by Liana Aráuz, Camila Ascencio, Christine Avila, Will Dixon, Jan Munroe, Theo Perkins, Marlo Su, and Michael Uribes. 

Going back to what I mentioned in the beginning about being born and raised in a border city, Mexicans seem to always hijack the narrative like Mexicans are the leaders in illegal immigration or the other common misconception that all Spanish-speaking people in the U.S are Mexican. This piece has people from all over, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, the Middle East, and I greatly appreciated that.

It is wonderful to have theatre companies and their producers staging pieces like this that reflect life, the intricacies of a broken justice system, and what we as citizens can do about it by researching, seeing who our candidates are, and knowing which propositions to vote on. The next step that needs to be in a near future, is to have all types of theatre companies producing these stories. The more of them there are, the more they get to and stay on our stages,

Detained is currently playing at Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles until April 10. Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). For more information on performance times and ticket prices please click here

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