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White-hot fury: an interview with playwright Robert Schenkkan about Trump, fear and 'Building the Wall'

Brendan Kiley, The Seattle Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Robert Schenkkan has won the shiniest awards a living playwright can hope for.

His scripts tend to be long-simmering, meticulously researched projects ("The Kentucky Cycle" won a Pulitzer; "All the Way," about the backroom politics behind the 1964 Civil Rights Act, won a Tony), but "Building the Wall" was a fast gut shot.

Schenkkan said he wrote the first draft in a weeklong, "white-hot fury" in the final days before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States -- and then told his agents he wanted the play produced as widely as possible, from big theaters to small theaters to church basements.

"Wall" has been produced from Arizona to Vienna (and is currently in Seattle).

The story, set in 2019, is structurally simple: a black professor interviews a white prison guard, now on trial for horrendous events that happened on his watch at an overcrowded, for-profit, cholera-racked immigrant-detention center.

But the play quickly turns into a rhetorical duet between the characters about immigration, patriotism, race and what happens when otherwise decent people abdicate their moral judgment to their bosses' profit margins.

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"Wall," Schenkkan said in an interview with The Seattle Times, "is a plea for people to speak up.

An edited version of the interview follows:

Q:What were you thinking when you wrote "Building the Wall" in that moment of "white-hot fury"?

A: I'm still thinking, as many people did, "the election will have a different outcome." But I'm already furious and deeply concerned about what is happening in this country. I was thinking: "We have already crossed a line and the damage has been done."

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