Theater: “The Far Country” at Atlantic Theater Company
Think it’s tough being an immigrant now? Think back to the late 19th century, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was approved on May 6, 1882. It was the only significant law restricting immigration into the United States targeted at a specific race.
Lloyd Suh’s “The Far Country” (Atlantic Theater) details the hoops that Chinese had to jump through to prove their worth as immigrants, and reach “The Gold Mountain,” as they referred to California.
The time is 1909 and the setting is San Francisco. Gee (Jinn Kim) is a laundryman whose proof of US citizenship was lost in the 1906 earthquake. He tells a nasty immigration officer (Ben Chase) that he wants to visit family in China, and that he needs papers to ensure an easy return to America. What he’s really hoping, though, is to bring back someone to help in his laundry.
Once he’s back in China, he meets Low (Amy Kim Waschke) and convinces her to cede custody of her fully grown son Moon (Eric Yang) so he can “pass” as Gee’s son. This involves Moon being “coached” (i.e., remembering the intimate details of family life) so he can convince immigration he is really a relative.
Moon arrives on Angel Island and is brutally interrogated by officials looking for him to slip up on the smallest detail. In the meantime, he is detained in a cell while it’s determined whether he’s lying or not.
The play is harrowing and the cast uniformly excellent, particularly Yuen (Shannon Tyo from “The Chinese Lady” at the Public), an ambitious young Chinese villager woman who is prepared to similarly fake her identity and join Moon.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1965 and was unanimously condemned by both houses of Congress in 2012. The Far Country” asks us never to forget the indignities immigrants have to face. Neither should you.