America America an original play by Joan Bigwood comes to the Players’ Ring

Portsmouth Herald
Modesta (played by Lina Carrillo Tracey), front, and Jane Porter (played by Jill Maloney) in an original Players’ Ring Theatre production, America America, written and directed by Joan Bigwood, running April 5 through April 19.

PORTSMOUTH – An original play, America America, written and directed by Joan Bigwood, performed in English and Spanish (with the projection of English subtitles), will be on stage at the Players’ Ring Theatre from April 5 through April 14.

After 17 years of marriage, venture capitalist Mark Porter (played by Brian Miskinis) finally agrees to the idea of hiring a cleaning lady. He wants his wife Jane (Jill Maloney) to know he supports her fitness regimen and other hobbies. But why now? The Porters find Modesta (Lina Carrillo Tracey) who has been praying for a new job. She has lived in the United States for over 30 years, but her English is very poor.  Nevertheless, a strong bond forms between Jane and Modesta.

One may wonder why the director chose to write the play in two languages.

“I have grown tired of hearing stories of fellow Americans confronting immigrants speaking their language of origin in public, and demanding they speak English, saying ‘You’re in America now!’,” Bigwood mused.

“Well, my play says the same thing only with a different meaning: You’re in America now, where literally every nationality and creed is represented. In case you hadn’t tried it, acquiring a new language in adulthood is extremely challenging.”In California, where America America is set, it is possible to spend your entire adult life never learning English. “You can attach yourself to familial ties where your children and others serve as spokespeople, and you remain in the shadows,” Bigwood explained.

“You can work jobs that require only limited English,” she continued. “House cleaning is one such line of work. It isn’t an easy life, but you do your best with what you have.”“America America insists that we all deserve compassion and patience when faced with a foreign language,” Bigwood said.

Mark Porter (played by Brian Miskinis) and Modesta (Lina Carrillo Tracey) in an original Players’ Ring Theatre production, America America, written and directed by Joan Bigwood, running April 5 through April 19.

“In fact, struggling to communicate across languages is the least of our challenges in polyglot America,” she added. “Lies, secrecy, unchecked bigotry and alienation are where the mines are buried. We must correctly identify societal problems before they can be addressed. I hope this play helps do that.”

Modestais a proud, hardworking Colombian immigrant. Her English is almost nonexistent. Even after 30 years in the United States, she is still trying to navigate cultural anomalies and fit in. 

However, she is grateful for this blessed land that God put in her path. Modesta, like the rest of us, wants to be needed and to belong. 

“The audition’s email jumped off my computer screen, saying: ‘This is for you. Try acting. It will be fun’, Tracey said. “It occurred to me that taking this role was my way to say thank you to all the Modestas in my life.”

This is Tracey’s debut as an actor.

“To develop the character, I dug in to my childhood’s memories,” she said. “I was fortunate to grow up with many beautiful women who helped my parents raise our family. Even as a little girl, I realized how courageous these women were, and how their lives were so different from my own. They had far from their homes, alone, young and with not much education, money, or belongings.”

Tracey said, “These women nourish, guide, help and love – that is the definition of an angel.”   

Jane Porter (played by Jill Maloney) and Modesta (Lina Carrillo Tracey) in an original Players’ Ring Theatre production, America America, written and directed by Joan Bigwood, running April 5 through April 19

Maloney described her role as Jane Porter.

“Jane comes such a long way in both strength and understanding of the world around her,” she said. “She lives a sheltered life without much joy and finds it in an unlikely friendship. She learns to stand up for herself and for the people she cares about.”

Maloney said it has been “so rewarding, as an actor, to play such a complex character in two different languages (one of which I've never spoken!).”

“I hope the audience will not just pity Jane but cheer for her through her journey, understanding that what we portray to the world, is not always the truth.”

The Ring’s Producing Director Margherita Giacobbi said she was really excited about the concept of using subtitles projections in this production.

“While we were workshopping America America as part of our play-development program, an idea emerged . . . What if we actually staged it to have Modesta actually speak her native language?” Giacobbi said.

“It just made sense. This is a play about an encounter of two humans but also of cultures, and language is intrinsic to the expression of our identity and values. We are all pretty much used to watching movies and operas with subtitles. . .We hope our audience will be bold and curious and join us for a similar experiment!”

Other cast members include Carol MacDonald as Mom and Mary-Liz Murray as Blair. Director Bigwood also designed the set with Jeff Osborn constructing it; Becca Beaulieu did lighting design and subtitles; Rae Strand, costume design, and Michaela Pride did sound design.

Tracey consulted on Spanish language usage and Columbian culture.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.playersring.org.