by Collin McConnell · February 25, 2015
"You should get a gun Jonathon."
As a country, we seem to struggle to come together. It is a reason I love the theater - it is a place to come together (intellectually, spiritually, physically). I also love the theater because it can be emotionally or intellectually charged, it can be difficult, and it can be frightening. I think those are good things. But often, then, we leave the theater and we are no longer together, we are no longer charged or struggling with what we have experienced (together). And it doesn't get better. We go back to terrible jobs or wonderful jobs, make no money or plenty of money, and continue to be frustrated by others or embracing and loving others (and all the other ways in between that aren't so, well, black and white).
But then, it seems, that tension is building. A friend and I got to talking following the show, and he said he thought perhaps we're getting to the point, economically, that we either take care of our own (class, or race, or creed), or we all come together through the absence of money (or perhaps justice) and start over from there.
Lucy Thurber's The Insurgents lives on that tension, waiting to snap.
Sally Wright lost her sports scholarship, did a bit of soul searching in Detroit, and has found herself back home in New England looking for help. But she's reading up on Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and Timothy McVeigh, and it's only making things worse. Their voices come to life, and the conversation about justice - racial politics, economics - and just what a mess it all is, is proving too much. And so she keeps hanging on to her shotgun.
Thurber has crafted a work charged with all the passion and confusion that comes with facing the troubled mess of race and economics in America today, but it is perhaps more of a message than a play. It is a message I believe needs addressing, one worth coming together for, but as a play, it felt incomplete, more like a message thinly veiled in a story rather than a story with a message deeply embedded in it. It is big and small all at once: it is expansive with the intriguing historical figures mixing and conversing, and yet they are all limited by the hyper-political conversation they are having, devoid of personality. And inversely, it is wonderfully small in Sally's few interactions she shares with the people she connects with and is most influenced by, but then becomes too big as they venture into the political, disconnecting with their own personal stories. I never got to know who these people are. (This conversation also includes the set design, which I think aims to mimic that dichotomy, with the small kitchen raised on a platform, allowing for expansive otherness to exist along the boards surrounding the island-kitchen, but the back wall, with it's gorgeous eaten-away feel and branches working their way through leaves one wondering, when it is never utilized, what that beautiful image is doing in this play.)
The piece is, of course, not devoid of excellent work. All the performers are excellent, committing fully to whatever open and welcoming or ardently absurd views their characters may have - and April Matthis is a wonderful treat of humor and oddity as Coach (and stern vehemence as Harriet Tubman) in a performance that makes me long for a fuller story of her character that I would happily attend. Craig 'muMs' Grant also delivers one of the more moving tales of the evening with such an earnest sensitivity cut with a raw bitterness that is upsetting to have to swallow, leaving me wishing I had the opportunity to know his character better. And then there is Cassie Beck as the central figure of this whirlwind, Sally Wright. Beck delivers a fierce performance, resulting in a brilliantly tumultuous breakdown involving one of the more richly frightening moments with a gun I have experienced in a theater (there's an interesting bit of theatricality at the start of the piece that attempts to quell any fears that may arise - and while useful and important, perhaps to no avail).
And so I left feeling a little conflicted: this play has an important message I want to support, yet I want more from it as a play. Leaving the theater, though, I ran into a handful of friends, and enjoyed discussing the themes of the play with them. And so there was a sense of togetherness. Boarding the subway, I checked Facebook, and the first thing in my feed was a brief article eating up the satire Neil Patrick Harris was delivering that night at the Oscars, starting with his opening: "tonight we honor the best and whitest... I mean brightest"... and I thought, "yes, this message is important."