Director Rome Neal
By R. Pikser
are not great appreciators of satire, especially political satire. Luckily,
Ishmael Reed is still out there, showing us how ridiculous our situation is.
Reed has been a critic of American society and a troublemaker for a long time.
Reading his essays can be an unsettling treat; seeing one of his plays even
more so. Life Among the Aryans is like a morality play, each personage
representing not a rounded character, but a figure who illustrates a point, for
the benefit of the audience, not necessarily for him- or herself.
Aryans of the title are not only white people: They are members of a white
supremacist group, trying to understand their hopeless lives and preparing to
carry out the insurrection that will bring them to the dominant position in
society that they regard as rightfully theirs – or at least that they hope is
rightfully theirs. They follow the directives of a smooth talking and handsome
Leader who is to the right of David Duke, and who demands more and more money
from them for the cause. While the men plan their future in the company of
Jack Daniels, their women pay the bills by working at low-wage jobs and selling
off the last of the furniture.
Reed takes things to their extremes to illustrate the ridiculous contradictions
of world we live in. We see the white men for the luckless, manipulated
creatures that they are. We see the manipulators for the con men that they
are. We see the women for the beaten down, then finally awakened creatures
they are. It is impossible not to make the connection to actual people. For
good measure, Mr. Reed throws in clueless news reporters, a doctor who turns
white people black, the conversion of one of the protagonists, some history
about a 1907 longshoremen’s strike and other bits of history, all accompanied
by many digs at our society. If you agree with him, the show is very funny. If
you partially agree with him, the show is funny and you will learn a few
things. If you do not agree with him, you will not be converted, but maybe you
will learn something.
show does have some rough edges. As funny as it is, it would be stronger if it
were cut. There were at least five endings where one would have done handily,
the points having been made. However, the show has multiple functions: Rome
Neal, director of the Nuyorican Poets Café, is also using it to build
community. Many of the actors seem to come from the Lower East Side community,
are making their stage debuts, and are clearly happy to be involved in
political theater. Their inexperience lent a certain charm to the evening,
though one hopes that, as they acquire confidence, better projection and a more
outrageous sense of play will result. It was a relief when the professionals
came onto the stage and spoke so that we could hear them. Still, members of
the Lower East Side community came out to support this opening night and
enjoyed themselves, judging by their reactions. Many of them stayed for the
jazz, food, and socializing that made up the second part of the evening.
least in part because of the radical nature of what he has to say, Mr. Reed,
though the recipient of many awards, has difficulty getting his plays
produced. Life Among the Aryans is Mr. Neal’s eighth production of Mr.
Reed’s plays and Mr. Neal is doing us all a favor by keeping Mr. Reed on the
boards. Community involvement and enjoyment and the expression of politics
are important functions of theater. It is good to know that there is still
political theater in New York that is accessible to the public: Nuyorican
Poets Café is doing important work.
East Third Street
7:00 PM, Sun: 3:00 PM.
performance Saturday, June 16.