Weehawken playwright addresses the immigration crisis

Real life deportation inspired Chris Cragin-Day’s 'The Rare Biosphere'

Natalia Plaza and Zac Owens star as "Sophie" and "Steven" in the play.
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Natalia Plaza and Zac Owens star as "Sophie" and "Steven" in the play.

Chris Cragin-Day, a nine-year Weehawken resident and playwright, was teaching a college course in Manhattan in 2016, when one of her students came to her with a shocking story.

A local student had returned home from high school to discover that both her parents, who were undocumented immigrants, had been detained and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement during that school day.

Since then, sweeping ICE raids and deportations have become a growing risk, dreaded by immigrant communities and other members of the public in Hudson County and across the nation.

Immigration policy in Hudson County, meanwhile, has become a source of political conflict centered on detainees housed at the county jail.

To combat what local officials deemed the targeting of undocumented people and refugees, Hudson County cities have passed a number of initiatives aimed at protecting those in ICE’s cross hairs.

Policies include the declaration of sanctuary cities, municipal ID programs, and issuing police directives calling for officers to enforce local and state laws without cooperating with or providing information to federal immigration officers.

Speaking to a harsh reality

Cragin-Day wrote a play, addressing the closest story to her: a high school student who was separated from her parents. She said she hoped to challenge audiences to think about whether current federal policies reflect the values we live by. Sea Dog Theater, a New York-based production company, was quick to pick up the play.

“The play, based on a true story, details the life of a girl who discovered her parents were gone when she came home from school,” Cragin-Day wrote. “I thought about my own experience in high school, and in white America, and created a character to serve as her oblivious friend. I wanted to write a play about these two worlds coming together, and what it might be like for someone who’s never had her experience to be confronted with that complete other reality.”

The play, “The Rare Biosphere,” stars Natalia Plaza as Sophie, a Honduran-American teenager who goes into “bunker-down survival mode” when she discovers that her parents had been deported, and she must care for her siblings. Sophie is a DACA recipient who plans to study Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and is fascinated by the ‘rare biosphere,’ an overlooked microbial species that plays a crucial role in regulating ecosystems.

Zac Owens plays Steven, Sophie’s well-meaning friend, who is oblivious to her situation.

Art imitating life 

As Cragin-Day wrote the play, she had to make adaptations to better reflect how the deportation process has changed, as policies became more restrictive for ICE detainees.

The play is directed by Christopher Domig and features lighting design by Guy De Lancey, costume design by Emily White, and sound design by Tye Hunt Fitzgerald. Harrison Corthell is the stage manager.

“I hope that people will go in with an open heart and an open mind, and hopefully walk away a little bit changed by it,” Cragin-Day said. “I hope everyone in the audience, regardless of where they came from, tries to imagine themselves in another person’s shoes.”

The play will be performed at Cavalry St. Georges, 61 Gramercy Park, New York City. It will run from April 25 to May 19. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and a 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Tickets can be purchased for $30 at seadogtheater.org, and are $20 for students. Tickets can also be purchased at the door 30 minutes prior to showtime. For availability, call 646-463-0542.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com