The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Green Card begins with a preshow tape loop lasting about twenty-five minutes. Voices, often speaking simultaneously, recite a litany of racist comments describing the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic race, and the alleged inferiority of Jews, Mediterraneans, Central and South Americans, Irishmen, and Japanese. A map of the United States appears, projected on a screen, while the scene in front shows a nineteenth century gentleman reading while a woman wearing a flag dress sleeps in the gallery. Amplified fragments of “primitive” music are heard from time to time.

Gradually members of the company enter from all sides of the theater, some reciting simultaneously segments from the taped script, which describes how Anglo-Saxon men have mastered the world, while Jews are “in business.” The nineteenth century man recites the Statue of Liberty poem, describing the “Mother of Exiles” who lifts her lamp to the “homeless, tempest-tossed.” Meanwhile, another character claims that certain groups’ inferiority is attested by their physiognomy, which he suggests is a kind of cruel joke of the Creator. The projection on the screen shifts to faces of the latest waves of immigrants to the United States.

Jesse, a young Latino, appears as a stand-up comedian who delivers a series of insults and racial epithets. The projections constantly change, showing fragments of advertising, street signs, brand names, and other bits of Americana, while The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” plays in the background. Raye, as a Jewish man, speaks of the persecution in Lithuania which drove his family to emigrate. His almost sentimental description of their sacrifices is lightened by his account of receiving “nice sandwiches” and seeing his first banana. The women of the cast surround Raye and call out what he should beware of in this new land: swindlers, thieves, loan sharks, and people who make friends too easily.

In a communal letter home, the women recount the blessings of the United States, and Raye declares his love for his new homeland. Each of the players uses a different accent to describe the food, dress, or customs of another nation. Then Jessica, Rosalind, and Mimi insert their bourgeois comments about having a “theme party” or meeting an architect from France—an interesting contrast to Raye’s description of his family’s poverty. George speaks...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Green Card has so many dramatic devices that one might describe the play itself as performance art, without the typical plot or development of scenes found in more traditional drama. Akalaitis’s work is controversial because of her use of minimalist sets, onstage costume and character changes, and multimedia slide, film, and music shows. Some audience members find themselves frustrated by the bombardment of music, simultaneous monologues, ritual dances, and visual stimuli.

Akalaitis’s purpose in presenting such cacophony and blurring of information is to force audiences to experience the play emotionally rather than regarding it with intellectual detachment. Viewers must choose the elements on which they focus; the theater is thereby more collaborative, active, and dynamic. Her method of completing a script is similarly unorthodox, with actors modifying the script, ad-libbing, and adding their own contributions to the final work. These devices lend spontaneity to the work of Akalaitis and to the acting styles of her company.

Versatility and concentrated focus are required of actors and audience alike, as actors change personae within single scenes. Aural cues dictate whether a character is a little old Jewish woman or a Vietnamese youth. Clothing changes sometimes aid the audience, but many alterations occur with no other clue than the shift in the actor’s voice and mannerisms. This kind of shifting is designed to emphasize the...

(The entire section is 478 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Cohen, Debra. “The Mabou Mines’ The Lost Ones.” Drama Review 20 (June, 1976): 83-87.

Kalb, Jonathan. “JoAnne Akalaitis.” Theater 15 (May, 1984): 6-13.

Kramer, Mimi. Review in The New Yorker 114 (July 18, 1988): 66.

Marranca, Bonnie, ed. The Theatre of Images. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1977.

Mehta, Xerxes. “Notes from the Avant-Garde.” Theatre Journal 31 (March, 1979): 20-24.

Petzold, Roxana. “JoAnne Akalaitis.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.