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Dispatches from (A)mended America

nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
October 15, 2012

If you are at all interested in the American scene, American identity and our real American culture, this play is a must see.  Finally, for a couple of powerful and compelling hours, the race issue is confronted head on and viewed in strong, harsh light. Two courageous and talented guys, Brandt Adams and Godfrey L. Simmons Jr. have combined real life and theatre for the best of all possible stage worlds. Welcome to the truth, naked, honest and best of all, poetic and theatrical.  Mr. Adams and Mr. Simmons, driven by a need to find out more about the issue of race in this country, have gone on a quest, beginning after the 2008 election, through the South, asking questions like:  Will the election of a black man, Barack Obama, change your life?  What does it mean to you?  How is racism present in your life? In your community? Your family?

The issues and answers are expressed by the voices of real people they meet in their travels, natives of the South, inheritors of an ugly and troublesome history, telling their stories, illuminating problems that are old and entrenched. Their voices are varied and distinct, played with consistently wonderful color and texture by the Ensemble. The four players; Jacob Ming-Trent, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, James Wallert and Sarah Winkler are remarkable in their ability to animate so many different personalities.

 A full spectrum of Southern attitudes and points of view come from rednecks, racists of both colors, and people who are frightened, passive, ignorant  concerned or downtrodden.  We understand exactly what they’re saying on all sides, we recognize their feelings and reactions,  Humans in groups are naturally suspicious of the different, whether it is different color, different religion, different sexual preferences, different nationality.  It is up to those who care about the future of life, liberty and happiness for all,  as the play states profoundly and repeatedly,  to be  “…the ones we have been waiting for.” The ones to help bring about change that will forward our adaptation to a necessarily more accepting and homogenous world.

As the play draws to a close, a pizza delivery appears for the exhausted researcher/travelers, Brendt and Godfrey, and in a deft transition from the play to the reality of the moment,  we are all invited to stay and have a slice while we discuss questions raised during the action, first with each other and then with the larger group. Most of the audience stays to participate.  It is the intention of the Ensemble to engage us in the discussion.

We turn to the couple sitting next to us and have a lively discussion on topics related to the evening.  Following our local conversations we are invited to gather for some interesting exercises that ask us to take stands and give our reasons.  Many stay and there is a lively discussion.

It is refreshing to hear out loud what I believe many of us think but do not talk about and need to talk about; our honest feelings about race.  And all that said, there are no easy solutions.   At times it seems hopeless, at least for many young people today.  Evolution is slow, even when it’s really fast in the grander, universal history of time and events.  It certainly seems slow for those among us who want to offer help and hope to victims of racism and discrimination in our current culture, but having these blunt and honest conversations has to move us closer to the goal.

The production itself is in the round and Director Ron Russell makes great use of the circle to give a sense of the men’s travels and their many stops along the way. 

Designers Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams (set), Margaret E. Weedon (costumes), Cat Tate Starmer (lighting) and Ron Russell (sound) each added their special talents to enhancing the action with no distractions.

Thank you Epic Theatre Ensemble for bringing us this important and powerful piece of theatre.