UCF international student Ana Medina Martinez has never felt a sense of nationalism, she said.
“I’m an immigrant in this country. I see nationalism as this very loose idea because I’m originally from Mexico, but I haven’t been since I was 10 years old," Martinez said. "I’m not from this country, but I’ve lived here for over half of my life now. I never really feel like I belong to either place."
Martinez, an acting major, is the female lead in Theatre UCF’s production of “Pentecost,” a Tony Award-winning play that centers on “the borders we make for ourselves and asks what they mean in society,” she said.
The play opened Thursday evening at the Theatre UCF mainstage and runs through Sunday, Feb. 4. The theater is behind the College of Sciences building.
Theatre UCF and the UCF Art Gallery are focusing on refugee issues this semester, “Pentecost” director Christopher Niess said.
Martinez plays Gabriella, an art curator who discovers a centuries-old painting in an Eastern European church in the 1990s.
Gabriella and her British friend Oliver (Andy Hansen, a second-year acting major) believe the painting should be restored and displayed in a well-known museum, but American art historian Leo (Jonathan Montes, a second-year acting student) said it should remain in its home country.
“The painting becomes a bargaining chip,” assistant stage manager Katy Gentry said. “What’s more important? The painting or the lives?”
The play also tests the limits of communication and livelihood.
“We’re sitting in an air-conditioned building right now,” junior stage management student Justin Little said. “Over there [in the play], they travel for 2,000 miles and find this abandoned church out in the middle of the desert where they don’t have running water, electricity or anything. It brings awareness to living conditions and what’s on the other side of the world.”
The heaviness of “Pentecost” was overwhelming, and first-year acting student Riley McDonald said she cried watching an explosion scene in one rehearsal.
“We see these shootings on TV, which are horrible, but watching it in front of you - in a moment, people are all shot down. That got me the most," McDonald said.
McDonald plays three roles onstage and understudies two. She said she had to empathize with her characters, even if they weren’t the most likable.
“Sometimes we’re stripped away from other cultures as Americans,” McDonald said. “The more I studied characters from different places, the more I realized we’re all the same."
Her co-star, second-year acting transfer student Shannon Burke, searched to find the humor in the show.
“These characters are so complicated, and the world can be so unfair,” Burke said. “I want to show warmth because these are people with hopes and dreams ... It’s a real wake-up call.”
Playwright David Edgar focuses on all “political constructs throughout history,” Niess said in his director’s note.
“That’s the tapestry of the show; refugees are people,” Niess said.
Montes compared the main plot point to timely American controversies. He said he agreed with his character that the painting should stay where it came from.
“I don’t approve of the confederate statues, for example, but at the same time when do we wipe out history? We’re not honoring a dirty past, but we can’t forget it.”
Conversely, Martinez said she was more conflicted with her character.
“I am an antagonist of history," she said of her character's headspace. “Gabriella is only interested in the art. I have to honor the fact that she’s not one-dimensional."
The overall goal of the play is to communicate empathy.
“If I can spark up a dialogue … and allow an audience to empathize with me, then that to me is very fulfilling,” she said.
Martinez said she wants to use the medium of theater to spark up a dialogue to bring the world together in empathy.
"I think it brings up a lot of really important questions, especially in this political climate with this very interesting president at the helm. [Our current president] is certainly outspoken with how he feels when it comes to other countries and cultures, so I think this play is very timely," Martinez said.