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Creighton production of 'Dairy Maid-Right' offers drama, discussion on immigration

Hector Castellanos Lara and his Guatemalan carpet art, which is part of Creighton's forthcoming The Dairy Maid-Right production.An Omaha playwright’s take on immigration in rural America will be the basis for a series of staged readings by Creighton University actors as the Fine and Performing Arts Department brings its theatrical performance season to a close.

The Dairy Maid-Right is Ellen Struve’s poignant and timely look at how a small Nebraska town contends with questions raised in the wake of the sudden arrival of a young Latin American girl. The play is produced by students in theater professor Amy Lane, PhD’s Theater for Social Justice course with the aid of a Creighton Global Initiative grant titled “Our Town Now.”

“The play is speaking to a moment that’s unfolding right now and looking at immigration from a new perspective,” Lane said. “I think we have a picture of immigration as an issue in cities and in border states, but immigration is also having an impact in rural America. The play is looking at that conversation and the shifting demographics of a place like this Nebraska town.”

Opening April 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Blue Barn Theatre, 1106 S. 10th St., another reading will also be staged April 20 at 7 p.m. Gallery 1516, 1516 Leavenworth St. There will also be two readings at Creighton’s Studio Theatre at the Lied Education Center for the Arts, both of which will also feature art by Hector Castellanos Lara, who works in the medium of traditional Guatemalan carpet art. The Creighton performances are April 19 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 at 2 p.m.

Admission to each performance is free with a suggested donation to Lutheran Family Services, which helps resettle immigrants and refugees around Nebraska.

Each reading will also be followed by a panel discussion and audience talk-back session. The panel will consist of the visiting artist Castallanos Lara, Ricardo Ariza with the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network, Leslie Espino of Creighton’s Immigration Law Society, Creighton journalism professor emerita Eileen Wirth, PhD, with Lutheran Family Services, and Sara Torres from nonprofit Grief’s Journey.

“We hope the panel and the conversation gets the audience, especially the younger people who might identify with the main characters here,” Lane said. “I think there can be a disconnect for 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who wonder, ‘What can we do?’ The characters in this play have that same discussion and start formulating some ideas about constructive ways to talk about and get into action on these issues.”

In The Dairy Maid-Right, two recent high school graduates, David and Courtney, played by Creighton students Manny Oñate and Alyssa Clausen, encounter a young girl from Guatemala who wanders into the fictional hamlet of Newton, Nebraska.

The girl, who does not physically appear in the play, is unaccompanied by parents or other caretakers and she is unable to communicate her situation due to a peculiar language barrier. David is the son of a Mexican immigrant, Alma (played by Omaha actress Caitlin Staebell), and while he speaks Spanish, he cannot converse with the girl, who speaks Q’anjob’al, one of the languages of Guatemala’s Maya indigenous population. David and Courtney work at the local Dairy Maid-Right, an ice cream and snack stand in the town, where the twist ice cream cone becomes a pivotal metaphor in the play, showing the necessary cohesion of people from different backgrounds and nations.

The production becomes a meditation on the meanings of compassion, faith, family and citizenship.

“The play looks at each of the characters onstage as they work through their ideas, their different roles, their duties,” Lane said. “And after the show, with the panel we’ve selected, that conversation will get further into what’s happening now. This is exactly what the class, Theatre for Social Justice, was designed to do: to raise awareness, start a conversation.”

Along with Oñate and Clausen, Creighton students Sam Fleshin and Ben Adams together take on the role of Robbie, with local actor Ablan Roblin also appearing as Matt.

In August, Lane and the performers will present selections of the play to the Conference on the Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education in Seattle as an illustration of how the arts are working to expand that conversation.

“These are things happening right now,” Lane said. “We’re excited to be able to stage readings that are asking the questions and examining the issues. We look forward to the conversations with The Dairy Maid-Right and what we’ll be able to talk about next year.”

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