“American Dreams”: The game show where citizenship lies beyond Door 1

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“American Dreams,” the virtual adaptation of a 2018 satirical play, takes a look at the American immigration system through a flashy and playful game show where three immigrants vie for the ultimate prize of United States citizenship. In quite possibly the most interactive virtual event of the semester. Audience members did not sit idly by as the show transpired over Zoom. Instead, they formed the jury, judging which of the three contestants were best suited to be a U.S. citizen.  Photo courtesy of the UConn Dodd Center website.

To say that live entertainment has suffered in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic would be a hilarious understatement. Yet, instead of giving in to the doom and gloom of life in quarantine, some organizations have adapted their shows for the virtual mode.  

“American Dreams,” the virtual adaptation of a 2018 satirical play, takes a look at the American immigration system through a flashy and playful game show where three immigrants vie for the ultimate prize of United States citizenship. 

In quite possibly the most interactive virtual event of the semester. Audience members did not sit idly by as the show transpired over Zoom. Instead, they formed the jury, judging which of the three contestants were best suited to be a U.S. citizen. 

The event marked the collaboration between the touring production and Connecticut theater institutions including: HartBeat Ensemble, The Bushnell, University of Connecticut and Free Center in association with Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford Stage and TheaterWorks Hartford. 

The three contestants all presented heartwarming stories as to why they wanted to become American citizens: Adil (Ali Andre Ali), a chef and philanthropist from Palestine who wanted to open a restaurant for all people; Alejandro (Andrew Aaron Valdez), a medic in the American National Guard, deported for being illegally brought from Mexico as a young child; and Usman (Imran Sheikh), the loveable Pakistani cartoonist who fell in love with American culture from “Star Trek.” Photo provided by author.

Before the event began, viewers took a survey developed by the North American Transportation, Security and Immigration agency, answering questions regarding their gender, place of birth and that of their parents and grandparents. This information seemed irrelevant until you took a second to think about the acronym the organization’s name forms. 

With the start of the live broadcast, audience members were greeted by the particularly bubbly and bouncy hosts, Sherry Brown (Leila Buck) and Chris White (Jens Rasmussen). Brown and White led the three contestants through a series of challenges, including basic American civic trivia, American popular culture, special talents and hard-hitting questions in the “hot seat.” 

The show paired the contestants with audience members to answer such questions, serving as a lifeline for contestants in need of American expertise. I am ashamed to admit that I failed to correctly identify the most popular American sport (it’s football, in case you were wondering), much to the dismay of my contestant. 

The three contestants all presented heartwarming stories as to why they wanted to become American citizens: Adil (Ali Andre Ali), a chef and philanthropist from Palestine who wanted to open a restaurant for all people; Alejandro (Andrew Aaron Valdez), a medic in the American National Guard, deported for being illegally brought from Mexico as a young child; and Usman (Imran Sheikh), the loveable Pakistani cartoonist who fell in love with American culture from “Star Trek.” 

As the game show continued, the hosts’ tone took a dark turn, grilling the contestants under prejudices true to the beliefs held by many Americans. While I will not spoil the ending, I can assure you that is not a happy one. After all, we knew from the beginning that only one would receive American citizenship. 

Usman pleads, “There’s only three of us. why can’t we all win?” 

With the fall of the virtual curtain, I remained in a state of shock, half expecting the audience to reappear for a discussion and debrief on the stunning final moments of the broadcast’s conclusion.  

Perhaps the entire purpose of the event was to pose questions, rather than give answers. While I have no critiques for the team who transferred this experience from the stage to the screen, I thoroughly miss the moments after attending a live performance where you can turn to your neighbor and say, “What the hell did we just watch?” 

“American Dreams” is running online from now through Nov. 15. For more information or to purchase tickets to an upcoming show, go to their website.

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