Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Jungle: Theater as Call to Action

The Jungle

Okot (John Pfumojena) Photo: Little Fang
Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson
Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin
Until May 19, 2019

Curran Theater, 445 Geary St., San Francisco

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Today's news overwhelms us with images of displaced, huddled and disdained refugees such as the little Syrian boy lying face down in the sand, drowned in an attempt to flee his ravaged homeland. There is no shortage of such images.

Now imagine being in a ramshackle restaurant with dirt floors in one of the dozens of camps near Calais, France where thousands of Kurdish, Syrian, Somali, Eritrean, Afghan, Palestinian, Iranian and Iraqi refugees are trying to survive while waiting for their "good chance" of reaching the safe haven of England just across the channel.

Mahelet (Bisserat Tseggai) and
Helene (Nahel Tzegai) Photo: Little Fang
Welcome to The Jungle, a powerfully immersive play that recreates the experience of living in a refugee camp in a landfill off a roadway. Written by British playwrights Joe Murphy and Joe Roberston, who as volunteers started the Good Chance Theater in the camp, The Jungle was staged in England and New York before arriving at the Curran Theater.

The Curran Theater's plush seats and lovely decor are gone, radically transformed by Miriam Beuther’s set design. (See the development of the set at https://sfcurran.com/the-currant/articles/2019-2/). Audience members are packed elbow-to-elbow on backless benches in front of long wooden tables under a makeshift ceiling of  cardboard, tarps, fabric, and miscellaneous items. More than 20 performers weave through the audience, some offering chai tea in Styrofoam cups, as we learn we're in a restaurant managed by Salar (a wise and passionate Ben Turner) as the sound (designed by Paul Arditti) of loud bulldozers and roadway traffic periodically shakes the room.

Our guts tighten with fear, curiosity or excitement as we try to make sense of the chaos. A young boy is killed by a truck on the road and the grieving community unites in a Muslim burial service.

(L-R) Mohammed (Jonathan Nyati), Sam (Tommy Letts),
and Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) Photo: Little Fang
A narrator enters--Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad)--to provide perspective as the story shifts to months earlier when the refugees reveal how they fled their homelands to escape  destruction, threats, poverty and death.

 Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) and
Okot (John Pfumojena) Photo: Little Fang
The play is framed around the interactions between a handful of refugees seeking a home  and a group of well-meaning UK volunteers who want to mitigate the problems of housing, food, childcare and medicine within the larger sphere of hostile anti-immigrant sentiment in French society. We identify with the plight of these people as we hear stories of the hell they went through to get as far as they did.

The Jungle is beyond theater. It beckons us to care and invites us to take action by learning more about the plight of refugees everywhere. One way to start is by visiting  goodchange.org.uk/america.  Watching the news will never be the same.

The Jungle
 Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin. Through May 19. Two hours, 50 minutes. $25-$165. Curran theater, 445 Geary St., San Francisco, 415-358-1220. https://sfcurran.com

CAST

MOE BAR-EL -- Maz

LORRAINE BRUCE -- Paula

ALEXANDER DEVRIENT -- Henri/Yasin

TREVOR FOX -- Boxer

AMMAR HAJ AHMAD -- Safi

TOMMY LETTS -- Sam

ARYA ROSE LOHMOR -- Little Amal

CATHERINE LUEDTKE -- Angela, u/s Paula

YASIN MORADI -- Hamid

JONATHAN NYATI -- Mohammed

JOHN PFUMOJENA -- Okot

ZARA RASTI -- Little Amal

RACHEL REDFORD -- Beth

IBRAHIM RENNO -- Imad, u/s Salar/Ali

DOMINIC ROWAN -- Derek

RACHID SABITRI -- Ali

MOHAMED SARRAR -- Omar

MOSES M. SESAY -- Mustafa, u/s Okot/Mohammed

ERIC TABACH -- Shahmeer, u/s Sam/Maz/Henri

MILAN TAJMIRI -- Omid

BISSERAT TSEGGAI -- Mahelet, u/s Beth/Helene

BEN TURNER -- Salar

NAHEL TZEGAI -- Helene

TIM WRIGHT -- Gary, u/s Boxer/Derek

KHALED ZAHABI -- Norullah


CREATIVES

JOE MURPHY AND JOE ROBERTSON
Playwrights

STEPHEN DALDRY
Director

JUSTIN MARTIN
Director

MIRIAM BUETHER
Set Designer

CATHERINE KODICEK
Costume Designer

JON CLARK
Lighting Designer

PAUL ARDITTI
Sound Designer

JOHN PFUMOJENA
Compositions

DUNCAN MCLEAN
Video Designer

TRISTAN SHEPHERD
Video Designer

JULIA HORAN, CDG
UK Casting

JIM CARNAHAN, CSA
US Casting

JILLIAN CIMINI, CSA
US Casting

ALEXANDRE BLEU, CSA
US Casting

DAVID LAN
Executive Producer

SUNNY JAIN
Music Director

GEORGIA BIRD
Stage Manager

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