New York | 1h 30m | Already closed

Building the Wall

From 31 critic and 133 member reviews
Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Absorbing, Intense

About the show

New World Stages presents Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan's new play set in a not-too-distant future when Trump's administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. More…

In a time when shocking campaign rhetoric turns into real policies, 'Building the Wall' reveals the power of theater to question who we are and where we might be going. This harrowing drama strives to deliver a powerful warning and put a human face on the inhuman by revealing how when personal accountability is denied, what seems inconceivable becomes inevitable.

1h 30m | Already closed | New World Stages (Midtown W)

Theater Pizzazz

“By the end our souls are wringing wet, our feelings numbed by the unimaginable, which echoes the haunting realities that happened...during the Armenian Genocide in 1916, during the Holocaust of the second World War and every genocide that followed…Directed with relentless precision…These incredibly complex themes are established concept by concept…With ‘Building the Wall,’ Schenkkan reminds us to open our eyes to the present in a play you cannot miss.” Full Review


"Director Ari Edelson and his superb two-person cast bring this disturbingly plausible play to life from its tension-filled opening moments all the way through to the charged, final line that sent chills down my spine...Dale turns in a magnificent performance...Tunie delivers an incisive performance...The level of detail that Schenkkan includes is absolutely enthralling...An extraordinary political play, designed for our current moment in time. It is urgent, vital theatre." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"A bleak and terrifying look at the immigrant situation...An urgent cry of warning...Dale’s performance doesn’t make amends, he accepts his responsibility. Director Ari Edelson lets us see his humanity, his pain, and the out of control situation he has been placed in...This play is hard to take and in all honesty, I just wanted to throw up after seeing it, but it needs to be seen." Full Review

DC Metro Theater Arts

"Out of his imaginative mind comes another powerful theatre piece by Robert Schenkkan...As played at fever pitch by a remarkable James Badge Dale, and as questioned by the formidable reporter played by Tamara Tunie, the play is fiercely committed to calling us to arms...Edelson is certain to receive nominations for his work on this current offering; it’s relentlessly gripping. It is particularly timely." Full Review

New York Theater

“There’s no question that Schenkkan is a political playwright, but he is also an adept dramatist…'Building The Wall,' written quickly, may not win the playwright any more of those big prizes; it is comparatively modest, even restrained. Yet it is also an intelligent, well-played and ultimately potent drama...Building the Wall’ is terrifyingly plausible…It helps that James Badge Dale and Tamara Tunie so capably inhabit their characters, under the assured direction of Ari Edelson.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

“A solid reminder of how quickly and effectively theater can respond to what’s going on in the world…‘Building the Wall’ contains passionate anger and urgency and, despite the occasional didactic exchange in which the characters all too obviously serve as mouthpieces for political arguments, it’s extremely well written…Despite its predictable aspects, the play still emerges as powerful political theater. It never feels static, thanks to Edelson’s taut staging and the gripping performances.” Full Review

AM New York

“An absorbing and unapologetically disturbing drama…An intimate and tight staging directed by Ari Edelson…With dystopian thrillers now in vogue, ‘Building the Wall’ gives yet another perspective on how ordinary individuals can be swept up by history, either willingly or unwittingly. In writing ‘Building the Wall’ and getting it produced so quickly, Schenkkan has initiated a conversation about where the country is heading.” Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"You can call the situation dramatized far-fetched but, nonetheless, it makes for an unsettling projection of events in this tightly presented two-hander, grippingly performed by Dale and Tunie...I was thoroughly riveted by the talk between Rick and Gloria as a result of the convincing acting by Dale and Tunie and the issues that the playwright puts on the table...Schenkkan, his cast and director Edelson, whose staging is admirably taut, do a service with this riveting dramatic warning." Full Review


