Saturday, September 23, 2017

Theatre AUM: "Liberty and Justice"

In its first production of their 2017-2018 season, Theatre AUM is offering a compilation of scenes, songs, and monologues entitled Liberty and Justice. The assorted pieces are performed by a talented  25-member student ensemble directed by a coterie of five: Marcus Godbee, Neil David Seibel, Cushing Phillips, Mike Winkelman, and Val Winkelman.

Played on Mike Winkelman's open stage reminiscent of a patriotic rally to which we've grown accustomed (red, white, and blue drapes and a white star painted on the floor), and using minimal furniture, nearly forty vignettes hit their respective marks to remind us of both the ideals of America's founding fathers and the challenges to democracy that continue almost 250 years later.

Quotes from the Declaration of Independence ["all men are created equal"], the Statue of Liberty engraving ["Give me your tired, your poor"] and interpretive renderings of the "Star Spangled Banner", "America the Beautiful", and "We Shall Overcome" among others are given ironic twists on today's legislative bodies when the First Continental Congress is referred to as a bunch of "knaves and fools".

There is a decidedly political agenda in Liberty and Justice. Audiences are taken backwards and forwards in time, showing how 21st Century concerns with immigration, women's rights, racial inequality, LGBT inequities, and the death penalty, had their roots in the past yet continue to be unresolved.

The voices of marginalized people are brought to the fore by the acting ensemble, all dressed in various iterations of red, white, and blue; the short vignettes are given sometimes sensitively humane and sometimes confrontational in-yer-face interpretations. -- And the gender-fluid assignment of roles help focus attention on the messages on offer.

Selections from plays such as The Laramie Project, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frost/Nixon, Angels in America, All the Way, Stuff Happens, School House Rock, and Hamilton, as well as many others, drive the messages unrelentingly; and while one can not question the commitment of the actors to the seriousness of the issues at hand, the collection of scenes cries out for some comic relief to make the points even more impactful.