When Judy Rabinovitz, special counsel for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, began to collect stories from the multitude of immigrants held in immigration detention, she began to realize the magnitude of the immigration crisis. Rabinovitz commissioned, conceived, and co-created DETAINED, together with author France-Luce Benson. Based on interviews with longtime U.S. residents held in immigration detention – some for years – and with their family members, advocates, attorneys, and representatives of ICE, DETAINED tells a gripping and compelling story of increasingly cruel U.S. immigration legislation, legislation which separates parents and children, husband and wife. Penned by Haitian-American playwright and award-winning television writer France-Luce Benson, DETENTION takes these true and often heartbreakingly harrowing stories and fashions them into a poignant and sometimes terrifying tale of today’s immigration policies – policies which often ignore their impact on the people living them and rip family and community asunder.
Take the story of the hard-working, law-abiding immigrant living in New York for decades who suddenly finds herself torn from her children, her home, her life – and thrown into little better than a prisoner’s cell – to remain in limbo for months and even years while waiting for a court hearing which may never come. Or the U.S. military veteran who served honorably during a war in a far-off country, only to survive armed conflict, return home, and find himself locked away in immigration detention. Immigration detainees are often home owners and business entrepreneurs, people who pay taxes and have families – only to lose “the American Dream’ in an instant.
Playwright Benson has done a heart-rending job of detailing the poignant stories of real people. She has given a face to laws and politics as she recounts the trials of people caught up in a system over which they have no control, a system which seems to deny due process and basic rights to individuals who have lived in America for years. To paraphrase Rabinovitz, “The system is not based on punishment, like the criminal justice system, so the rights given criminals don’t apply.” The docudrama DETAINED is skillfully helmed by award-winning Mark Valdez, who manages to tell the painful stories with almost effortless skill. The production does not feel like a play located on the distant make-believe stage – but rather a living thing that exists all around us. These are people we know; people we interact with every day; people who do the things that need doing in our society, often for little pay and less respect. DETAINED is, in a word, a human play which cannot fail to touch the hearts of those who view it.
Kudos to ensemble members who play a range of roles, including Liana Arauz, Camila Ascencio, Christine Avila, Will Dixon, Jan Munroe, Theo Perkins, Marlo Su, and Michael Uribes. Each of you feels real, perhaps the greatest compliment possible for a working actor. The production team also deserves a nod, including scenic designer Sarah Krainin, Lighting designer Christian V. Mejia, composer and sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett, media designer Matt Soson, and costume designer Jeanette Godoy. Without a doubt, DETAINED is one of the best productions to come out of the Fountain Theatre this year. For a company known for its treatment of controversial and tough topics, the Fountain Theatre has topped itself with this thought-provoking, incendiary run-down on U.S. immigration policies. This is a not-to-be-missed production. For a special treat, try to attend a talk-back session if at all possible.
DETAINED runs through April 10, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Fountain Theatre is located to 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $25 to $45 with Pay-What-You-Want seating available every Monday night (subject to availability). For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online. At the present time, proof of booster vaccination is required for admission, and masks must be worn indoors and throughout the performance.