International Play Reading Festival: Listening to Appointment With gOD
BY Emily Johnson, October 14, 2021
In her introductory remarks before the October 6 Listening Party reading of Appointment With gOD, Ugandan playwright Asiimwe Deborah Kawe compared a US embassy in a developing country to "a temple." It is a place where supplicants come to have their prayers answered by the “unseen forces overseeing visa applications.”
These consuls, or “gODs,” in the parlance of the play, are temperamental, suspicious, and cruel, dispensing commands from their windows. Applicants suffer indignity after indignity, hoping to satisfy the nebulous, complicated requirements of the bureau.
Yet through the warmth and energy of the performers, director Nana Dakin '18, and Kawe herself, Appointment With gOD is rich with humour and humanity, and alive with frustration.
We follow the journey of a young researcher named Kakye (Petrina Ampeire), who is trying to get a visa to attend a conference of young leaders in the United States. She sits in a waiting room with the other hopefuls, who observe each other and exchange tips on how to please the gODs.
The peremptory commands of the ‘angels,’ or guards — "Stand there," "Switch off your phone," "Chin up," "Smile" — are interposed percussively with the voices of chorus, who intone their thoughts as a collective: "We feel naked," "We saw it coming."
One man is turned away a second time for an offense as small as having a cream background for his photo rather than white. The $100 application fee? Nonrefundable.
Kakye forms a tense friendship with her fellow applicant, Achen (Shiro Kihagi), who seems to break all the rules. Achen is fleeing personal tragedy and seeking transformation in the US, where she does intend to stay, though she will not disclose this in her application.
In one of the play’s sweetest moments, managing to be whimsical and tender all at once, Kakye and Achen softly sing "When The Saints Go Marching In," changing the lyrics to "marching out," because they so desire “to be in that number” who go marching out of the office with an approved visa.
Kakye must learn to play the game as best she can, but finds that her self-worth is questioned in the process.
The imagined insufficiency of one’s own country against the hegemonic pull of the US is a prominent theme. Kakye faces rejection because the gODs refuse to believe that she has enough "ties" to her home country to induce her to return, rather than attempting to stay in the US. She has a good job, a compelling project as a researcher working with rural communities, and her mother to care for. But this is, as one gOD pronounces more than once, “not enough.”
The arrogance of these consuls in guarding their figurative border is deeply rooted in racist anxieties of the ‘Other’ infiltrating America. The production does not shy away from the fact that keeping people out has been US policy for decades, featuring damning audio clips from Presidents Bush Jr., Trump, and even Obama: “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States…”
These speech clips are one of simple but effective textures that Sound Designer Caroline Eng integrates to bring us as listeners into the world of the embassy, alongside uneasy resonances and the patter of rain.
Appointment With gOD kicks off the fourth year of The Columbia University School of the Arts International Play Reading Festival, and is now available in Podcast form.
The other Festival plays include Nick Mahoca’s The Dark, directed by NJ Agwuna '18, to be performed on October 13, 2021, and This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story, written by Dima Mikhayel Matta, and directed by Noelle Ghoussaini, to be performed on October 20, 2021.
You can register here to see Appointment With gOD’s Asiimwe Deborah Kawe in a panel conversation with her fellow playwrights on October 23, 2021, moderated by Festival Co-Founder, Associate Professor David Henry Hwang, Theatre Program.