A filled to capacity house. A bare stage. "Immigrant Voices:" Amy Brenneman, Charlie Hudson III, and Peter Stray sit in front of music stands holding their scripts. Director Joann Green Breuer makes a brief announcement: "The play has resonance in the modern world. It's not just history. It's the present - sadly." And the summer season of The Monday Night Special series presented by Vineyard Playhouse begins.
Each actor in turn announces the country of origin of the person whose words they will read in Kathleen Cushman's edited interviews of immigrants working in New York City.
"Country of origin: China," television and film star Amy Brenneman begins, and, in a conversational tone and voice, she becomes a woman who dreamed of coming to America and being an artist, but has instead become a housekeeper in Manhattan. She wishes she could return to China.
"Country of origin: Afghanistan," says Peter Stray in the words of a man who has been eking out a living as a taxi driver and tells of the rudeness of people toward those with a foreign accent. "Here you think of yourself first. In Afghanistan you think of your community."
The countries include Bangladesh, Mexico, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Ivory Coast, and Ecuador. The dreams of the people interviewed are of teaching, being an administrative assistant or a doctor, and earning enough money to support families. But the realities are livelihoods that include laundress, waiter, cook, custodian, car washer, factory worker, construction worker, and sidewalk seller. All the voices are plaintive in expressing their desire to provide for their children. Many long for home.
In the words of immigrants, some legal, others not, Charlie Hudson III (also currently appearing in "FLY" at the Playhouse) conveys the sense of struggle and loneliness, of expectancies, and of disappointment.
The program is long, one voice sometimes blending into the next, but the acting is superb, and the collective impact affecting.
And then it's Ms. Brenneman's turn. Again, as intimately as if she were sharing her struggles with a confidant, she tells of one woman's life of hope and hardship. "Hopes and dreams keep my feet on the ground," she says. "I do not speak much English, but I understand more than you can imagine."