New play based on L-A's Somali experience

Immigrant scenes
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  January 5, 2011

Maine's twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn gained national attention in the first few years of this century for its reception of Somali immigrants: In 2002, Laurier Raymond, then the mayor of Lewiston, issued an open letter to Somalis asking them to desist in bringing their families to the city, and not long thereafter the white supremacist National Alliance arrived and made Lewiston a particular target of its fear-mongering, the response to which was the "Many and One" counter-rally of 3000 people denouncing the hate-group's presence in Maine. Lewiston-Auburn native Cheryl Hamilton, a national refugee consultant, worked with the Somali immigrants from 2001 to 2003, and since then has led workshops on immigration issues around the country. Now, for the first time, she has turned to theater to help her.

Her one-woman show, Checkered Floors, is based on her own experiences working in Lewiston-Auburn. It's told from the perspective of a recent college graduate who returns to Maine and new neighbors amid the Somali immigration, and who contends with both the beauties and challenges of her homecoming. The production, directed by James Bunzli, has its Maine premieres first at the Old Port Playhouse, January 5-9 (207.773.0333), and then at the Frontier Café in Brunswick on January 26, 27, and 29 (207.725.5222).

Hamilton workshopped Checkered Floors in New York City as part of the Emerging Artist Theater's "One Woman Standing" festival, and it premiered in Baltimore at the 2008 World Refugee Day celebration, where the show was opened by a performance two young Somali hip hop artists. Its Maine performances feature a post-show artist talk back with Hamilton.

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