“A powerful dystopian drama…The work is sure to provoke shock, awe and much talk…A hot-off-the-laptop scorcher of a play…The play’s schematic structure has overly familiar elements of conversational confrontations…But it’s gripping storytelling, and powerful performances trump any sense of an overworked template. Under director Ari Edelson’s well-measured direction, Tunie is cool and focused…Dale is riveting as Rick.” Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Under Ari Edelson’s direction, the ensuing dialogue, though an effective plot device, can feel a bit formulaic...James Badge Dale more than makes up for such deficiencies with his all-too-human portrayal of Rick...Schenkkan conveys a grimly persuasive message: Yes, it could happen here...'Building the Wall’s' dire prophecy may prove unfounded in literal terms. But its parting shot will surely continue to resonate, whatever happens." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"A disturbing yet powerful play...Directed impressively by Ari Edelson...'Building The Wall' feels very important. The conversation between these two solid characters, both intensely and purposefully played by these two fine actors, feels true and real...If you don’t think about the artificial setup too much, and just accept that this is where we are, the rest of the play drives forward like a landslide turning into an avalanche. And it’s frightening to listen to or imagine." Full Review

The Clyde Fitch Report

“An 80-minute shocker of a play…The thing about ‘Building the Wall’ is that the drama is contained in the gathering horror story told — but not necessarily in any mounting tension between the two characters conveying the story. Indeed, there is not very much of that…Under Edelson’s economical direction, Dale and Tunie are perfectly fine as Rick and Gloria…If ‘Building the Wall’ is more like reading a story than attending a theatrical production, it’s a mighty scary tale at that.” Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

"Dale is electrifying as a prisoner in 2019 telling his story to a historian in Schenkkan’s gripping, of-the-moment 'Building the Wall'...Schenkkan and director Ari Edelson slowly unfurl the narrative to make it all wholly believable rather than the ranting of a liberal sore loser...Dale is intense and affecting...Tunie cannot quite keep up with Dale, her delivery too static, unable to get past the expository nature of some of her dialogue, something that Dale pulls off in the meatier role." Full Review

Edge New York

“Occasionally, the arguments sound like a list of talking points straight out of a Facebook comment war…Some of those moments almost sound too scripted, until you consider that maybe we really are starting to communicate like that in our hyper-polarized political environment…It feels more like a warning parable than a carefully crafted drama. But it is engaging, and plays like this can have real value in times like these.” Full Review


“While the story is absorbing and pulls the viewer into the events being described, the very lack of heat in Edelson's production is problematic. Though the day-to-day events at the El Paso facility become more and more disturbing, the temperature never rises as it is all told on the same level. Dale and Tunie are convincing in their roles but there is no chemistry and little interaction between them. This tends to dissipate the appalling events that Rick finally gets to.” Full Review

New York Daily News

“Written in just a week before the election, the play seeks to push buttons and on that level succeeds. It’s also fast moving and credibly acted. Dale’s performance is strong and believable. Tunie's take on an academic could use a bit of fine-tuning. Dramatically, it’s a mostly static hour and a half…And details nag…Despite weaknesses, the play has an ace up its sleeve — and it saves it for last.” Full Review

The Wrap

“‘Building the Wall’ is powerful in its preposterousness. Just when you think the revelations can’t get any darker, they turn another, deeper shade of black…Gloria never changes…In a better, even more disturbing play, she might also be shown to bear some responsibility for what went wrong in America…Dale rivets in his evolution and manipulation of Rick’s many faces. It’s a performance unlike any other on stage right now...What Schenkkan puts in Rick’s mouth is unforgettable.” Full Review


"A classic case of preaching to the choir...This big theme is realized quite successfully with this small-scale production. However, despite Ari Edelson's steady direction and the Class-A performances, it's too obvious that the initial business is a device to put forth a few background clues before heading into more chilling territory...Bravo to Mr. Schenkkan for managing to produce a coherent play even while the events that prompted him to write it continue to change every minute." Full Review

Village Voice

“For the majority of its performance, ‘Building the Wall’ feels less like a drama than the fever dream of a horrified citizen who has absorbed too much campaign coverage…Thankfully, Schenkkan is not just any horrified citizen, and the searing dramatic intelligence that once earned him a Pulitzer reasserts itself by play’s end…If the play’s first hour is a somewhat stilted excuse for its final thirty minutes, these latter turn out to offer an artfully sketched warning.” Full Review


