In America’s modern political arena, one of the topics that is the most hotly-debated is immigration. Many people will very casually throw around phrases like “dirty Mexicans” and “the illegals are taking all of our jobs,” but what is the real story behind the border? The most recent production by the Department of Theater, Film, and Media Studies, The Container, portrays the journey of five immigrants traveling in a shipping container, not from Mexico to America, but from Africa and the Middle East to England, and literally puts the audience into the container with the cast.
For an hour, attendees were locked inside of a mock shipping container with the five immigrants, experiencing the same terror and uncertainty that the frightened refugees would have on their trip. The set was simple, consisting of makeshift beds and seats made out of pallets. As the audience entered the container, the actors were set pieces themselves, hunched over under dirty blankets. As the stairs were removed and the door was bolted shut, the actors were brought to life and illuminated the dark container with only the glow from their flashlights.
Fatima is leaving refugee camps in Somalia with her daughter Asha to meet her struggling son; Mariam, an Afghan widow, is fleeing a brutal Taliban retaliation against teachers who taught girls; Ahmed, also from Afghanistan, is looking for a stable political climate to start a business; and Jemal, an ethnic Kurd, is desperately trying to get back to his wife and daughter after being deported back to Turkey. The immigrants are lorded over by “the Agent,” a cruel middleman who is paid to get them safely across the border.
The show was a completely immersive experience, and it was more unsettling than any Halloween horror story. The audience, in the same situation as the frightened refugees, felt a similar terror as the ambient sounds that simulated traffic ceased and an unknown figure unbolted the door of the pitch black set. The show put the attendees in a compromising positions, as they were given full view of the horrors inside the container, but were powerless to stop the cruelty of the Agent or ease the plight of their helpless co-inhabitants.
The action itself was disturbing and stirring, and there was a particularly sinister implied rape scene that confirmed the need for patrons to sign a waver before viewing the show. It was masterfully directed and acted, and certainly achieved its goal of bringing to light some of the unspoken atrocities surrounding immigration and the struggles of refugees. If shown to the lawmakers in Washington, it would certainly alter the current political discussions involving this touchy subject.