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Let me preface this review by stating that it is a shame that such a play as The Container needs to be written; the fact that it does says a lot about the state of affairs in the world today. Also, you should know that, even before the show opened, all seats were sold out. Burning Coal Theatre Company is maintaining a waiting list on their ticket line.
Clare Bayley, a British playwright, has written a brief, one-hour play about five refugees attempting to cross Europe in order to reach London. It is imperative, if they are to reach their destination, that they travel by stealth. They have allowed themselves to be hidden in the confines of a shipping container, which has been loaded on the back of a semi, and is being driven from Turkey, cross-country, to England.
At the opening of the play, there are four inhabitants, two men and two women. They have already paid exorbitant amounts of money to “coyotes,” men who try to smuggle these refugees across international borders for a fee. Many governments have taken great pains to stop these coyotes, from fines to imprisonment to death. Still they come, because there is still a commodity to be sold, and there are always refugees willing to pay, and pay dearly, for the chance at a better life somewhere other than where they are now.
The ensemble cast is six strong. The actors are Rimsha Azfall, Lakeisha Coffey, Holden Hansen, Darius Shafa, Juan Isler, and Cheleen Sugar-Ducksworth. For some, names are given; for others, not. Names are not important. The fact that these six lives are, literally, at stake, is what’s important.
When we join the cast in an actual container, which has been set up in front of the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh, there are four people traveling within, two men and two women. One man is a fleeing Afghani businessman and the other is a Kurd. The older woman calls the younger her daughter, but that is not the case. She is actually her niece; the two escaped an overcrowded refugee camp in Somalia. They are traveling with the hope of reaching London,where the older woman’s eldest son lives. It is hoped that they can join him and begin a new, safe life in England. The younger woman, hardly more than a girl, secretly carries a letter, carefully hidden away, written by a man she met in the camps to the Queen of England. She hopes to use this “letter of introduction” to secure a position – any position – that will allow her to remain in England. She has pinned all of her naïve hopes on this one “document.”
At the top of the show, the truck has stopped. All four hope that it is so they may receive food and water, which, though promised, is scarce. But such is not the case. They have stopped to take on a new passenger, a young woman who is fleeing the Taliban. Her husband was killed by the Taliban for teaching girls in his classroom, so after he was dead, this woman taught the girls. As soon as she was found out, she fled and has now landed here.
The truck resumes its journey. They have now reached France, and once across this last country, they will be in England. When next they stop, their handler brings them water, but no food. They argue with him that they have all paid for food, but there is simply none to be had. The handler tells them of all the problems he is facing getting them to England; he makes it sound as if he is making every sacrifice on their behalf; but when he is done, he askes for more money: $50 dollars each. Some have the money and some don’t. Those without it find different means of desperation to come up with payment for their passage before continuing on their journey.
After what seems yet another interminable time, the truck finally stops, and a banging on the side of the container tells them they have reached their destination. The passengers file out of the back of the container, into a future completely unknown. They may actually be England, but perhaps not. Their entire horrible journey may have been for nothing.
Playwright Bayley pulls no punches in this short but brutal depiction of what illegal aliens must face in order to try and achieve a better life for themselves. The odds are incredibly small that any of them will actually succeed in obtaining a better life, but any life is better than the ones they are fleeing. Even though we experience the travel in this container, we still do not experience the fear, the hunger, the bucket that is their only excuse for facilities, the utter darkness, and the constant bickering that comes from throwing very disparate people into such squalid conditions. The play is nothing short of brutal. It is meant to be. It is meant to ask whether anyone actually will attempt to aid these people? Or will we sit back in our cushy lives and allow our governments to deal with them? Under the current administration in America, which, fortunately, is not addressed in this play, the reality faced by illegal aliens is more than grim; it is inhuman. Bayley simply asks if, and when, it will ever stop.
Director Avis HatcherPuzzo underscores the horrible reality of this play by emphasizing the problems of these immigrants, allowing each to be representative of what every illegal alien must face to move beyond the squalid reality of a camp. Burning Coal and playwright Clare Bayley have dropped the problem directly in our midst, in the hope that it will not continue to be ignored.
As mentioned earlier, The Container was sold out before the first show opened. The shows runs through Sunday, October 27. If you would like to get on a waiting list to see it, call Burning Coal at their ticket line at (919) 834-4001. For more information, please see the sidebar.