A tale of refugees plucked from the Mediterranean by a fishing boat only to find that no one will take them.
Almost daily, it seems, the evening news brings us images of refugees taking to the seas to flee wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. All aspire to find a new life and hope, but so many find themselves unwanted, dispossessed and lost in bureaucratic in-fighting.
This intense reality is the heart of a powerful new drama, Numbers, receiving its world premiere Dec. 2-6 by the Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) – New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Theatre Program. A cast of 10 students from the two universities, along with a production crew of 10 students, will present Numbers, a tale of refugees plucked from the Mediterranean by a fishing boat only to find that no one will take them. The play by Mar Gómez Glez is based on the 2006 story of the Francisco y Catalina, which rescued 51 refugees from a sinking raft, only to be trapped in a political nightmare. Numbers is directed by Maria Aladren and was translated from the original Spanish by William Gregory.
The play is a perfect fit for two universities that are among the most diverse in the United States, with large numbers of students who are either immigrants or children of immigrants. In fact, “There are students on our campuses from all of the countries represented by the immigrant characters in the boat in Numbers,” notes Tim Raphael, director of the RU-N Center for Migration and the Global City (CMGC), which focuses on the impacts of global migration, especially on the Newark region and the state of New Jersey. “Embodying historical events through theater, and the performing arts in general, can be a particularly resonant teaching tool for leveraging and representing the extraordinary ethnic and global diversity of our students,” he says.
Toward that end, CMGC is hosting a special forum following the Dec. 3 performance, an open discussion between the audience, cast and a panel consisting of director Maria Aladren, playwright Gómez Glez, and two faculty members with personal insights into the plight of refugees: Sadia Abbas, associate professor, RU-N Department of English and Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, and RU-N’s Mohamed Alsiadi, an Arabic lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies and a graduate student. Abbas spent the last two summers working with migrants in Greece, and saw first-hand the struggles of boatloads of immigrants. Alsiadi has been working in the cultural and political arenas to draw attention to the more than 2 million Syrians who have been displaced since 2011.
Mar Gómez Glez wrote Numbers in 2009 at the Royal Court International Residency were William Gregory translated it. In London, Gómez Glez worked with theater professionals including Elyse Dogson, Mike Bradwell and Bruce Myers among others. Numbers was published by the Spanish Institute of Performing Arts in Spanish, and received the 2011 Calderon de la Barca Theater Award. In 2012 it was selected for public readings in New York City, first in Spanish at Repertorio Español and then in English during the PEN Festival 2013. Numbers was published in English in the anthology New Plays from Spain: Eight plays by seven playwrights, and in 2014, it received a public reading by The Vagrancy at Theater Asylum in Hollywood.
The play will be performed December 2–5 at 7 pm, and December 6 at 2:30 pm at the Jim Wise Theater, Kupfrian Hall, on the campus of NJIT.