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Lack of depth, not talent, at root of new musical’s problems

  • Written by Deborah Stone
“Take Me, America” teems with Broadway veteran talent and experience and the show’s topic, immigration, is relevant as well as controversial.

Unfortunately, these strengths aren’t enough to save this new musical, now on stage at Village Theatre.

The production, with book and lyrics by Bill Nabel and music by Bob Christianson, was inspired by true stories and based on the documentary, “Well Founded Fear.”

It focuses on seven refugees looking to leave their oppressive homelands and seek asylum in America, and the three immigration agents who must decide their fate.

The stories of these refugees, along with their hopes, dreams and fears, are revealed through the interviews that each has with the agents.

Along the way, the agents’ stories and how they individually deal with the pressures of their job are also brought to light.

The fundamental problem with this show is that it lacks depth and opts to use stereotypes and caricatures instead of portraying people.

Because of this flaw, the audience never really gets to know the refugees and thus it is not overly concerned with their plight.

It’s hard to care about the characters when their dilemmas are presented in a clichéd manner, one after another, in a barely scratch-the-surface format with often ill-attempts at humor.

There’s the refugee from Sudan who wants to be a village chief and have a “100 cow wife,” the homosexual from Haiti, who will say anything to try and get into the U.S., the pregnant Algerian woman, who is carrying twins, and the emotionally wrought Chinese poet and his desperate wife, along with the Muslim from Gaza and a young woman from El Salvador, who is fearful she will be next in her family to be killed if she returns to her country.

The situations they allude to are horrific (torture, imprisonment, discrimination, death), yet not much detail is ever recounted to make them compelling.

As for the agents, there’s Gary, the newbie, Michael, the jaded veteran and Marsha, the one with an ample heart and soul.

Each grapples with the moral questions involved in immigration and the role they have been given in “playing God” with these people’s lives.

Yet, when it comes to crunch time, the reasons for their decisions are never really divulged.

Instead, they use the words “Yadda, Yadda, Yadda” as filler in discussing each case. Nabel’s lyrics are predictable and repetitive with cringe-inducing clichés, while Christianson’s generic rock music is uninspiring and does little to help heighten the drama.

The cast, however, gives its all and needs to be commended for its heroic efforts at making the best of this lackluster production.

As the three agents, Dennis Bateman, Aaron C. Finely and Leslie Law are terrific, and as the refugees, Iris Elton, Ben Gonio, Heather Apellanes Gonio, Ekello Harrid Jr., Diana Huey, Eric Polani Jensen and J Reese shine when they can with soaring voices and heartfelt performances.

Sadly, it’s just not enough to combat all the flaws inherent in this production.

“Take Me America” runs through October 23 at Village Theatre in Issaquah. For ticket information: (425) 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org.

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