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(To Sally) You want America to look like you want it to. Everybody wants America to look like they want it to. I just wanted my freedom. I wanted my freedom. Nobody gets to own me or tell me who or what I'm supposed to be. I was willing to kill for it-die for it-what are you willing to do? — Harriet Tubman
It isn't likely that any of us will ever be visited, or haunted to be more precise, by the famous and infamous social upstarts from America's turbulent history who pop with regularity into Sally Wright's (Cassie Beck) head. More precisely, the armed insurrectionist/abolitionist John Brown, Underground Railroad conductor/Civil War spy Harriet Tubman, leader of slave rebellion Nat Turner, and the decorated Iraq war hero/Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh simply plop into the young and obviously possessed woman's kitchen (efficiently evoked by designer Raul Abrego) where Lucy Thurber's unapologetically polemical play is set.
Cassie Beck (Photo:Monique Carboni)
Sally has just returned to live with her lower-income family in the ramshackle home in the economically depressed backwater New Hampshire town where she was raised. She has also recently experienced an eye-opening extended sojourn across the country following an injury that has ended her college athletic scholarship. With her, residing like intimate friends on the kitchen table, are biographies of the above mentioned historical figures. These serve as channels for their subjects' metaphysical appearance, sometimes individually, and sometimes as a collective.
Sally could either be losing her mind or simply becoming increasingly receptive to the provocative messages of these extraordinary activist/visitors who are the revolutionary and titular "insurgents." They're t apparently there to corroborate, support and also challenge Sally's own personal commitment to affecting change as well as address her increasing dismay with the socio-economic progress of the country she claims to love.
What she also loves, and makes clear, is America's love affair with guns, in particular the 12-gage semi-automatic that she keeps close her heart and also wields like an accommodating appendage. Before Beck, the actress, steps into her Sally character and into the setting, she addresses us even as she takes aim at us: "Don't be nervous...you all don't have to be afraid. Like all country girls, I was trained early, how to handle a gun. I'm just giving you a heads up."
This is another opportunity to be engaged, entertained and occasionally enraged by the dramatic fervor and a unique ferocity of Thurber, author of the overlapping cycle of The Hill Town Plays produced by different companies at various Off Broadway theaters a couple of years ago. The Insurgents , as produced by the Labyrinth Theater Company, continues Thurber's display of disenchantment with a social and political system in which the impoverished and disenfranchised are summarily ignored and beaten down.
Despite the intrusiveness of "the insurgents," Sally can't ignore the concerns of her father Peter (Dan Butler, who also plays John Brown) who's home after injuring his hand while working in a construction site. Also on scene and deserving appplause for the ease with which they switch emotional gears as well as attire: Aaron Roman Weiner as her working brother who also plays an extremely agitated Timothy McVeigh; also April Mathis as the soft-spoken Tubman and Sally's subtly critical college coach
The most affecting character conjured up by Sally is the gentle Jonathon, a war veteran whom Sally meets in Detroit. He is trying to eke out a living cultivating a small organic fruit and vegetable plot within the ruins of a city that he says doesn't look any different from ones we bombed in Iraq. He is played by Craig 'Mums" Grant with a poignancy that he is able to change to passionate excess playing Nat Turner.
Sally requires our empathy as she raves and rants to her father and brother to the point of physical exhaustion on such issues as race, racism, education, poverty, lack of jobs etc. Beck, who originated the role in the play's premiere at West Virginia's Contemporary American Theater Festival's 2011 season, gives her all in a deeply and honestly felt performance. The upswing in violent crimes and the lack of response from the highest levels to social injustice since the play's premiere are factors that led Thurber to do some re-writing, add characters and plot elements for the New York premiere.
The feelings of helplessness triggered by hearing Turner, Brown Tubman and McVeigh expound upon and justify their revolutionary acts,
add an empowering spiritual side to this play and Sally's diatribes. Even if you are not inclined to sing "Put a Candle in the Window" (the lyrics are in the program) along with the chorus of insurgents, you will want to join with Sally's "I just want to feel safe."
The Insurgents may not be among the best plays in Thurber's growing canon of plays with a vivid —, make that livid— social conscience. But, under the corroborating direction of Jackson Gay, it is close to being her most heart-felt.
The Insurgents by Lucy Thurber|
Directed by Jackson Gay
Cast: Cassie Beck (Sally Wright), Aaron Roman Weiner (Timothy McVeigh/Jimmy), April Matthis (Harriet Tubman/Coach), Dan Butler (John Brown/Peter), Craig 'Mums' Grant (Nat Turner/Jonathon)
Scenic Design: Raul Abrego
Costume Design: Jessica Ford
Lighting Design: Paul Whitaker
Sound Design: Broken Chord
Technical Director: John L. Simone
Production Manager: Dennis O'Leary-Gullo
Production Stage Manager: Rhonda Picou
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
(212) 513 - 1080 labtheater.org
Performances: Tuesday & Sunday at 7 pm, Wednesday - Saturday at 8 pm.
From 02/5/15 Opened 02/23/15 Ends 03/08/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/22/15
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