The issue of immigration, while controversial and the source of heated debate in politics, is a topic of vast nuance.
“A Good Farmer,” written by Sharyn Rothstein, which just opened at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), tackles the relationship between immigrants who need work and the farmers who need their labor.
Directed by Kel Haney, the production follows farm owner, Bonnie, played by Ariel Woodiwiss, as she tries to keep her farm while facing the fallout of giving work to illegal immigrants, one of them being her close friend Carla, played by Janice Amaya.
Set to a score consisting of rock n’ roll tracks, the audience watched in a perpetual state of anxiety trying to predict the outcome of Bonnie and Carla, as they faced exposure from the other patrons of the town, Gabe, played by Todd Lawson, and Rosemary, played by Brenda Withers.
The show is about immigration, but it delves deeper into the relationships and gray areas of what an immigrant’s life is worth when they come to America, which is a feature of the issue that does not always get a spotlight.
This is just one of the reasons why producing artistic director James Vagias initially chose the play for the SOPAC theater.
Vagias had read the script in October 2016, not realizing how relevant the topic would still be two years later.
“You read all these stories in the newspapers about immigration, not realizing that these people have faces with dreams,” Vagias said. “Everything you read has human beings behind the story.”
While exploring the humanity behind the topic of immigration, the plot also reveals how people with different backgrounds, and even different citizenships, can hold common ground.
This is something Ana Medina, a senior diplomacy major, noticed while watching the show. She cited a tense moment when Gabe, an out-of-work resident of the town implies that by working Carla is stealing something from him. Unbeknownst to him, she has many battles to fight as well. “We all have the same problems,” Medina said. “Pain is pain.”
As an international student from Mexico, Medina admitted to feeling the pressures of fitting into another culture and in many ways empathized with Carla’s character. Moved to tears, she found immense gratification in how the show’s characters can represent all of us.
“Even though I’m not illegal, even though I don’t work on a farm, there were things that I could identify with,” she said. “If she can in some way represent me, she could represent everyone,” Medina said.
According to a NJ.com article, Rothstein said that the aim of the show is not to change other people’s opinions but to be able to create community and a dialogue.
Dee Billia, director of external relations at SOPAC theater, had similar sentiments. She stated that the play is one that is enlightening and can be a source of education for people who are unfamiliar to the lives behind immigrants.
“A Good Farmer” is a timely portrayal of immigration, but like Vagias notes, does so with care, and compassion.
Megan Beauchamp can be reached at email@example.com.