One of the most important functions of theater -- or, really, any form of art -- is to introduce people to unusual, perhaps even uncomfortable settings and bring us into contact with those that we might not otherwise interact with. Ideally, it'll make us more empathetic than before.

As someone who attends multiple new plays every week in New York, I often feel as if too many of them reflect the concerns and lives of upper middle-class, middle-aged, Caucasian individuals -- which is also the primary demographic of New York theatergoers.

Jeff Augustin's new drama "Little Children Dream of God," which is being presented by the Roundabout at its downstairs black-box space as part of its Underground series (where tickets cost only $20 each), may have some issues as a piece of writing, but it is an ambitious and intriguing play that opens its audience to a community of illegal Haitian immigrants living in the slums of Miami.

Sula (Carra Patterson), who is 25 years old and 11 months pregnant, floats on a car tire to get from Haiti to the United States. As she assimilates into a new culture through the help of friends, she becomes increasingly concerned about how her son never cries, leading to the suspicion that God has abandoned her.

It is revealed that she has a dark past involving the practice of Haitian Voudo, which leads to a climactic, mystical and physicalized battle for her son's soul.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to various locals like a mother to no less than 11 children (the excellent Deidre O'Connell), Sula's kindly landlord (Maurice Jones), a gay prostitute (Chris Meyers) and a grouchy, terminally-ill hospital patient (Gilbert Cruz).

Although these characters interrupt the story line and lead to uneven plotting, they offer colorful personalities and further open up this unusual and unique setting. The play also ends on a satisfyingly hopeful note.

 

If you go:

"Little Children Dream of God" plays at the Steinberg Center through April 5. 111 W. 46th St., roundabouttheatre.org. 2.5 stars