Some days, John Walch wishes that his play In The Book Of was not quite so torn-from-the-headlines.
“I started in 2010, when Arizona passed the first real anti-immigration law and that was in the national conversation,” said Walch in a recent interview.
To create a conversation about who is and is not welcome, Walch drew further inspiration from the Bible’s story of Ruth and the war in the Middle East.
In his story, Lieutenant Naomi Watkins returns stateside along with her friend and Afghan translator, Anisah. But when Anisah’s visa is questioned, people begin to question this stranger in their midst.
More recently, after the play had its first outing in Alabama, the plight of translators left behind have hit the national headlines. Many members of the service argue that delaying or denying immigration visas for translators and their families essentially means passing a death sentence upon them.
“I wish that something would be done so the play wouldn’t be so continually relevant,” admitted Walch. “Many translators are being targeted (in their home countries). There is no question about that.”
In the Book Of originally was commissioned for the for Alabama Shakespeare festival. “Then the following year, Alabama passed an even more draconic law (targeting illegal immigrants). While I was rewriting the play and reshaping it, that was very much in the news,” he recalled.
Today, he hopes audiences will go past the recent headlines and rhetoric to contemplate “what would happen if Ruth came to America today,” he said. “I want people to see it as much more historical issue, the welcoming of a stranger into our community. It only is going get more complicated as our worlds get closer together.”
At the same time, Walch emphasized that his work is never just about the issues.
“I like to use humor to engage and disarm,” he said. "My baseline goal as a writer is always the same: engage the head, heart, and mind while tickling the funny bone along the way.”
John Walch’s In The Book Of opened March 28 and continues through April 26 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N 85th St, Seattle. For more information, see the Taproot website.