If You’re An Immigrant, Why Are You White? A Review of The Smuggler
Ekemini went up to Irish Rep to watch a solo show. In verse. (It was good).
A sports bar in the “tolerant” Northeast is one of the last places I'd ever want to be. But for this show, I’mma let them have it, as a treat.
The Smuggler tells the story of Tim Finnegan (Michael Mellamphy), an Irish immigrant/naturalized citizen living in the affluent (fictional?) summer colony of Amity, Massachusetts. It’s a solo show, entirely in verse, and presented from Tim’s POV.
Tim? Is a hot ass mess. He’s a failed writer and current bartender (Mellamphy def has “bartending” in his Special Skills) who lives with his wife and young son. From their self-described “shack,” they aspire to the American Dream. And throughout the play, Tim proves that he’s willing to do anything to get it.
Cut to: The Town™. A white, American-born teen has just died in a car crash involving an undocumented immigrant from Latin America. Naturally, a cloud of collective suspicion now hangs over anyone perceived as “foreign.” Never mind that the boy was not sober, not driving the speed limit, and not wearing a seatbelt.
As a solo show, Michael Mellamphy held this production’s life in his hands. Luckily for us, he acted as if rent was due. Mellamphy jumped between his dozen or so characters with incredible ease. Especially compelling by the specificity of his work in portraying the hollowed-out-by-grief father of the dead white boy. I was also obsessed with his recurrent performance of Tim’s wife, Tina; in a play riddled with moral concessions, Mellamphy’s portrayal of the hard limits of Tina’s northeastern liberalism was chilling in its own right.
The W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre was outfitted to look like a New England bar with great fidelity. The only thing that took me out of the tavern-like atmosphere was the necessary(?) evil of the low-hanging theatre lights. Maybe then, the fact that I found the moments with minimal light the most effective, lighting-wise, is righteous indignation on the set’s behalf.
The play’s most interesting line of inquiry, though, is the matchup of whiteness v. immigrant status.
The Smuggler contends that even in modern day, Irish immigrants have not successfully assimilated into WASP-y whiteness. White citizens, including those in Tim’s own family, punch down at his otherness. And yet, the play knows that at the root of it, Tim ~is~ white; his come-up is at the expense of people even lower down society’s priority list than he is. It is a juxtaposition that invited a response that unmoored my moral point of view; my conscientious repulsion from Tim’s actions was met with a dark-sided jealousy over the fact that if my (immigrant) family tried to get our lick back the way he got his…it’s a different play.
In one of the final lines of the show, Tim says:
I am an Amerikan, I may not sound like it, But I am
It’s deliciously ironic. Even though Tim continues to use his otherness as a material for self-deprecation, by this point, he has transformed into the prototypical American; he steals, he exploits, and he justifies.
That’s the American way.
Ekemini’s rating of “The Smuggler: A Thriller in Rhyme”
The Smuggler: A Thriller in Rhyme was written by Ronán Noone, directed by Conor Bagley, and features Michael Mellamphy. It is running from January 18th to March 12th, 2023 at Irish Repertory Theatre.
Thanks for reading Keep Your Change! We hoped you laughed, we hoped you cried. Now go ahead and subscribe!