Miranda, a new play by James Still had its world premiere at the Illusion theater Saturday night. The play, which takes place between 2014 and 2015, is about a CIA operative, Miranda, also known as Susanne or Dana, and her work in Yemen (one of the countries affected by Trump's immigration ban). Officially she is in the country working for a non profit called Building Bridges, using theater as a way to foster peace, but unofficially she meets with a doctor in order to gain intelligence for the United States.
It is a spy triller, which is mirrored by passages from Othello, the play that Building Bridges is planning a production of. But Miranda is unlike any spy thriller I have even seen. All the tension comes from check in meetings with the CIA, no bad guy or enemy is ever seen on stage. Although Bid Laden (although already dead), Al Qaeda and ISIS are an obvious stressors, both non-American, Muslim characters in the play are shown as allies, often times putting themselves into danger in order to assist the US in building what they hope will be a better world. Although still a fictional play, it felt much more honest than other spy movies (think James Bond). Miranda is flawed, is often challenged, and there are no car chases or gun fights, but there is the work of building relationships and the stresses which come from leading a secretive life.
When a play's title is a character's name, it is important that you have a strong actor to lead the cast, and Carolyn Pool is just that person. Miranda is in many ways a desperate character, a very competent but still desperate and Pool is able to bring all of the these layers.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, Steve Hendrickson and Beth Gilleland play multiply characters, Miranda's friends from a past cover and her superior officers at the CIA. Delta Rae Giordano plays Dr. Nihal Al-Agbhari, a doctor who runs a clinic only for women, who is Miranda's contact, Giordano was also involved in the 2014 Fresh Ink reading of Miranda. Ricky Morriseau is Shahid, the one teenager who comes to Building Bridges and thinks very critically on Othello, its characters, and the meaning behind the words.
The set, designed by Dean Holzman, was comprised of three segments of varying levels, and a tower in the background on which projections of maps or a city scape was shown. The multiple levels, with beautiful floors, aided in transitions between different times and places, as the characters were able to step from one to the other.
In general the entire show directed by Michael Robins runs smoothly, although some of the transitions at the beginning were awkward and confusing, and I found it taking longer than usual to get into the play. But once I was, I was hooked.
Miranda is a very important play for our time. We live in a country where our president vilifies Muslims, and has banned immigration from Yemen, the country where this play takes place. Yet Miranda shows the residents of this country as humans, wanting the best for their country and risking their lives in pursuit of it and in aiding the United States.
Miranda is only one of the very timely plays opening this weekend in the Twin Cities. Flower Drum Song, currently playing at Park Square Theater is a show focusing the the Chinese immigrant experience in the 1950s. Transatlantic Love Affair's new show, Promise Land, currently playing at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio also focuses on the immigrant experience.
If you are like me, and struggling in how to process the information of the past weekend and the truth of a Trump presidency I encourage you to stay informed, support important organizations such as the ACLU in whatever way you can, and also engage in the arts. I have been finding more and more that the arts are a great way to reflect about the past and think upon the future.
Miranda is playing at the Illusion Theater until February 18th.