In Queens, a New Play Reflects Diverse Hopes and Fears

Meah Pace, lead singer and actress in “It Can Happen Here.” (Photo via QNS)

For nine months beginning in the summer of 2017, Queens playwright, performer and radio producer Judith Sloan interviewed residents of her borough about their “hopes, fears and aspirations.” She had just finished reading “It Can’t Happen Here,” the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel about the election of a populist and totalitarian president.

The result: a fictional one-act play with two hairdressers – one black and one white – as the main characters. Clarissa Sosin writes in Queens Daily Eagle about “It Can Happen Here,” which will be performed on Sept. 30 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.

[Sloan] asked residents what the phrase “it can’t happen here” meant to them and uncovered the ways in which national and local issues play out in everyday life. People brought up everything from threats to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients and immigration status to the lasting effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Sloan said that the participants thought that they were insulated from certain horrors, including natural disasters like a hurricane or political threats like an autocratic tyrant.

“Certain kinds of things just don’t happen,” Sloan said of the participants’ responses.  “Well, guess what. Everything is happening.”

Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech, writing in QNS about the play, says that Sloan calls it “a dark comedy.”

“What struck me over and over were stories of love and support that often fly under the radar in times of extreme duress, of neighbors being deported, of families wondering about their survival, of artists wanting to dream,” said Sloan. She came across dozens of stories of people co-existing and collaborating.

“Like the novel, ‘It Can’t Happen Here,’ my play is inspired by real events,” said Sloan.

“It Can’t Happen Here” is being produced as part of the Queens Council on the Arts’ inaugural Artist Commissioning Program. For more information about the Sept. 30 performance, which is free of charge but requires registration, click here.

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