A child is doing well in school. They're bright, talkative, socially apt and well-adjusted. They play sports, they're at the top of their class, their friends adore them. But then they receive a letter that their parents, or maybe their whole family, is being deported.
They go up to their bedroom, lie down in bed, and fall asleep. They don't wake up. They're still alive—vitals are good, eyelids flutter, breathing is steady. It's like they're asleep. But they just don't wake up.
Such is the trajectory of resignation syndrome, or uppgivenhetssyndrom (a real word), a phenomenon seen in Sweden in the second decade of this century. Hundreds of immigrant children, many the sons and daughters of refugees, would enter into coma-like states upon receiving the traumatic news of deportation, leaving their families baffled and terrified.
This is also the plot trajectory of local playwright Alix Hudson's Hummingbird, which has made its world premiere at Teatro Paraguas and runs through Feb. 23, directed by Malcom Morgan. It tackles issues of adolescence, immigration and family ties mostly with grace, featuring three successful actors and a lengthy script.
The story follows siblings Nadia (Iza Konings) and Sam (Devin Zamora) and Nadia's best friend Miriam (Christine Amenion)—the children of immigrant parents from the same unspecified country. Nadia and Miriam are seniors in high school and Sam is in his early 20s.
Nadia and Sam's parents have recently been deported. In the play's first scene, Sam finds Nadia unresponsive in her bed, and we meet Nadia through flashbacks and through the spirited conversation of Sam and Miriam.
Speaking of "spirited," that is certainly a word that can be used to describe Amenion's Miriam, impossibly bubbly as she flits around the room with seemingly unfailing optimism. When Nadia falls asleep, she's transported back to the house in a hospital bed on wheels, and Miriam spends nearly every waking moment with her best friend. She takes the "talk to her" advice of the doctors to heart, gossiping and updating Nadia on goings-on at their school while painting her nails.
In the hands of another actress, Miriam would probably have read as weary and shrill—but with Amenion, she's nothing but kind and lovable. She practically bounces as she walks, and while she never comes across as annoying to the audience, it still translates that Zamora's Sam would soon grow tired of her pep.
Zamora, who we last saw onstage in October in The Happiest Song Plays Last at the Santa Fe Playhouse, is a believable Sam, the protective older brother trying to keep his small household together in the face of incredible odds. He's your typical (stereotypical?) hard worker who passed up a chance at academia to take a factory job to bring in some extra money for a bit, but he's clearly glad he has the income coming in once his parents are gone and he has a sibling confined to a gurney.
In flashbacks, he's ever rolling his eyes at his little sister's political antics, declining to accompany her to pro-refugee rallies and demurring from actively supporting her progressive agenda. In the real-time action, he visibly struggles with Nadia's condition, convinced that she is consciously pretending to have resignation syndrome in order to get their parents back from exile. His performance does occasionally feel forced, particularly in the first few scenes, but I attribute this not to Zamora's chops but rather to some stumbles in the script.
Overall, the script is quite powerful, flowing easily and aptly depicting realistic conversation about heavy topics. It is rare that it trips—though it occasionally does, usually in the sections about politics that playwright Hudson perhaps had more trouble approaching through casual conversation. I felt a little beat over the head during the first act (which clocked in at 90 minutes, by the way; the second act is shorter), when Sam and Miriam engage in some conversation with a clear political agenda. Those kinds of conversations are hard to write, and Hudson very nearly gets there.
The character of Nadia comes through loud and clear, and actress Konings, a 17-year-old junior at Desert Academy, handles her with a steady hand. She's feisty and passionate, unfailingly supportive of her best friend Miriam and close with her brother Sam, but clearly has a deep inner life that we glimpse through her flashback interactions with Miriam and pages of poetry she wrote before she fell asleep. Occasionally Nadia seems like "a bit much," if you will—how can one human contain so much kinetic energy?—but rather than a mere case of overacting, this is how the character is written, and Konings depicted her deftly. Portraying a slightly exhausting character accurately is a triumph.
Overall, then, the script knows what it's doing. (A particularly nice touch was how Hudson keeps sending characters out of the room, leaving a comatose Nadia alone onstage; I kept finding myself waiting for her to wake up or twitch, proving Sam's theory of artifice true. Spoiler alert: It never happened.) Through descriptions of hummingbirds at the botanical gardens to readings from Nadia's biology textbook, every aspect of this script has been clearly orchestrated and planned—unsurprising from the hand of Hudson, whose work we've come to respect here at SFR.
Overall, a story of familial ties, friendship, love, and the impact of global politics on local families comes through crystalline in Hudson's script, with only a few hiccups to pull us out. At one point, as Miriam puts lip gloss on Nadia's unresponsive mouth, she coos gently: "It's so sweet, right?"
Everything Miriam does is indeed so sweet, driving home the need for human connection in inhumane times.