A Queens-based play entitled “It Can Happen Here” is set to premiere at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, located at 153-10 Jamaica Ave., on Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.
The play, written by Queens resident Judith Sloan and described as “a dramatic comedy with songs,” tells the story of two hairdressers, Riva and Serena, who embark on a new journey together and pursue their passion for singing and tending to community members while their nation suffers in a political climate of chaos.
The characters in the play include a numbers-obsessed math teacher and DACA recipient, an older man who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and an Indian-American immigration lawyer.
Sloan’s work is a reference to Sinclair Lewis’ novel “It Can’t Happen Here” which follows the fictitious election of a populist politician who instills fear in a nation by promising a return to patriotism. But although the classic has been referred to as the book that predicted Trump by The New York Times, Sloan claims that her latest piece is not about life under President Trump.
Instead, “It Can Happen Here” is about colorful people from different walks of life who are handling societal and political tensions differently. Sloan said that she indeed drew some inspiration for the play from the great literary classic, but that she drew even greater inspiration from her where the conversations she had with Southeastern Queens residents. For nine months Sloan talked with people about their fears, resentments and hopes.
“What struck me over and over were stories of love and support that often fly under the radar in times of extreme duress, of neighbors being deported, of families wondering about their survival, of artists wanting to dream,” said Sloan. She came across dozens of stories of people co-existing and collaborating.
“Like the novel, ‘It Can’t Happen Here,’ my play is inspired by real events,” said Sloan.
Working on the play based and about residents in the most ethnically diverse borough of the city has kept Sloan in touch with her love of learning, listening and challenging others in the face of adversity.
Sloan describes her most recent play as a dark comedy. Her other works include Crossing the BLVD and 1001 Voices: Symphony for a New America. The first is a 400-page book following the lives of new immigrants and refugees in Queens. The second is a multimedia orchestra and chorus performance, also inspired by Queens residents’ stories, about migration and the search for home.
Sloan loves her always changing adopted home of Queens. Her work combines humor and and a love for the absurd as she places a mirror against American social and political culture.
“It Can Happen Here” was commissioned by the the Queens Council on the Arts’ (QCA) inaugural Artist Commissioning Program (ACP) and was one of four out of 100 applicants chosen for the award.