Alabama Shakespeare Production of John Walch's "In the Book Of..." Raises Immigration Issue

January 7, 2012

This content is sourced from the Montgomery Advertiser.

Playwright John Walch could not have predicted that by the premiere date of In the Book Of... the state of Alabama would have passed a strict immigration law that is widely considered the toughest of its kind, requiring, among other provisions, that po­lice jail people who cannot prove they are in the country legally.

The law has the nation focus­ing sharply on this state, antici­pating what widespread trends may follow in its wake.

Now, this new play, which opens today at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, shines an even stronger spotlight on what was already a highly unusual pairing -- the Old Testament and the new hyper-vigilance.

"It's pretty crazy," Walch said of the uncanny timing. "I wish to a certain extent it wasn't happen­ing, but I'm glad that it is happen­ing at this moment in time. It has been rather strange, just the number of headlines the law is generating.

"I really want people to come and get in fights about this -- in a civil atmosphere. I don't want to say I'm courting controversy, but I would love for people who feel passionately about this to let their voices be heard."

In The Book Of... cen­ters on a female soldier re­turning home to Mississippi after serving in Afghanistan, where her husband, also a soldier, lost his life.

U.S. Army Lt. Naomi Wat­kins brings with her Anisah, a friend, Afghani translator and fellow widow. Anisah is also an immigrant who has unwittingly entered the country illegally. With this unexpected twist to Naomi's homecoming, family, towns­people and politicians zero in on a suddenly inflammatory issue.

Walch based the play, which he first brought to ASF's Southern Writers' Project Festival of Plays in 2010, on the biblical Book of Ruth. In it, a woman named Naomi, homebound after suf­fering great tragedy, is ac­companied by a woman who is a stranger to Naomi's na­tive land.

Walch said his aim is to give perspective on the in­creasing tension over immi­gration in the U.S., a topic he sees as urgent but inade­quately addressed.

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