with Elias and Nan

In Our Pockets

 Elias

I have worked with InterAct in the past and had also read the script before seeing the show and wasn’t very impressed with it at all. I’d also been having insufficient sleep up until the point I saw the show on opening night, which definitely influenced how I experienced the show that day.

Nan

I also had read the script before seeing the show, but I haven’t worked with InterAct in an official capacity. I know a few of the actors. I had a strong negative reaction to their publicity images (featuring a white man as if he were the lead of this show about POC) so I came in thinking about that.

 

The Take-Away 

  •  A clever play with some valiant effort put into it that gets way too masturbatory in the end, has no right to have so many white men play POC, and should not have been directed by a white man.

  • In this world where we must ask who tells what stories, we must ask why this story was told with so much white control.

 

The Design

Elias

Lights by Peter Whinnery were mostly functional, though it seemed like there were some gaps on the set. The design didn’t feel like it enhanced any storytelling, but it also didn’t very much get in the way.

Nan

The sound, by Larry Fowler seemed to be actively trying to be cinematic, but was very distracting and never succeeded in eliciting true emotion. The play definitely played with the boundary of “reality” and cinema but I would have appreciated more sound choices that contributed to the “reality” feeling and less cinematic movie soundtrack music.

Elias

I agree. This play really wants to be a movie, and it seems like the design and direction in its soundscapes reflected that. 

I found that some costume choices were, frankly, cartoonish in some choices, particluarly the military characters.  Others were uncommunicative, which may have been a result of a lack of resources for a show with eight actors and 23 named characters.

Nan

I thought the costumes did what they needed to do in terms of function and storytelling, and I don’t think this is a show that gave room for Natalia de la Torre to do more than that. Also, good on her for succeeding in getting full breakaway pants to work!

Elias

The set by Nick Embree was built by the non-profit scene shop Philadelphia Scenic Works, in which InterAct’s Artistic Director and director of this show, Seth Rozin, has a stake.

Nan

I didn’t know that about PSW. I was not initally impressed with the set, but the first transition in which all the pieces move was actually very successful and exciting!

However, in following scenes where the set pieces were pushed back, specifically in the museum scenes, there was not enough going on visually. That said, the red archways for the museum/rich home were a subtle and smart choice.

Elias

I think it was a fair attempt to produce space for the myriad scenes that the script demands, in a theatre with no flyspace or wing space to track pieces on and off. 

Nan

I liked the half eaten hot dog that the police chief had every time he appeared! Emily Schuman was the props designer.

Elias

The set dressing in the film studio and the rich collector’s house were really good details, too

Notably, no one’s credited for fight choreography, though there is definitely stage combat in the show. I think it’s irresponsible if they actually have no fight director. Even putting safety aside for the moment, lacking a fight director (or, perhaps, violence designer) resulted in the combat getting in the way of telling the story instead of helping it.

Nan

Fight directors are mandatory for any kind of violence.

The Direction

Elias

This script is very challenging to mount and it would take a very adept and deft hand to wrangle all the parts together to really make the incredibly long show move at a solid pace. I think the direction did not accomplish that very difficult ask. There are so many long scenes with dialogue between two characters which don’t really have any stakes.

Use of the space on stage often created weird stage pictures for me.

Nan

I agree that the script is very challenging and I do think that there were a lot of things Rozin succeeded in– the pace was mostly kept nice and fast, the transitions were clean.

That said, I think this play absolutely should not have been directed by a white man. This script is about who has the right to tell our stories. It’s about a Venezuelan-American lawyer who in going to write a book about his experiences at the Baghdad Museum has his story hijacked and whitewashed by “the writer” and twisted into something leagues away from his authentic experiences. It’s blind to the intention to choose a white man to direct.

Another big issue is the fact that white men were cast as Middle Eastern characters. I expected more of InterAct.   I would have loved to see this play directed by and fully cast with people of color, and as a launchpad for talking about cultural appropriation and other relevant issues about culture and race. But it ended up being just another story about the boundary between reality and fiction, overshadowed by masturbatory metatheatricality.

The Script 

Elias

The script did not feel like a fresh take on questions of reality and fiction. As a critique of who gets to control the narrative, it fails by virtue of a stunning lack of self-awareness.

The character Alejandro Ramirez/Al Romano at one point says, “Oh, we’re white-washing me now?”  That’s called “lampshading” where you point to the thing you’re supposedly trying to criticize, but actually you’re just doing it. You expect the audience to let you off the hook because you merely named the crime.

Nan

Yes! And the moment when Sarpkaya’s character is arguing with Guzman about how America is a warmongering machine, she walks off loudly protesting “You do know I’m half Lebanese, right?” And it was played for a laugh? That was really tone deaf. The play was also peppered with references to “fake news”, but never with any actual point behind it– just referencing it for cheap chuckles.

I do actually think the script has some merit but I strongly feel that Kennedy needs an editor or writing partner who will help him get his head out of his butt.

Elias

Yeah, the “fake news” lines had been added since the time I first read the play back in January of this year. So it seemed like those were very much afterthoughts in a plainfaced bid to make the script sound relevant.

The performances:

Elias

Charlotte Northeast was a standout for me. She brought subtlety and nuance to the role of The Writer that I didn’t expect from my reading of the script. Nazli Sarpkaya and Najla Said also brought distinct physicality and even some humanity to the multiple characters they played. On the night I saw the show, Nov 1, it sounded like not everyone knew all their lines, and that was distracting.

Nan

Most of the cast had some serious trouble getting the lines out, whether it was articulation or memorization problems, or just being able to sound natural. Sarpkaya and Said were absolutely holding the production down.

 

Accountability:

Elias

This is a show for (maybe) well-meaning but highly ignorant white liberals. 

Nan

Yeah. People who want to feel good about seeing work by or about POC and talking about art. People who want to feel better about being white and privileged, but not actually have to think about race or culture. My audience seemed so much more interested in talking about the semiotics of artifacts than anything else we saw.

Elias

That I have so many questions about what this play might have been trying to say is probably due to the fact that the production itself was unclear. A white British playwright wants to use the stories of real people of color to do a thought-exercise on who controls narrative and how.  

Nan

In a play set in Iraq, there were only two middle eastern actors. That’s a failure. The one throwaway gay character also seemed to be played for laughs, which was frustrating and sad.

Elias

A lot of audience members started laughing at the joke of his gayness. Whether the audience itself or the script or direction is to blame, I’m not sure. The active whitewashing in the casting makes this whole production more than a little suspect.

Why This Play Now?

Nan

I don’t think the production answered that question. I think that produced differently, the play might have started interesting conversations about Islamophobia, cultural identity, cultural appropriation, and more, but that was not this production. 

 

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