Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Sanctuary City
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

María Victoria Martínez and Hernán Angulo
Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Too often, the lives of undocumented immigrants and DREAMers (young people who were brought to the United States as minors; the proposed federal DREAM Act would grant them temporary conditional residency) are considered simply as statistics or stereotypes. Playwright Martyna Majok brings two such people to vivid life in Sanctuary City, now in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage.

The 100-minute drama, with no intermission, concentrates on two teens from Latin American countries who have become high school friends in Newark, New Jersey, early in the 21st century. Majok identifies them only as B (Hernán Angulo) and G (María Victoria Martínez). Their individual and joint stories emerge on a stark set by David Israel Reynoso that suggests a vacant industrial space or a decrepit loft apartment; Cha See's lighting design shifts between the naturalistic and intense jolts of color.

This production, with the same cast, originated at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California, where it was directed by David Mendizábal. Cara Hinh, associate director of that production, has directed the Arena staging, drawing out the range of emotions of the two main characters and another whose appearance changes their dynamic.

B and his mother came to the U.S. 10 years earlier, but the rest of his family remains in their country of origin. G frequently stays overnight with B rather than going home to her mother and the mother's abusive boyfriend. They understand each other intuitively: many of their conversations are little more than "Hey" and "Yeah?" He just wants to make enough money to get by and survives on food scavenged from the restaurant where he works, she wants to earn a scholarship and go to college, and the only thing they seem to be sure of is each other. But circumstances change, both gradually and suddenly, and by 2006 another person, Henry (Kim Fischer), becomes part of their story.

Part of Mendizábal's and Hinh's vision, and the actors' skill, is the way they allow the play's words to speak for themselves. Often the interactions are oblique, or the characters repeat lines with slight variations as if to get their stories straight. Sometimes B and G try to bury the difficult moments by talking around them, or use bravado to camouflage their insecurities. U.S.-born Henry, on the other hand, has never needed to hide; he says exactly what he means.

Sanctuary City runs through November 27, 2022, at Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit

By Martyna Majok
Original Direction by David Mendizábal
Associate Direction/Transfer Direction by Cara Hinh
Produced in association with Berkeley Repertory Theatre

B: Hernán Angulo
G: María Victoria Martínez
Henry: Kim Fischer