“As a piece of dramatic writing, the suspense ebbs and flows in a welter of exposition, but in the overall it does build—if in a formulaic way—to a shocking conclusion and makes its point unabashedly. The play is a two-hander, tautly directed by Ari Edelson and performed with mounting intensity…The plotting becomes clamorous with uncomfortable echoes of the Holocaust…Within the parameters of Schenkkan’s screed-like storytelling, the actors perform commendably." Full Review

Broadway Blog

“For all its irritating familiarity, hearing the issues bantered back and forth between two solid actors has a certain fascination…Riveting as much of this is, it fails the credibility test. It's impossible to believe that the ‘truth’ of an incident that makes Abu Ghraib sound like kindergarten hazing is being revealed only in a prison interview with an academic...Although neither character is fully believable, Dale does a good job at humanizing Rick's jittery combination of defiance and guilt.” Full Review

Theater Life

“Edelson gives the work a taut edge. Dale makes Rick a believable three-dimensional being…Tunie imbues Gloria with individual details. But neither character changes or learns anything new. Much of their dialogue consists of previous actions, statistics, headlines, and talking points…Yet despite the shortcomings, our interest is held for its 80 minutes..Schenkkan has allowed his passion to overrule his dramaturgy and we get the theatrical equivalent of a hastily drawn political cartoon.” Full Review

City Cabaret

"The play is timely and relevant...Yet, Schenkkan's idea of rapid response to current events through theater is also risky. 'Building the Wall' is basically preaching to the choir, repeating old facts without the drama and insight of new ideas...The actors in this two-hander are credible....Unfortunately, in 'Building the Wall,' Schenkkan does not present analytic insight of where we are as a society, just a horrific hint of where campaign slogans like 'build a wall' can lead us." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"He's clearly concerned with how things are going...But he's gone about it in a curious way, one that doesn't resonate as strongly as he probably wanted it to...Schenkkan reveals vital information more slowly than he has to, and leaves out some salient facts...A more widescreen view of the current political landscape might make it feel more like a play and less like a screed. What 'Building the Wall' does do is humanize the voter base that fueled the electoral upset." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"James Badge Dale and Tamara Tunie, solid pros both, do their very best...But Schenkkan's play, written no doubt in good faith following the shock of Trump's election, is a hysterical, not to say irresponsible, piece of work...Ari Edelson's direction is pretty snappy, given the circumstances, although he doesn't shy away from the script's heavy solemnity...The best thing you can say about 'Building the Wall' is that it is sincere." Full Review

Absorbing, Masterful, Must see

See it if you want to tether on the waiting-to-exhale insanity of what is currently happening in politics but set two years into the future.

Don't see it if Wait. Why wouldn't you see this play? See this play! It is freakin' brilliant.

Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Relevant

See it if You want to explore your own feelings about human responsibility in relation to authority. You want to be motivated to keep resisting abuse.

Don't see it if You don't want to test the limits of your compassion for humankind,

Also I wish this weren't closing....

Intense, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant

See it if You worry about where DT's executive actions are taking the country and their unintended consequences.

Don't see it if You think Trump is doing a good job.

Also Schenken writes a play that builds from the start to a climactic end.

Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Intense, A piece of work that deserves a wider audience to come experience this "tour de force" theatrical event!!!

See it if you are looking for a theater experience that will have you talking about it LONG AFTER you leave the theater that evening and weeks later!!

Don't see it if you are not interested in having a mind blowing experience in the theater.

Also Seeing Building The Wall will tear down EVERYTHING you ever thought ab... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Intense

See it if - You like plays which describe how a dystopian environment could develop if potential events are taken to their illogical conclusion

Don't see it if You believe dystopian or dysfunctional regimes are not possible future scenarios. You believe history can't repeat itself ... in some form

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Riveting

See it if Politically themed drama that packs a serious punch is your thing. You are appalled by the road our country has been put on by Trump !

