Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The American sees The American Pilot

Soho never lets me down. David Greig script has been paired up with direction that brings us back to good old-fashioned story-telling. How refreshing to see a piece that embraces its own qualities of theatricality. At the opening, we are greeted by the image of our American pilot, spread-eagle on the ground in this unnamed village, with an onstage musician plucking his strings, filling the theatre with a feeling of folk music and cultural identity (even as it remains unspecified). The villagers enter one-by-one, casually as we seat ourselves, with glasses of tea and colorful clothing. When they begin to speak, we realize the bravery of this production, where these foreign villagers have simply been cast as people, with unexpectedly blonde or red hair who purposely keep their various UK accents. They do so with so much assurance that it is impossible to stop and worry about it.

I know from experience that there are those who would clamor for 'truth' and specificity and take this same playscript and corrupt it with the casting that you might expect--dark actors playing in heavily accented Russian or Bosnian or whatever else they find politically satisfying at the moment. But what I adored about this production is that it denied those expectations and came out stronger for it.

The story itself follows the effects of the presence of the American pilot, whose plane has crashed in the mountains, breaking his leg and stranding him god-knows-where. Mostly unable to communicate, he waits for rescue, while the villagers each weigh their options and decide what should be done with this unwanted visitor. He represents so much of the outside world, and this clash is what produces the events of the play, handled with incredibly sensitivity by Greig.

Throughout the piece, we have the cast looking on at the action, stepping in and out of the allegory, but always present. They support each other with natural sound effects on hand-held instruments, and share their thoughts in turn as monologues. The quiet solitude of this village is only interrupted once, in a sequence I will not reveal, but suffice it to say, it represents something specific with all of the height and bombast it deserves. My heart was beating wildly, I was shocked out of a complacency of viewership, and I walked out a bit shaken. It was a astounding, brave, and heartfelt risk. And as the actors rose from the final action alive and well as people in the world, I felt a peaceful sense of community overtake the room. These are the sort of stories we shouldn't be afraid of telling; this spirit would do well to replace a lot of the small-minded kitchen-sink fare that writers are still trying for.

*********

In the past few weeks, I've seen an innocuous, little life-affirming piece (The Best of Friends at the Hampstead). It was amusing and completely watchable. The actors were thoroughly competent. The lessons were charming and universal. But it was simple.

I suddenly need BIG things. Big risks. Big statements. Big, unapologetic, sprawling, wandering, undeniable things in my theatre.

And so I saw My Name is Rachel Corrie.

It is no understatement to say that I will be forever altered by this experience. The circumstances surrounding the play are enough to spark a debate: American peace activist is run over by Israeli bulldozer as she stands in defense of a Palestinian home. Oh, and don't forget that the politics of the play have resulted in hesitancy by producers, who backed out of a scheduled NY run. We as theatre professionals should be absolutely offended by this cancellation. We should be pissed. As I recall, when Behtzi was run out of the Birmingham Rep by Sikh protests, someone (forgive me, I'm blanking on who it was, and from which theatre) said that it didn't even matter if the play itself was good, what mattered is that it got an opportunity to be put out there. These are voices that need to be heard.

Megan Dodds performs this role with a furious pride and effervescence. I want to write volumes on this, so look out for more to come. In the meantime, see it, read it, read about it. After watching, I'm finding it extremely difficult to justify my own small life, my lack of conviction.

The truth is, I am discovering, that I am political. Whether I like it or not. For so long I have managed to avoid educating myself on issues that should have formed a basis for a personal fight against a great many injustices. It's too easy to put aside these things when they are half a world away...

4 Comments:

Blogger P'tit Boo said...

This entry sent shivers up my spine.
Like good wasabi .

You're my wasabi, Annie.
:)

4:32 PM  
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8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting reaction. I saw this a couple of weeks ago and although I relished the performance the theme left me cold. Yes, of course I admired R.C. for her enthusiasm and energy, but felt that she was a 'rebel looking for a cause' rather than an informed activist. There is no reflection, either of self or the other. There is no balance, as in other plays with similar themes. Yes, I understood her motivation, but has it changed me? No. Did it inform me? Yes. But don't take this as a positive or negative comment. Perhaps I am too long in the tooth to be moved by the unnecessary death of a war zone protester. I hate war, I hate what people do to each other. I give no apology.

11:31 AM  
Blogger freespeechlover said...

Annie, It's nice to read an American review MNRC. I'm coming from the states to see it. Thanks.

8:14 PM  

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