Set in 2019, the 2-person dystopian tragedy imagines that President Trump has carried out his campaign promise to round up millions of immigrants. It’s harrowing.
But Edelson — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who’s earned fame as a director and producer here and abroad — could not imagine anyone staging the show. Hillary Clinton was headed to the White House, Trump to the dustbin of history.
“I was painfully wrong,” Edelson admits.
Attending a reading 3 weeks after the election, he realized “this was a very dramatic, nimble play of the moment. It gives voice to people’s real fears.”
Schenkkan’s agent sent it around. But, Edelson notes, “theater culture moves slowly.” Some houses were booked through 2018. Others worried they’d lose donors if they staged it.
However, Edelson says, “this election upended all the rules. It’s no longer business as usual.”
He helped Schenkkan get the play in the hands of a few theaters that did realize its significance. It’s been booked for stages in Los Angeles, Denver, Washington, Santa Fe, Tucson and Miami. Three productions are already underway; 3 more open between June and September.
But New York is the holy grail of American theater. Now “Building the Wall” is set for off-Broadway, at New World Stages.
With Edelson as director.
It could be one of the quickest roll-outs in New York theater history. The cast and design team were assembled with blazing speed. Rehearsals started last Monday. Previews begin May 12. The premiere is May 21.
“We’re not the pioneers,” Edelson emphasizes. “The Fountain Theatre in LA and Curious Theatre in Denver have done extraordinary work. The script evolves with each production.”
He is excited about his role. “‘Building the Wall’ is a cautionary tale about free will. People can get swept up in what’s happening, and not always act in the best ways,” he says.
The New York Times agrees. Yesterday it called the show one of 5 “must-sees” this month.
Edelson is not the only member of his family motivated to act by the November election.
Like many Americans, Julia Levy — Edelson’s wife — watched with alarm during the presidential campaign, as rhetoric heated up.
Though her son Eliot is not yet 3, he could point at the TV and identify Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. From the tones of voices, he knew when people were not being nice to each other.
“All parents try to set examples for their kids,” Levy says. “We try to model being nice to each other.”
As public discourse turned nasty, she searched for a way to help Eliot — and other children — digest what was going on. And, she hoped, to make something good come out of it.
Levy is an educational consultant — and a very creative person. She’d always wanted to write a children’s book. Now she had a chance.
Using bright colors and approachable animals, she wrote and illustrated “Donny the Bully.” With cut paper and catchy rhymes, it tells the story of a bullying bull, and a group of classmates who stand up for a friend.
She got feedback from a child psychologist and teacher. Edelson did the layout and design work, and shot a video.
Levy also created a DonnyTheBully.com website, stickers and t-shirts.
Funding came through an Indiegogo pitch. Last week, the books were shipped. “I hope they get through customs,” Levy said.
She was only half kidding.
(Hat tip: Danya Pincavage)