CIVIL LIBERTIES - AN AVANT-GARDE MUSICAL
nytheatre.com review by Sharon Fogarty
A terrifying story: two innocent
train riders, a Muslim and a Hindu, with hopes of finding better
employment and quality of life for their families in North Carolina, are
taken into custody for no apparent reason. The horrible reality of
Military Tribunals is revealed, a currently legal caged existence that
denies all judicial rights to suspected terrorists. Suspects are kept in
cages without a phone call, an attorney, or any contact with their
families for years at a time. They are made to feel uncomfortable,
deprived of sleep and food so that information might be squeezed out of
August 15, 2003
In Civil Liberties the two suspects, passionately portrayed by Gagan Deep Singh and Kenneth Maharaj, are held prisoner for eight months. Interrogators are played villainously by Tiffany Lea Williams and Michelle Ramoni. Both Williams and Ramoni perform with powerful status over their prisoners, then with sudden meekness when higher authorities are present.
Though Civil Liberties is billed as an avant-garde musical, none of the actors actually sing in the show. Rather, their voices are "sung" for them. Each wears a microphone plugged into composer/musical director Mike Kolker’s sound/music equipment so that their natural speaking voices are heard against an eerie tuning and harmonizing effect. Uncannily familiar with their delivery, Kolker improvises a note or cadence to each actor’s word or phrase. In scenes where all four actors are present, another effect splits the voices into several different pitches at once. These dialoguing techniques play against accompaniment of horn sounds and rhythmic motifs. The "vocoding" is eerily effective, especially against playwright/director Kris Kolker’s frightening text.
Civil Liberties’ structure itself is experimental, with four short acts taking place on a train, in a police station, in a detention camp, and at the prisoners’ homes. The play does more telling than showing and is repetitive with long non-dramatic scenes. The real-time feel may have been intended to allow the audience to experience the prisoners’ monotony, which these fine actors could demonstrate in a heartbeat, but it seems to water down the message. Hopefully the script will be tightened in future renditions of this valuable work.