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Upstream Theater's play examines relationship between immigrants and native-born citizens

Two immigrant men hang suspended in the air as window washers in the play "Spended"
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Phillip Dixon and Reginald Pierre star in "Suspended"

As the St. Louis metro area continues to take note of the region's growing status as a magnet for newcomers from other countries, Upstream Theaterwill launch "Suspended," a play that aims to break down assumptions about immigrants.

Director Linda Kennedy said stories about the relationship between immigrants and longtime residents can strengthen both communities.

“When we look at businesses and how they network with each other, or organization’s that network with other organizations, you see a certain amount of growth and personal development,” she said. “But if we stay in these little, close-minded attitudes, there is no growth.”

In "Suspended," the theater examines the relationship of two refugee window washers from Sierra Leone who focus on their work and have agreed not to discuss their past. Still, both are compelled to examine their situation on the opposite side of the glass from established business workers.

The story, written by Israeli playwright Maya Arad Yasur, aims to break down local assumptions about immigrants and immigrant cultures, Kennedy said.

“It should make us look at our own lives, as privileged as they are,” Kennedy said

One refugee, Benjamin, is dealing with questions of redemption after recently obtaining full immigrant status, said actor Phillip Dixon, who plays the character.

Dixon, who has been acting professionally in St. Louis for more than five years, was drawn to the play for its timely depiction of immigration, which is a major talking point in current political discourse and a growing part of St. Louis’ identity.

The foreign-born population of the St. Louis area grew by about 9 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to census data collected in an American Community Survey.

Dixon said the play reflects discussions prevalent in today's society.

“If we have an opportunity to look into things deeper and through someone else’s eyes, and to present that in a way that would bring interest and life and honor to someone else’s problems and struggles — that’s where art can really make a difference,” he said. 

Even in a play defined by the two refugee characters' occupation as window washers, there are moments of high emotion.

“Even in the dark moments, you know, there’s still hope in the end,” Dixon said. “There’s still an upside to it all.”

The show opens tonight at the Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center and will be performed weekends through Oct. 23.  

Follow Willis Ryder Arnold on Twitter @WillisRArnold