Upon entering The Arts at Center Street for the "ALIEN" Production, I was both excited and sad. I have participated in previous productions at this venue, and was slightly jealous I wasn’t able to be involved in this one. Seeing the show only reinforced these feelings. It was incredible. I have always enjoyed theater, particularly for its ability to communicate in narrative and song what cannot be communicated in prose. But this production went above and beyond what I could have imagined, and touched deeper in my soul than I anticipated. I write this review as an actress and dancer myself, someone who is well-acquainted with local theater, and the work it takes to put on a production of this caliber.
The players in “ALIEN: The Musical” added their own conviction and heart to an already beautifully written script by the director, Gregg Garner. In the playbill, Garner notes “This isn’t a political piece. This is a human piece.” The statement stayed with me throughout the production through songs and a storyline that highlight the one thing all human beings have in common: being human. Sadly, however, not everyone recognizes this equality. The play highlights the contrast between “Dolans” (people of the spirit, as they are called throughout the play) and “Dragons” (those who try to take away the little that others have for their own gain). This dichotomy finds its storyline first in issues that Irish immigrants faced attempting to find new life in America over 100 years ago, and later in struggles that immigrants continue to face today. To fail to see the similarities between the two storylines is to suffer from historical amnesia, a reference made throughout the play.
The first act opens to a stage abuzz with the Irish labor class of 19th century New York, singing while on the worksite about a new world where they are called “Alien.” The performance is emotionally gripping as worn faced, barefoot actors wipe sweat off their brow as they receive news that the next day will be 15 hours long. Depicted on stage are the huddled masses that Lady Liberty promises to gather in, yet we learn that they are still suffering beneath new “dragons” attempting to utilize this Irish class to build the skyscrapers for their budding empire. They are overworked, mistreated, labeled and discriminated against. Yet, the Dolans maintain their character amidst hardship, wondering if it's possible to achieve their dreams--like a full stomach, and going to sleep without being afraid. It is part of the American story that so many families survived and overcame such trials. But often the triumph is celebrated, and the struggle forgotten.
The second act opens to a Mexican family, the modern counterpart to the Dolans, working and breaking into a Latin-inspired version of the same song, describing a world where they are called “Alien.” This is where the production became personal to me. I am Mexican. Although I was born in the United States, I have worked with families just like the ones depicted, and have been treated like them--like I was ignorant, unaware, or as though I didn’t understand English. Life as an outsider is a story wrought with tears, of laughter and pain. We have a similar story of survival, but it’s not celebrated.
In the play, a descendant of the Irish Dolans (“Granpa”) finds company with the Mexican immigrants. Perhaps one of the most emotive scenes from the play was when Granpa is the honored guest at a weekend get-together. The good things in life unfold in front of Granpa. He watches the family relax after a week of working hard to support their family, laugh with friends, raise their children together, and celebrate a child about to enter the world--the things that make us all human. He remembers enjoying the same scene several decades earlier, and mourns when his own family replaces such moments with heartless music and corporate strategies for growth. The Dolans have become the Dragons. History is forgotten. But Granpa has not forgotten, and he encourages both sides to realize what life is truly about.
Perhaps I’ve said too much about the production, but this is just a snippet of the depth of this production. Enough cannot be said about the quality of the musical numbers. The lyrics explore the humility, honesty, and hope of the characters amidst struggle. The songs do something in your soul, remind you of your own humanity. It is a human piece.
A phrase from the Irish pub song (and one of the best musical scenes in the entire production in my opinion), was rather poignant in expressing the desire to still demonstrate courage and honor despite oppression. Seamus Dolan sings in “Wide Awake Me Boys”:
“Put your heart in your arms
And strength in your souls
Wave the flag of courage with me
They can take our time
But they can’t take our minds.
If we decide to be
Dignified and humanized
They can’t make an animal of me.”
I walked away from this production with a greater sensitivity to what makes life, life. I felt a deepened responsibility towards my neighbor, particularly the unfortunate. This play challenges you to consider your part in your family--the human family. It reminds you that immigrant or not, wherever we come from and wherever we are, everyone deserves the opportunity for life.
Due to the tremendous response to our release of the ALIEN Production, The Arts at Center Street has decided to add two more weekends of shows, 2 matinees, and 4 evening shows! Please visit The Arts at Center Street to purchase tickets.