by Robert Weinstein · August 10, 2014
In the opening scene of Kate Ballen’s No One Asked Me, three foreign-born high school students deliver detailed monologues describing how they came to live in the United States.
There’s Daniel: born in Uganda who came to the United States because his mother followed the man she thought she would marry. This man later returned to Uganda and married another woman, leaving Daniel, his mother, sister and younger brother behind.
Then there’s Dominican born Alyssa who was forced to choose between living with her mother in the United States or her father in the DR. She chose her mother with unintended consequences.
Finally there’s Octavia, born in Peru but because of an absent mother and a jailed father, came to the United States to live with relatives. These relations barely tolerate her so she bounces between them, waiting for her father to be released.
Each lives in the Bronx and considers the US their home but because of their undocumented (illegal) status, they exist in a limbo living in fear of deportation and unable to take advantage of their education.
No One Asked Me explores the dynamics of this limbo, examining the social lives of these characters and their attempts to navigate their precarious situations. Daniel, for example, must deal with a delusional mother, who thinks the man she chased to the US will return to help and support them as well as a sister who is slowly going blind. Alyssa faces a different bind: the class valedictorian, her status limits her abilities to apply her considerable intelligence beyond high school.
Ballen works as a social worker who works with undocumented teens and the play is strongest when presenting the facts of these students and framing their problems in a social context. A supportive teacher name Jackie brings them to an immigration lawyer named Isaac, whose strategy for procuring their papers includes reducing them to types (victim of genocide, objects of pity) that will combat cultural assumption that they are milking the system. Ballen does a fine job highlighting the frustrations involved in struggling against a system that refuses to recognize their humanity.
Ballen and director Matthew Newton are less successful defining the psychological space of the characters. The stakes are certainly high but the exposition heavy dialogue and serious tone don’t always leave room for glimpses of lightness. These glimpses exist - such as a scene where Alyssa and Octavia prepare for the prom - but the play’s weight rarely lifts to reveal the characters’ dimensions.
In spite of this, No One Asked Me is an angry play that should be taken seriously for tackling an immediate and important issue.