Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Hosts Coming of Age Tale About Love and Immigration

Director Kareem Fahmy says Sanctuary City is lively and pointed without being preachy.

click to enlarge Amira Danan (G) and Anthony Arrendondo (B) in Sanctuary City at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. - Photo: Mikki Schaffner
Photo: Mikki Schaffner
Amira Danan (G) and Anthony Arrendondo (B) in Sanctuary City at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Playhouse in the Park’s Rosenthal Shelterhouse season officially kicks off with Sanctuary City, which runs now through Oct. 22.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok, the story follows two young adults through trials of love and life right after Sept. 11, 2001, as they both seek citizenship in the United States. Called only B and G, the characters help each other through adolescence and while figuring out where they fit in the world, their relationship is strained to the point of falling apart. When G becomes a naturalized citizen, she helps B legally reside in the country but complications arise that lead to conflict.

As Sanctuary City delicately portrays the trying process of two kids becoming adults and navigating a slew of heavy issues like immigration and domestic abuse, Director Kareem Fahmy says it still delivers light moments of comedy and clarity.

“Adolescence is written into every moment of the play. I mean, you watch these characters age from about, like, 17 to 22 or 23. So it's really capturing that very specific moment,” Fahmy tells CityBeat. “And what's great about the way [Majok] has written the play, is that you get to see the tough parts of that experience and also the really great parts of that experience. There's a really great sequence of the play that's centered around the high school prom and that is very universal, right? What I love about the play is just how it captures every part of that period of life. It's really captured very, very beautifully.”

As the New York Stage Review notes, Sanctuary has a number of “canny twists” as it navigates the complications of B and G’s experience. There’s also an anticipation and subtle mystery of how place is portrayed throughout. The script reads:

Newark and thereabouts.
A bare stage. And then a surprise.

“It’s very surprising,” Fahmy says of the visuals and set, choosing his words carefully, as to not reveal secret details. “That’s all I have to say.”

Fahmy is a Canadian-born, New-York based theater director, screenwriter and playwright. He founded the Middle Eastern American Writers Lab and created the BIPOC Director Database. Fahmy tells CityBeat that he has been in the U.S. for 20 years and gained citizenship about two years ago.

While he can relate to the immigration process, he says Sanctuary isn’t necessarily a blatant commentary on the politics of the subject but rather a personal account of going through the “difficult” process. It’s best absorbed through a human lens, which allows the individual to examine the politics from their own point of view and with a situational and deeply personal story to reference for depth and empathy’s sake.
click to enlarge Amira Danan (G) and Anthony Arrendondo (B) in Sanctuary City at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. - Photo: Mikki Schaffner
Photo: Mikki Schaffner
Amira Danan (G) and Anthony Arrendondo (B) in Sanctuary City at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
“I just became a citizen of this country like two years ago,” Fahmy says. “I have a pretty strong relationship to the idea of what it means to want [citizenship], and it's important to represent those stories. To me, the political is always personal. The political resonates so much more when you kind of understand the experience of it from a human lens. Nobody wants to be preached to, and this play doesn't do that. It’s not like, ‘Eat your vegetables.’ It's a story about people and it’s those kind of stories that I really want to tell.”

There seems to be an element of anonymity to Sanctuary, which ironically adds to the personability. While B and G’s experience is unique to them, their situation is not. When audience members can situate themselves within the story, whether it be directly or by way of the shared human experience, it aids in digestion and allows compassion to drive interpretation.

"When you go to the theater, and you're experiencing other people experiencing that, you're in the room with the performers who are channeling that experience, I think it kind of forces you to take in those things differently," Fahmy says. "And to really live with it, because it becomes a communal, shared experience. On the surface, it seems like, oh,  this play is going to teach an audience something, but really, so much of the play is very funny. It's very lively. You know, it it's engaging and fun. I wouldn't go so far as to call the play a comedy. But it is a play that I think will surprise people about how funny it is ... I always like to say that laughter is a loud yes."

Sanctuary City transcends politics while favoring the human experience and the complexities of life. How can people relate to each other despite their differences? How can a love story about two kids provoke a dissection of current or past events and how they impact everyone’s life today?

Sanctuary City runs through Oct. 22. Find tickets and learn more here.

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About The Author

Katie Griffith

Katie Griffith is CityBeat’s arts and culture reporter. She proudly hails from the West Side of Cincinnati and studied journalism at the University of Cincinnati. After freelancing for CityBeat for many years, she is happy to continue sharing arts and culture news and stories in novel ways as a staff writer.
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