Wasting no time, the show takes us into a so-called detention center, where we meet a young Mexican woman awaiting potential deportation. Played masterfully by Alexa Rocabado, the character of Sofia is one that many of us (certainly myself) grew up with yet never really knew; that of a person who is as, if not more, American than those of us fortunate to have been born in the United States. Through the eyes of Madison (Omilon), an elite college student born to privilege in more ways than one, we are taken behind walls already built and learn how Sofia has been betrayed and imprisoned by the only country she has ever known as her home.
In stereotypical fashion, Madison is at once willfully ignorant of Sofia’s plight and eager to dismiss her as someone who is simply facing consequences of her own doing. She broke the law and is now paying for it. Yet, with charming wit and authenticity, we see Madison questioning her own indoctrination when she meets another immigrant, Uber driver Lorenzo (Italian-born actor Nicola Tombacco) who expresses his resentment for what little he has achieved despite all he has sacrificed himself. Lorenzo despises people like Sofia who, unlike himself, have migrated here illegally, not realizing that the system which betrayed her has done so to him as well. The same world that labels Sofia as a criminal has come to equate Lorenzo as one himself, simply by virtue of not being a native-born citizen. Will Madison use her apparent social media influence to shed light on these stories? Or, will she exploit them for her own benefit, taking for granted a freedom that those less fortunate have died to attain?
What I didn't like
There are so many more stories out there. So many Sofias, Lorenzos and families torn apart by a system rooted in colonialism and genocide. The great irony, of course, being that the ancestors of those in power today were the immigrants who came to these shores fleeing persecution while searching for a better life. Although, one would not be mistaken if they felt that, perhaps, the show’s brief running time was the playwright’s intention all along. Maybe this was supposed to be but a spark to ignite our own fires and lead us to search for those other Sofias and Lorenzos. As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This brilliant theatrical work was not meant to put that fire out. Quite the contrary, it has added fuel to ensure that the blaze will be impossible to ignore.Perhaps even to the point where we will take notice of what we have done and allowed to happen; to our friends, neighbours, family and to ourselves. Job well done!
My overall impression
Though laughs are aplenty in this insightfully provocative work by Canadian actor-writer Gina Omilon, as the name implies, this production is no comedy. Focusing on the current socio-political climate regarding immigration to the United States, as well as the potential consequences regardless of how one makes the journey, NO JOKE is a call to redefine humanity in a technologically, self-obsessed world. It’s central theme will resonate with audiences long after this festival is over. It is worth noting that the show’s program is both a biographical pamphlet as well as a call for equality, compassion and action. This is one show that could, and should, easily continue on through episodic television. Those voices need to be heard by the masses, not just those of us willing to seek them out and listen.