Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty"

March Madness is in full swing in the Pillsbury household. This year it started in February. On February 21 we saw a staged reading (not sure if that is the right term) of Manuel vs. the Statue of Liberty -- a musical-comedy about illegal immigration by my friend Noemi.

This is the third time I have seen the show, the second time my mom has seen it, and the first time Don, Ashley, and my dad have seen it. Each time has been different. I don't mean the usual -- different theater, different performers, etc., but in some ways radically different. 

Noemi is working hard to fine tune the production as she moves closer to her dream of putting it on Broadway.

I saw it first in July 2014 during NYMF (New York Musical Theater Festival -- I agree with you the "t"should be there, but it is not) where it won the NYMF Developmental Reading Series Award. I returned in July 2015 where it was nominated for the Best Award for a Musical and the Special Award for Social Relevance and Impact, and the Award for Outstanding Individual Performance for Shakina Nayfack -- a transgender woman who was recently cast on "Difficult People." Most recently we saw it at Princeton University in a building I did not even know existed. They performed it twice -- at 7 PM for the general public and at 10 PM for the late night college student crowd. Both times were sold out. The early show was overflowing.

The play is loosely based on the life of Dan-El Padilla Peralta, author of the 2015 book Undocumented: a Dominican Boy's Odyssey from Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League. His book and the play highlight the struggle of one person who came to the United States with his parents when he was a young boy. His mother was pregnant at the time and delivered his sibling here, which makes his sibling automatically a US citizen (in the play he has a sister, in real life he has a brother). 

Manuel/Dan-El is brilliant. He picks up English while on the flight from the Dominican. He has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and reads anything he can get his hands on. His dream is to get his green card so he can help his mother stay in the country legally. The Dream Act was supposed to pass before he turned 21 so he would have been able to stay here legally.

The play and his book put a face on one immigrant. He is quick to point out his story is just that -- his story. Someone encouraged him to apply to (and become accepted to) a top-notch private school in NYC, which led to him applying to (and becoming accepted to) Princeton University. He graduated suma cum laude with a degree in classics. Through his connections at Princeton he had congressmen writing on his behalf, he met a former President (Clinton) during his commencement who asked his wife, then-Senator Clinton, to fight his cause. Even with those connections and doing something few can do, Dan-El will never become a US citizen. He is dating a US citizen. Even marriage will prevent him from becoming a US citizen. Trust me he is not stealing jobs from any US citizen I know.

As of the writing of the book he was living in Stanford and teaching classics. I heard as of next fall he will be returning to Princeton to teach. The book explained some of the special visas he has been able to receive in order to work in the United States and be near his family.

No one is arguing what his family (and others in similar positions) did was right in the first place. They are just trying to figure out ways to stay in this country legally and work here and pay taxes here. To Manuel/Dan-El and others, this is the only country they know. They have no other home to return to in their countries of birth. 


Well, that was a bit of a diversion. When I started this post my intention was to write about the evolution of Noemi's "baby," not write about how to right the wrong set in place by millions of parents wanting what is best for their children. That's really what happened to Dan-El, his mother planned to go back to the Dominican after she gave birth. She had a rough pregnancy and the doctors thought she would get better care in the USA. When she saw how her eldest was thriving, she stayed, which led to living in homeless shelters and barely scraping by.

Noemi is trying hard to convey the message of this one family. She is using the best means she knows how -- musical comedy theater. Is this a funny topic? No. Does she make her audience think about the issues in a new way? Definitely. 

It has been a treat for me as an audience member to see the show evolve. It has been a treat for me as a theater lover to hear the thought process behind the show's evolution. It has been a treat for me as a friend to support Noemi on her dream. 

Noemi is looking for venues for her show. If you have any leads, I'd be happy to pass them along to her.

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