Nearly a decade after it debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in 2013, Rachel De-lahay’s Routes has landed at Theater Wit for its American premiere. Presented by Remy Bumppo, Routes is a story of progressively intertwined, mirrored vignettes of two characters and the handful of people who will determine their respective fates. Olufemi (Yao Dogbe) is a Ghanian immigrant who, after running afoul of British law, is deported with a near-guarantee to never reenter the country, effectively separating him from his family for life. Bashir (Terry Bell) is a barely 18-year-old Somalian refugee, orphaned young, who is completely unaware of his precarious status in the only country he’s ever known.
Routes Through 11/20: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2:30 PM; also Sat 10/29-11/12 2:30 PM and Thu 11/17 2:30 PM; audio description and touch tour Sat 10/29 2:30 PM (touch tour begins 1 PM), open caption performance Sat 11/5 2:30 PM; Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, 773-975-8150, remybumppo.org, $32-$40 ($15 industry, $10 student)
“Routes” and “roots” are homophones (at least in the typical British “Received Pronunciation” accent), and this subtle duality speaks to the play’s underlying theme. How do you chart a new route that is in conflict with your roots?
You can’t watch this play today without considering the impact Brexit has had on the efficacy of the European Court of Human Rights, an already dubious protective measure in the lives of asylum seekers (as the play demonstrates). But the timing of Routes’s American premiere is especially relevant with regard to the rampant inhumanity of current immigration policy in the U.S., as well. Mara Zinky’s scenic design casts these issues into the literal box they are often shelved in by politicians and cozy constituents alike. The entirety of the production, directed by Mikael Burke, takes place inside a sparse, glass-walled structure. The audience views the action through a sharper-edged fishbowl perspective while the six-person cast orbit each other fluidly and gracefully. Helming this choreography the night I attended was Lucas Looch Johnson, understudy for Bashir’s boisterous, tenderhearted, and unexpected ally, Kola, who was a joy to watch.