nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
August 15, 2004
It is always a bit tricky to create theatre that is meant to educate or get the audience thinking about serious issues. The challenge, of course, is to be informative and entertaining at the same time, so that the audience doesn’t feel like they’ve been sitting through a news program. Patriot Acts (The Constitution Project), a collection of eleven short skits examining the creation, evolution, and possible dismantling of the United States Constitution, manages to walk this fine line. The skits, written, performed and directed by the various artist of The Urban Rock Project, are clever, touching and, most importantly, funny, leaving the audience disarmed and more than willing to listen and think a little.
The pieces cover a wide array of issues, including abortion, gay marriage, the criminal justice system, our country’s response to terrorism, and the right to privacy. Some of them are frightening, like the one that takes the anti-abortion movement to a logical next step and finds a woman accused of murder for having negligently caused her own miscarriage. Another imagines a future in which President Bush has been reelected, and his proposed amendment banning gay marriage has been ratified.
Other skits invite argument and force us to examine our own prejudices. Which of us, for instance, would not be tempted to use racial profiling to screen for possible security problems at an airport? Still others are ironic and amusing. In one, two rival Girl Scout troupes engage in a cookie war employing tactics reminiscent of those used at Abu Ghraib. Another examines sexual stereotypes, pitting a provocative high school student against his closeted principal. Yet another—possibly my favorite—takes the right to privacy, a right that has come under serious attack in reaction to 9/11, and looks at it through an intensely personal lens. A man has been reading his partner’s personal email, and has convinced himself that she is having an affair. From her point of view, he has invaded her most intimate fantasies, a healthy and important part of her life that she has every right to explore privately.
If there is one absolute constant that runs through the collection, it's the quality of the acting. Urban Rock Project’s artistic director, Rich Cole, is a casting director, and he has used his position to assemble a group of strikingly sharp actors who don’t miss a beat. All appear in more than one skit. Some write and direct as well, and the feeling of “ensemble” and collective belief in the work is palpable the minute you enter the theatre. The company’s mission is to create work for “audiences who crave more than just entertainment from their theatergoing.” With Patriot Acts, they have certainly shown their commitment to this lofty goal.