Theater Review: BORDERS AND CROSSINGS (Public Theater’s Under the Radar)

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by Tony Frankel on January 9, 2021

in Theater-New York,Virtual


Perhaps one of the reasons more people aren’t wearing masks in the U.S. to protect themselves and others during the COVID pandemic is that, even with 369,000 deaths to date, many still don’t know someone personally who has passed, and therefore do not know the stories of the deceased. Within the obfuscation of the world’s white, there is little time to reflect (which is why I suggest Broadway Remembers, a beautifully produced in memoriam video).

Author Inua Ellams

And what of the 70 million displaced people wandering the earth in search of a new home? We’ve heard of capsized ships, Brexit, and other headline grabbing stories, but nothing has hit me quite so urgently and beautifully as Borders and Crossings, part of Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Certainly British actors Sopè Dirisu and Mylène Gomera on split screen enrich the experience with lovely unforced work in Dolphins and Icarus — aided by Bijan Sheibani’s tender direction — but I believe the purpose here is to introduce us to Inua Ellams, the author of the one poem and two stories in this 45-minute work.

The first piece, Fuck/Border Guards, is a short poem spoken by the author himself. In it, Ellams fortunately allows two sides to emerge. This is not an angry diatribe, but a beautiful reflection on a horrible situation. Yes, there are the villainous border guards that refugees encounter in their journey to a new homeland, but I almost felt sorry for them: “Heavy booted and uniformed / the armed who mans the borders / of narrative and myth / who cast the war-torn and hungry / as vermin / will say / he reached too far / dared dream broader than his country.”

One of the few events shown live at Under the Radar, the second piece, Dolphins or The Unaccompanied Minor’s Tale, is so beautifully written, I can easily call it literature for the stage. Nigerian-born Ellams, a London-based writer, created the story as part of The Refugee Tales, works about the journeys of refugees and migrants seeking safety in Britain. Ellams worked with children who have made treacherous journeys, and wrote the stories based on their experiences.

Here, we follow the harrowing journey of a boy and girl escaping their tragic lives from Eritrea to Italy via Libya. I’ll admit it’s been a challenge to emotionally connect with theater on a digital platform, but the riveting indelible pictures created here burrow through your soul in 3-D, carved by Ellams’ descriptive words. You’ll both see and feel the endless desert and sea; the cramped quarters; the dead bodies; dolphins as angels — all imagery that will break your heart. Most affecting are the 10 rules of survival on the trek across the desert.

Almost immediately, we are in the second story, a riff on Icarus, the boy who attempts to escape Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. When a rusty-haired young girl decides to take the detritus from her father’s ramshackle shop where he tinkers with machinery in a refugee camp, and turn it into a flying machine, the story couldn’t possible be more vivid. This tale will definitely make you more empathetic to the immigrant and refugee experience.

Borders and Crossings
Public Theater’s Under the Radar
ends on January 10 at 2pm EST
for tickets, visit The Public

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Sidikman January 10, 2021 at 10:49 am

Where is the link to the 2pm show today? I donated.


Tony Frankel January 10, 2021 at 12:09 pm

I just went directly to the site.


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