DramaNew York

The Hope Hypothesis – The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, New York City

Writer & Director: Cat Miller

Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers

The nightmare circumstances surrounding America’s immigration policies is an undeniably hot-button issue right now. Uncertainty, fear, and desperation seem to constantly underlie every decision those who came to this country after their birth must face. Nobody can control where they are born, or even events from their pasts that led them to their current circumstances. Despite this, those who go through the arduous process to come to the United States, by whichever means and path they choose are forced to face people and institutions that question their very existence when trying to complete even the most mundane of tasks. In the case of Amena, the lead character in Cat Miller’s new play The Hope Hypothesis, a routine trip to the DMV becomes a nightmare in bureaucratic overreach.

The premise and story arc of The Hope Hypoethesis are both compelling. A routine trip to the DMV for an immigrant from Syria, Amena, leads to a panicked window teller to alert DHS, the immigrant’s American-born partner is also detained, and federal agents use circumstantial evidence to destabilize the romantic relationship in hopes of discrediting Amena. Every piece of damning evidence is taken out of context to add to the ICE case, including events that happen during detainment and inquiry. The play moves somewhat cyclically, with multiple characters facing the same interrogation at the beginning and end of the play.

Zoë Hurwitz’s covertly modular set is middle-level government-office perfection, with everything in nondescript neutral tones and no frills. The psychic red tape of the environment is palpable, giving a capable cast (Soraya Broukhim, Wesley Zurick, William Ragsdale, Greg Bostrom, Charlie O’Rourke, Connor Carew, and Mary E. Hodges) a world without footholds. In this element, less is more and the starkness creates a great sense of payoff.

The Hope Hypothesis references its own title at least twice in dialogue, which feels a bit Playwriting 101 and a bit more cutesy than the rest of the play seems to intend. The concept of hope and how individuals and groups behave in its absence versus its presence is a compelling notion. Having these flashing arrow moments to the thesis of the script undermines the subtlety and complexity that are present in other moments.

As a story, the concept is strong. The execution of this production, though, is middling. Miller’s writing at time feels a bit pedantic and details about minor characters draw focus. There are moments of genuine humor that humanize all characters, but at times the stakes prove lacklustre. Though the circumstances create undeniable tension, there is a misfire in engagement, a holding-back energetically that makes a potentially great play fall to merely good. To be fair, this review is addressing a preview performance, so perhaps the energetic stride will be hit once the production opens.

Runs until 15 November 2019 | Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheenan

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