Who are you really? How much perspective is generated internally and how much is shaped by those around you? How much is from your community?
Nathan’s professor, Dr. Pearson, poses this short question with deep implications, and what follows is a dive into identity that swims through the psychological and into the topical. Welcome to “The Pot.”
Glenn Hutchinson’s timely 2015 stage play comes to Mobile through personal acquaintance. Director John Richards was in Miami for a training conference and occupied his free Sunday with community theater.
“It’s only been performed about three or four times. I really enjoyed it and said we need to bring this to Mobile,” Richard recalled.
He was the guy to do it. A self-professed theater “hobbyist,” Richards has been involved with local productions for about 15 years. Richards directed last year’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and 2016’s “The Woman in Black,” both at Mobile Theatre Guild (14 N. Lafayette St.). He’s followed suit with “The Pot.”
Nathan’s class assignment is complex. He’s African-American — technically racially mixed, but this is “one-drop” America — and adopted. A Thanksgiving sojourn enlivens the mix when his sister brings home her boyfriend, an undocumented Mexican immigrant. Throw in Nathan’s father, a newly elected state senator, and an uncle who’s a conservative blogger and their melting pot starts to steam.
“I’m one of these people, the immigration issue is about Texas and Los Angeles and California and Florida. I didn’t really look at it as something that affects the local community much,” Richards said.
Varied experiences riddle the eight-member cast. Boyfriend Rick’s sister is a DACA kid, though Rick was a year too old to qualify.
“There’s a character who is their housekeeper and she is saying, ‘Do you like it when people cut in line? Well, we didn’t. We did all the paperwork. We followed all the rules. We came here legally,’” Richards said.
The director will borrow an extra element from the Miami production when they feature a panel discussion following the Sunday matinee. Friday and Saturday curtain is 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinee is 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday attendees are invited to return free on Sunday for the discussion around 4 p.m.
“I have the playwright flying in from Miami the first Sunday, April 15. I also have some other advocates like Frank Barragan from the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Juan Torres,” Richards noted.
Torres is with BELONG, an organization providing “essential opportunities to immigrants” through “a network of one-stop-shop community center platforms.”
“I also have Grace Resendez McCaffrey, who runs the only Spanish-language newspaper on the Gulf Coast out of Pensacola. La Costa Latina is the name of it. She’s going to try and be here the second Sunday,” Richards said.
He’s attempting to round out the panel by inviting conservative writer and pundit Brendan Kirby, who hasn’t yet responded to Richard’s invitation.
“I don’t want it to be one-sided. That’s what’s good about this show, it has all viewpoints covered, from Uncle John, who is more the ‘build the wall, send them back type,’ to the housekeeper and then the boyfriend and his sister being DACA kids more or less with no control over what’s happened to them,” Richards said.
For Richards, the director’s role is endless. He spent his last free Saturday aiming lights, programming light boards and addressing the fires that consistently spark.
“It’s definitely challenging. Every show you’re involved with you’re like, ‘Gosh, if we had one more week then we could really get this show down to what it needs to be,’” Richards laughed.
Richards noted the advantage of being the only live theatrical production in town for two weeks. He’s hoping it aids attendance.
He also praised Hutchinson’s style. The playwright was no doubt helped by his educational job and an ear for public interaction.
“One thing that really drew me to it was how natural the conversation was. This isn’t Tennessee Williams; this is a professor who decided to write a play. None of the dialogue’s forced to advance the plot so nothing sounds like it’s out of left field just to make a point,” Richards said.
With the Azalea City’s rich history of immigration — think Chastang, Perez, Zoghby, Nguyen — it’s a resonant subject.
“It’s not a preachy play that’s trying to get you to side with one side. It’s more just something that could easily happen here in Mobile,” Richards said.