Known for its thought-provoking, contemporary plays, Horizon Theatre has produced another work that will get conversations started with the world premiere of Third Country. Based on real events, Suehyla El-Attar’s play tells the story of Sidington, Ga.’s transformation as it becomes a refugee sanctuary, much like what happened to Clarkston, Ga.
Opening with a heated community meeting about the situation, the play touches on fiery emotions from both sides of the argument. There’s fear of the unknown on each side as well as ignorance, racism and bigotry. Once it is all exposed by a New York Times article, emotions come to a boil and not everyone comes out of it unscathed.
El-Attar’s script is quick-paced and avoids being preachy, which is a trap that this type of drama could fall into. Instead, it allows the tender story of Nura (Cynthia D. Barker) and the emotions of a frustrated case worker (Marcie Millard) tell the story. With Lisa Adler’s effective direction, the talented cast deliver captivating performances.
A recent refugee from a war-torn part of Africa, Nura travels to America with only a soccer ball that her brother gave her. Barker’s subtle characterization of Nura couldn’t have been any better. Her surprise, fear and hurt were easily conveyed through her body rather than her words, especially in the scene where the sounds from the video game in the adjacent apartment scare her.
Her opposite is Asad, played by Eric J. Little. As a long-time refugee, Asad has assimilated to American culture and is on the verge of becoming a citizen. He understands that the refugees need soccer to help them feel a sense of community, but the town’s attitude stands as his largest obstacle.
As Mary-Margaret the resettlement coordinator, Tess Malis Kincaid gives a strong performance, but it is Marcie Millard’s Sasha, a zealous case worker, who shines. She makes the character so much more than what it could be, bringing her heart and empathy. Thom Thon, plays the concerned Mayor Malcom Barts, and he creates a villain that riles the audience at times.
When Nura, Sasha and Asad go to a Braves game, the humanity of the characters begins to emerge, and it is this scene where the audience connects with them. Before, the audience has sympathy, but there isn’t much to connect with until the game. In this scene, Nura’s fascination with wave is fresh and engaging, making it hard not to smile.
The mayor, however, is predictable and drifts closely into becoming a stock character. His concern only for “those who can vote for me” and bigoted comments detract from other aspects of the character. Likewise, the local grocer Charlie’s (William S. Murphy) fight for the community treads closely to lacking depth. The friendship between the two and their conversations do allow for more characteristics to show, but these moments barely provide balance.
The play’s humor, strong production value, fine acting and heart-warming story make it a show to see. Hopefully, Third Country will continue to develop and find a long-life outside of this production as it deserves as much. Whether it is a town facing refugees from war-torn Sudan or city facing immigrants from South America, the themes of understanding and hope transcend the situational events of the show, allowing anyone to see that there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart.
Third Country plays at Horizon Theatre in Little Five Points through October 20, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit our Now Onstage Listing or the theatre’s website. The show’s run time is approximately two and half hours including an intermission.
– Kenny Norton