La Construcción del Muro

Playwright Robert Schenkkan calls it a “wonderful production,” but I’ll give you 4 reasons I was a little less impressed.

By Andrew Andrews

Magdalena Morales Valdés and Rodrigo Duran star in Teatro Espressivo’s tour of La Construcción del Muro at Teatro LATEA in the Lower East Side. Original photos by Estaban Chinchilla.

Robert Schenkkan is perhaps best known for his two plays about Lyndon Baines Johnson, but his bibliography includes many works of fiction as well.

Building the Wall tells the story of a former prison warden who is now in solitary confinement, awaiting trial for inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants held in a private detention center formerly under his command. Interviewed by a black historian named Gloria, the white warden Rick attempts to explain himself as trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Written as a reaction to Donald Trump’s campaign before he was elected president, the story depicts a dystopian future that draws obvious parallels to the worst of history’s past.

Originally in English, the play has been translated into Spanish for this production by Costa Rica’s Teatro Espressivo, with the character Gloria adapted to a Latina actor (Magdalena Morales Valdés) and the addition of a third actor (Mauricio Jaén Baltodano) serving as a prison guard and cameraperson.

Unfortunately, the production’s original Rick (Antonio Rojas) was unable to come to the United States for this tour; however, a replacement (Rodrigo Duran) with a mere ten days notice not only fills in, but performs the role flawlessly.

Although the playwright has called this a “wonderful production,” I was a little less impressed, for a few reasons:

Original cast member Antonio Rojas (right) was unable to travel to New York for this production.
  1. Camera: The addition of the cameraman and the resulting stream that was projected on the adjacent walls was distracting and confusing, as there was no indication that the interview was intended for broadcast. I felt as though the company added it to appeal to a younger, video-addicted audience without effectively tying it into the story.
  2. Contradiction: Although Gloria was apparently lucky to be the only person granted an interview by Rick, she acts like she’s doing him a favor, and continues to present an adversarial stance, becoming suddenly melodramatic at times.
  3. Lighting: Various lights above the scene were turned on and off at seemingly random times throughout the performance, making me wonder what it was supposed to represent.
  4. Supertitles: Although the original script was projected above the stage for those of us with limited or no understanding of Spanish, they were poorly synchronized. At times a caption remained projected long after the corresponding lines were spoken, with the following captions flashing by as they caught up to the performance.

Despite my troubles with this production, it wasn’t a total disappointment:

  1. The actors perform their roles well and the production value is high for a show at this price point.
  2. The pre-show “handling” of the audience really helps you appreciate what it’s like to be separated from your loved ones in a detainment center.
  3. Although not flawless, the story does present an accurate depiction of how a seemingly upstanding person in an increasingly difficult situation could be forced to make or tolerate normally-unacceptable decisions.

Si comprende español you’ll probably enjoy this production more than I did; but even if you need to watch the captions, you’ll at least get your money’s worth.


Andrew Andrews attended La Construcción del Muro at The Clemente Teatro LATEA in Manhattan on Sunday, March 1, 2020 @ 3:00pm to write this review.