“The Hope Hypothesis” is a new play by Cat Miller being presented by the Voyage Theater Company October 25th though November 15th at The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in NYC. The show is a wickedly humorous take on America’s immigration system. “The Hope Hypothesis” explores the fear and suspicion that many people in the immigration system are currently facing. The play follows Syrian-born aspiring lawyer Amena who has everything in order to become a U.S. citizen, but is derailed when she meets the wrong employee at the immigration office. This leads Amena down a confusing and outlandish rabbit hole of bureaucracy which, despite its horrors, prompts laughter from the audience.
“The Hope Hypothesis” has gained acclaim from audiences and critics at many festivals. Recently, writer and director Cat Miller discussed the show via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into directing and what drew you to the theater?
Cat Miller (CM): I think I was originally drawn to the theater because it was a place where I could take risks. I was a very well behaved and obedient kid, but in the theater I could try absurd things and push boundaries and question authority. I have a professor from Oberlin to thank for turning me onto directing. In my junior year I was acting major and I wanted to take one of his high-level acting courses. He said no, but that I could take his directing class. I was furious at the time, but that class changed my life.
MM: “The Hope Hypothesis” was partly based on the experiences of a friend of yours? So, what does your friend think of the piece?
CM: I actually don’t think she has read the whole thing yet! It’s not a moment in her life that she is excited to revisit – even in fictionalized form. When I first told her that I was writing it she laughed and said, well at least something good will come out of it. She doesn’t live in NY but I really hope she is able to come in for the production.
MM: Immigration is often a very stressful process, so was it tough to include humor in the show?
CM: Actually, it was the only way I could imagine tackling the topic. First of all, the immigration process in America is absurd. Even when it runs at its smoothest it is lengthy and costly, and most of the time it doesn’t. As you noted, this piece was initially inspired by a friend’s real experience trying to get a green card. Despite being married to an American citizen she was told she could not get a green card because she did not have a birth certificate, since they were not regularly issued where she was born. It’s a very long story, but in the end, in order to get her green card, her father had to fly to the country where she was born, get a meeting with the current mayor of the town she was born in, and get him to issue a formal decree that she had been born there. THAT the US government accepted. Not the reams of legitimate documents she provided mind you, but the word of some guy who had no actual knowledge of the time or place of her birth. How can you not laugh at the absurdity of that?
And second, and even more importantly, I think that humor is crucial in the face of despair. I see articles every day about children in cages, concentration camps on our borders, and I just want to bury my head in the sand. It feels impossible to take it on. But we have to. Only if we confront what is happening will we will ever be able to make change. For me, the humor helps me to do that. It makes it feel possible to confront horrific topics with some openness and hope. And I believe we are all much more likely to be open to other perspectives and ideas when we are laughing.
MM: How long did it take you to complete the script?
CM: When I started writing this play, I was at a moment in my life when I felt cut off creatively. Life circumstances were making it challenging to focus on my directing work and I had no real creative outlet. My husband convinced me to go see a life coach. It seemed an absurd waste of money at the time, but she (thank god) convinced me to carve out an hour a day to write. I started this play in my first session with no idea where it would go, no plan. But as soon as I started it, I felt strangely confident that it existed somewhere in its entirety. It was almost like I was channeling something rather than crafting something from scratch. Mind you, that is not to say I never got stuck. I would often spend my entire hour rewriting the same three lines, but I never felt panicked. I just knew that I hadn’t found it yet. So, in short answer to your question, it took me about eight months of working an hour a day to write it.
MM: What can audiences expect from this show and what do you hope they remember about it most?
CM: Well they can definitely expect to laugh. The cast is amazing and their comic timing is really spot on. I think they can also expect to engage with ideas and people that we often take for granted in day-to-day life in new ways that will hopefully inspire them to ask questions about themselves and the world around them. At the end of the day, I hope they remember that hope is a choice, even when it seems like a futile one.
MM: What do you wish could be done to make the immigration process more comprehensive?
CM: I think it is less about making it more comprehensive and more about making it more human. Systems are created to maximize efficiency and they aim to deliver equality by exposing everyone to the same standards and procedures. I wish our immigration system was more focused on equity rather than standardization and took individual needs and circumstances into consideration. I wish it was driven by compassion and empathy rather than rules and regulations.
* * * * *
“The Hope Hypothesis” will run from October 25 to November 15 at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in Manhattan. Tickets are priced between $27 and $37 and are available at sheencenter.org/hope