Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Six Play May (say that three times fast)

Somehow a number of things have converged on me recently and its resulted in me going to see six theatrical events in the month of May alone. And this makes me totally happy. It also threatens to turn my blog entirely into a theatre review site. For now I'm going to give into that urge and continue to write about the shows I've seen. Because they've been amazing and more than worth my time to explore a little further.

The night after I saw "Arcadia" I went to see Richard Wright's "Native Son." A volunteer from Samaritan Ministry was in charge of props, so we got a group of staff together to go out to dinner and go see this play.

I had some trouble with this play. Not because it was a bad production, or because I didn't like it. It is very serious and I found the subject matter difficult. It brings up some very deep questions about race in our country. I think that my problem is that it hits a little too close to home. Not to my home, but to the home (or lack thereof) of my program participants. Right now, I'm working with people who have some very serious issues in their lives. And while I do my best, I don't have any magic tools and I can't make problems go away.

Native Son is the story of a young black man living in 1930's Chicago. He is the head of his family and has moved towards criminal activity to make the ends meet. His whole family is just one step away from starvation and homelessness. He gets a job with an affluent white family that seems to be a step in a better direction but it all goes wrong in the worst way possible in under 24 hours.

All of this was a little too much for me. I couldn't really enjoy it, even though when I take the pieces apart, the acting was good, the staging was good. It was in a black box theatre and it was in the round, which I completely love. The stage was almost totally empty and prop pieces were used effectively. However, I really couldn't get over the bleakness of it. The protagonist is not a sympathetic character. In fact, a sympathetic character is hard to find, which is completely intentional but not comfortable. So while I understand the reasons for this, I would have enjoyed this play much more last year from my comfortable college cocoon, far away form the reality of the lives I now interact with every morning.

After seeing this play, we discussed it at our staff meeting. Taking the time to break it down and discuss the themes and characters helped me some. However, connecting it even more directly to our program participants didn't help ease my unfeeling of discomfort. What is comes down to for me it that this play was very thought provoking and a little disturbing, which was probably Richard Wright's goal in the first place.

"Native Son" was play number 2 out of 6. Coming up in future blog entries, I have thoughts on a second Tom Stoppard play, "Rock and Roll", and a very last minute dash to go see "Design for Living." This Friday, I get to see Garrison Keillor doing "A Prairie Home Companion" and next Wednesday I see the official touring cast of "RENT". I'm beyond excited.

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