SHOW TITLE: Ferguson, USA
PRODUCER: Random Walk Theatre Co.
HAILING FROM: Minneapolis
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Citizens unite amidst tragedy to repair a broken justice system funded by poverty. Interviews, media coverage, and the department of justice report inspire this collage of stories and spoken word.
Fringe attendance is typically a game of Russian Roulette for me: I pick a venue and camp out, seeing whatever’s playing. The point is adventure, and mental expansion, after all. So when I was standing in line, and the writer/director drifted past me and mumbled “You should go see my show upstairs”, I shrugged and did it. Really! You want a review from me, that’s all it takes.
I was wary of the subject – current events are always tricky, and I usually occupy a pretty different corner of the political compass from most of my colleagues. And even though this is one of those handful of issues that we’re in general agreement on (i.e. that we have a police force whose violence against citizens is out of control, we have no systemic accountability in place, and communities of color are dramatically overrepresented among their victims), the pitfalls of socially conscious art are…many.
This is…mostly quite good. The character drama is compelling. The actors are exceptional. The text addresses some nuance. My main point of discomfort is that the show description boasts of drawing heavily on primary source accounts. I don’t have any idea where those accounts begin and end, however – how much of what I’m seeing is documentary and how much is drama. I would have appreciated some kind of bibliography or playwright’s note in a written programme. (Though I suspect that I’m probably in a small minority on this, anyone who’s read my writing for any length of time knows that the appropriation of history is one of my biggest issues as a critic, and as an artist is something that I think we desperately need more accountability with.)
I found that the script kind of falls apart at the end, however. After doing an admirable job of keeping explicit authorial voice out of his characters’ way, I would say that he falls into the playwright’s trap of wanting to put a bow on at the end, as the four performers lapse into a kind of spoken-word montage that is low on subtlety and does much to flatten out the admirable complexity that the body of the script introduced. (One of the actors strikes a pose as George Washington on a dollar bill, for fuck’s sake. And a discussion of whether or not to update your Facebook wall is literally the most trivial aspect of social responsibility.)
So I was pretty dismayed by the last five minutes, but found the rest of the show to be riveting. If you’d like a glimpse of what it may have been like to live in the middle of this madness for an hour, that the show delivers.
Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!