Everyone's a Critic, Episode 4
The Quiet Storm: Devin Dippold
Later on, our brave word-warriors will tell you just what transpired for them here at the National Critics Institute. But first, a quickie look at the moments that made SUNY Brockport's production of Tom Flannery's Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues, sink or swim. Coolest part? Everyone chose a different moment. However, two students went so different that they wrote about Rowan University's production of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening (P.S. Northrop) and Grove City College's production of David Hirson's La Bete (Jessica Hinds-Bond)instead. Who knew we had two Kenleys hiding out behind their laptops?
The assignment: tell us exactly when the production crystallized (or fell apart), and tell us in a way that unifies the rest of your (ghost) review.
At the end of a beautifully written and fun monologue about the looting and coldness of human nature in despair, Lindsay Fisher, in "Photographer," hits the nerve of the entire play. In a series of monologues centered on pain and destruction, the photographer notices that among it all there are still compassionate people in the world. She vividly speaks of this moment she sees people who have lost everything, standing on a street covered in debris. The memory of that moment is not only playing in her head, but Fisher speaks the lines in a way that illustrates this, and in a single line, she strikingly gives a chill when she speaks of a man, playing his violin for the people who have nothing. As a character who up to this point is cynical of the country's behavior, she changes her body language and speech to deliver this saving grace among the rubble. While some actors are aided by Tom Flannery's writing to save their performances, Fisher takes the lines and makes them her own.
During the monologue "Hold Out," an older Ninth Ward resident (played by Maxwel Anderson) explains his actions by stating his lifelong philosophy. Anderson rocks slowly back and forth in his chair on the porch he built at the house he has lived in for over 50 years. He states "Harry Truman once said, 'If you want a friend in this world, get a dog.' So I got one." Anderson, in that line, sums up the problems that this play attacks. After the levees break, the New Orleans characters are left to fend for themselves. A woman waits in a nursing home for help that isn't coming. A soldier comes home from Iraq to no home and no prospects. A man spraypaints "By all means, take your effing time" on his roof after being stranded for days. All help has abandoned the Katrina victims, and only people like Anderson's character, who refuses any offer of help, thrive. The government has proven Harry Truman right.
A 30-something Bostonian woman stands desperately clutching her peacoat. She stares anxiously out contemplating the worst. A mingled look of torment and disgust lingers upon her face. Her brow furrows in concern as she utters, "Am I the only person in America watching?" She is heartbrokenly mourning the general lack of concern America has for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This is but one persona in Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues, an account of the devastation and the reaction to the terrible tragedy in New Orleans.
The camera points and clicks as the victims of Hurricane Katrina struggle to stay alive. A gangbanger standing in a pink fur coat in the water... Click. A dope addict with a looted television. Click... Every image of the struggling, dying people of New Orleans that might be newsworthy... CLICK, CLICK, CLICK! Nothing's sacred anymore, especially not when a photographer can look at someone in need, snap a shot and turn away in search of the next emotion-invoking image, unaffected. And then, the music rises: a single violin, agonizingly sweet and hopeful, cutting through the death and despair within the Superdome. The photographer (Lindsay Fisher) sees the violinist in the midst of destruction, the perfect image, and then she turns and walks away without even focusing her camera upon him. Serenading hope in the restoration of humanity, charity and New Orleans, this scene is Colorblind's moment of perfection.
"We all know the water's color blind... Are you? As Gloria Curet delivered the line in her second monologue, "Dead Again," her implications horrified. What it means to be color blind became a question demanding an answer. Her lips moved as if she tried to cover a decaying mouth, the inflections jived, but then... Realizing that the sound associations and additional imagery came from the fact that the actor was black. Does being color blind mean ignoring? No, this constitutes a Reagan definition of racial justice, and being 20 years post his era one would expect progress from Americans. However, the haunting imagery of her dead figure bouncing, laughing and cackling, while reciting establishes a new relationship to race. If New Orleans emerges rebuilt without the projects, what repercussions does this truly have? Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues is a new play where these very questions tell us about ourselves and the American nation.
But then the second act begins, and suddenly all of these flaws get amplified tenfold. Rather than focus on the beauty of childhood innocence, the play steers it's eyes towards the monstrous structure that is the adult world. In that very first scene after intermission, all of the characters on stage are wearing hideous winkled and warted multicolor masks. They mainly communicate in hoots and hollers and guttural repetitive chants. The malignant mature ones in the play are supposed to inspire fear and disgust in the viewers--but instead the ridiculous way the players portray their repellent roles leads the majority of the audience to laughter. These bellowing cackles reverberate throughout the Merriam and add to the din that the actors on stage are creating. The result is pandemonium. You are unsettled, you are nervous. This piles on top of the fact that you cannot hear what's being said clearly onstage thanks to shoddy projection. The whole production takes on the cloudy confusing aura of a dream. You know something absolutely dreadful is going on but your inability to effectively process it only adds to the terror. Surely, for the entirety of it's latter half, this presentation of Spring Awakening plunges you into the depths of some ungodly nightmare--whether it intends to or not. And--finally--when the lights go out at the end of that show, you will be afraid of that dark.
Like a cocaine-induced rendition of Carrottop, Jim Carey, and Michael Keaton's Beetlejuice, a lanky man in a badly disheveled long brown wig paces around the stage, spouting words in a stream-of-consciousness that is periodically punctuated by self-described caterwauling, showcasing his particular talent for over-dramatic posturing and playing for cheap laughs. In the midst of this more than 20-minute monologue, Valere (Douglas Baker) suddenly grabs a white handkerchief, and begs the others onstage to "Gag me with this handkerchief, alright?" Mercilessly, neither of the other men obliges him in his request, and he continues his shrieking unabated. Really? This man represents the future of the theatre?