Don't see it if You like Trump because this powerfully written drama whose theme is an imagined horrendous result of his immigration policy is hard to watch

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Resonant

See it if This is a riviting play about the privatizing of our prison system that turns in to a holacost exicution camp. Fantastic acting

Don't see it if If you voted for Trump

Also Bravo to the actors and the director I was sitting on the edge of my s... Read more Read less

Resonant, Intelligent, Riveting, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You would like to see where a dystopian, right wing, anti-immigrant agenda might lead. Great acting, stunning conclusion.

Don't see it if You believe all is well in the world and that seemingly 'right' policies cannot go awfully wrong.

Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if You like 2-character plays about intense, relevant social issues. There's cussing. Minimal set. Prejudice issues. Political rhetoric & anger

Don't see it if Dislike all of the above... It's not anti-any-one-particular-candidate... 85-minutes... Of intensity... Great acting! See it. It won't hurt.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if You love current events with a spin. Or if you love a well preformed and written play. A 90min show makes one question and feel many things.

Don't see it if You are looking for a big Broadway show. The only thing big here is talent. Don't see it if your not a fan of in"real time" shows like 24

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intense, Unrealistic, Biased

See it if are looking for a worst case scenario about our current political climate. It is an interesting study that is far fetched and speculative.

Don't see it if You prefer political shows that are not one sided and not designed as propaganda.

Also The writers are trying to frighten Americans into believing we are hea... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Intense

See it if you want a thought provoking evening with great acting.

Don't see it if you are not interested in plays that are relevant to today

Relevant, Intense, Edgy

See it if You’re intrigued.

Don't see it if You need more stimulation then two people on stage.

Also I really like how they handled it. We all heard the buzz ages ago.. Th... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great writing, Intelligent, Resonant, Intense

See it if You are not worried about how Trump's presidency will hurt the values of the country. And if you are, this will make you worry more.

Don't see it if You don't enjoy stories told though dialogue. Entire play is one 70-minute scene in a prison interrogation room.

Those who think trump is leading us to disaster will find this play a disquieting confirmation, others ...

See it if powerful case TRUMP launching events sliding country into "final solution" 4 immigrants; James Dale terrific lead showing banality of evil

Don't see it if play provides no new insights 2 rise of Trump; not subtle theatrically, in this 2 hander, Tunie as questioner not effective foil 2 Dale

Also SPOILER ALERT: The play posits that the reign of TRUMP will inevitably... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Riveting, Terrifying

See it if you like a play that is extremely well acted, cautionary, can be emotionally harrowing and deals with a societal trend that is alarming.

Don't see it if desire light entertainment, non political content and happy endings.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Profound, Relevant

See it if you enjoy political thrillers masterfully written. It needs to be seen so we remember what is at risk & how easily everything can be lost.

Don't see it if you are in Trumpian denial.

Chilling, Disturbing, Absorbing, Relevant, Edgy

See it if you enjoy political themed stories referencing the past, present and possible future.

Don't see it if you are so leery of our present government that one more crisis will send you over the edge. This is a very disturbing play.

Absorbing, Great writing, Profound, Relevant

See it if The lead actor was amazing and while the story is hard to believe or take it makes you think

Don't see it if like Trump

Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if You're interested in extremely current, topical plays about societal issues & what our future might look like under a Trump administration.

Don't see it if You're already seething about Trump and need theatre to de-stress you instead of reminding you of his agenda.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You are interested in speculative depictions of near future events

Don't see it if You want something visually stunning or if you want to escape current politics and fears

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you're interested in a what-if scenario regarding immigration, deportation, and going too far. Gives you something to think about.

Don't see it if you get bored by a play with only two characters, you don't like matter-of-fact dialogue or political theater

Clever, Slow, Resonant, Relevant, Intense

See it if You want a show that incorporates up-to-the-minute socio-political events and uses historical precedent to extrapolate to the near-future.

Don't see it if You're treating your neo-nazi cousin to a show.

Intense, Absorbing, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if you want a political thriller with drama so real that you might find it on an episode of Homeland or even in the news.

Don't see it if you don't want to be confronted by heavy political themes or are looking for something comedic/uplifting.

Ambitious, Relevant, Riveting, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if you like powerful drama flowing from the major political and societal issues of our time.

Don't see it if politics bore you, you're white fragile, or you need a happy ending.

Cast & Creatives (9)