The Hope Hypothesis
Written and directed by Cat Miller
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
The endless frustration of America’s immigration system gets a Kafkaesque drubbing in Cat Miller’s play, The Hope Hypothesis.
An Syrian-born aspiring lawyer named Amena (Soraya Broukhim) makes the mistake of presenting her real birth certificate when applying at a government office. The problem is, the area where she was born was under control by the terrorist group ISIS at the time of her birth, so her birth certificate is in Arabic, and bears the ISIS flag. Instead of trying to find a way to work around her problem, an officious clerk (Wesley Zurick) calls the FBI and has Amena arrested. She finds herself not only locked in a government facility with no means of escape, but also locked in a vicious spiral in which all her attempted explanations just get her deeper and deeper in trouble with the two pitiless and cynical FBI agents (William Ragsdale and Greg Brostrom) whose relentless questions cause her to be bound ever more tightly in custody.
In a series of short, punchy TV-like scenes, we see her visit to her mother in Turkey twisted into a terrorist recruitment possibility, her loyal boyfriend (Charlie O’Rourke) warped into uncertainty when the agents show him an indiscreet photo of her kissing another man, a seemingly powerful ACLU attorney (Mary E. Hodges) sucked into the whirlpool of suspicion by an unfortunately timed accidental explosion in a kitchen.
Amena’s simple request metastasizes into an international incident, and the punishment of this demonstrably innocent woman becomes all but inevitable. “Welcome to America” is the show’s ironic catchphrase.
Like any good black comedy, the tone of the play teeters between comic and grim. We may laugh at Connor Carew’s nerdy attempts to defuse the situation with common sense and humanity (only making it all the worse, of course). But it’s clear that the playwright is dramatizing the sober fact that the government’s frantic fight to preserve American freedoms is only doing the terrorists’ own work in systematically destroying them. The Hope Hypothesis is a sharply pointed and dramatic play that makes us laugh and cry at the same time.
Produced by Voyage Theater Company, The Hope Hypothesis plays a limited run through Nov. 15 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan.