Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: We Can Stop the Violence

By Ed Malin

Experimental playwright Erik Ehn’s Clover is now playing at LaMaMa. Glory Kadigan directs a Planet Connections production of this new work, which, like a four-leaf clover, links together several stories about violence in the USA. Life is a dream, said Calderón de la Barca.  Or, it could be a dream, speculated the Coasters (adding a Sh Boom).
As the night’s spectacle begins, the cast of twenty is involved in many overlapping narratives about war, family, and hospitals.  The play is full of Delta Blues music, as well as the spiritual “Oh Mary, Don’t You, Weep Don’t You Moan” and a Bob Dylan cover (early on, he wrote several protest songs about the lynching of black people).  There is a chorus of singing nuns.
The 1955 murder of Emmett Till (Trevor LatezHayes) galvanized the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.  The story shifts gears to focus on the family of Emmett: Moses (Harold Surratt), Mamie (Laura E. Johnston) and Louis (James Edward Becton).  Louis has just come back from World War II.  Well, actually Louis was killed during the war and is visiting his family because, at that moment, the play is revealed to be (more or less certainly) a hallucination in the mind of an ill Caucasian gentleman named Cronin (James B. Kennedy), who once beat someone to death.  Louis’s amazement on this point marks the place where the play started to come together for me.
photo by Minji Lee
There are other stories happening.  In one, Casper (Francesco Andolfi), a resident of a post-war Texas town where Spam (“an affordable canned pork product”) can be found, becomes romantically involved with Hazel (Joyce Miller).  She and the other  wives such as Hegelede (Kathleen O’Neill)  lament how their men just don’t have any strength and passion.    Also, in Michigan, and in Norway (maps of these places are provided) , violence is happening.  The most arresting moment comes when Emmett Till is drowned  by an unseen Caucasian mob acting with impunity.  As the curtain is drawn back and forth in front of him, this innocent fourteen year-old is deprived of life in the land of the free.  The rest of the cast stand behind the curtain, their silhouetted hands symbolizing their oppression.  Jesus (Perri Yaniv) has some choice words to say about these events.
As I write this, not long before the inauguration of a hateful president (unless there is justice, of course),  I am surprised to know that some of my countryfolk do not know or care about the Civil Rights Movement.  Isn’t this the place where Martin Luther King’s march through Selma was recently re-enacted?  Are our "eye set like taxidermy", as the play suggests? Let’s say that the character of Cronin is our country.  The relegation of any part of the population leads to physical and spiritual death.  Is this what the playwright, known for impressive reflections on religion and genocide, and the director, founder of the charity and earth-oriented Planet Connections Theater Festivity, intended?  I am not sure.  I am confident that the multiplicity of meanings in the piece have been planted to stimulate the audience’s brains and to rouse **us** to save the world.
The violent and dreamy aspects of the piece are nicely highlighted by Benjamin Ehrenreich's lighting.   Jeanette Yew's puppetry and projections help catapult us into many different locales.