It’s Enough to Make a Person Run for Office

Foreground Dixon. Rear: Uribes, Su, Perkins, Arauz, Ascensio. Photo by Jenny Graham.

After one of the opening performances of Detained at the Fountain Theatre last week, one of the audience members turned to her friend and said, “All they had to do was follow the law!”  Her comment spells out why immigration is such a fraught topic, and how easy it is to dismiss the increasing inhumanity of a system that runs on rules that have been cobbled together piecemeal over more than 30 years.

I was so upset by the stories that are told in Detained, that It sent me running to the internet to learn about the nature of bureaucracies. It was impossible for me to contemplate how a country that stands for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could perpetuate the cruelties revealed in the 90-minute show.

Max Weber, back in the 19th Century, saw a bureaucracy as essential for the smooth implementation of any organization.  But he also recognized an important flaw. While they function efficiently according to their own rules, the absence of human values affecting their execution leads to inequities and down-right cruelties performed in the name of function.

Are you asleep yet?  Back to the performance:

Detained introduces us to Claudia (the incomparable Christine Avila), an immigration attorney, who struggles to help her constituents through a maze of nonsensical and punitive regulations. I was shocked to learn that some of the most draconian immigration regulations came out of the Clinton administration and have been built, willy nilly, by subsequent regimes.

 We meet a number of detainees, all wending their way through the labrynthian system when minor infractions land them on a list for deportation.  Liana Arauz portrays Melida, a mother who has lived most of her life in the States.  When she is detained, her daughter, (Camila Ascencio), tries to fight for her, with less and less success. 

In another scenario, Lail (Will Dixon), who is mentally impaired, is detained, and despite his obvious inability to speak for himself, he is railroaded into another deportation order. In yet another persona, Dixon portrays a US veteran, who, nevertheless, ends up deported. Perhaps the most detestable result of the massive system of detention facilities has been mass hysterectomies performed on unsuspecting women while in custody, a fact mentioned in passing during one of the stories.     

We are helped through the scenarios by the meticulous performance values  director Mark Valdez has marshalled to tell the stories.  From the sleek scene design by Sarah Krainin, to the innovative video designed by Matt Soson, every element coalesces into a smooth, almost magazine style of presentation.

Despite the horrendous stories that assail us in Detained, the play performs an important function to awaken all of us to a system that has grown out of control.  The result has divided the country in a dangerous way.  So what is to be done?

That should be the topic of the next play in a series.

Performances of Detained continue through April 10th , playing Fridays through Saturdays and Mondays at 8 pm, and Sundays at  2 pm at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029. Proof of vaccination is required.  Tickets range from $25 – 45.00, with $5.00 onsite parking available.  Call (323) 663-1525 or online at