Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fringe Festival "American Alphabet" review by ChaimEliyahu

Re-Alphabetizing the 3 R's
Rating: 5

American Alphabet
KC Fringe Festival

OK, so it's not hard to alphabetize the 3 R's — traditionally, reading, 'ritin' and 'rithmetic: the first letter's out of the way already.  Harder, though, to discern which "R" really important. (Sorry, Teach: bad pun and worse grammar!)

A full house went back to class at The Fishtank Tuesday night to reconsider which R's are really important. In a theatricalized classroom setting, our playwrights and acting teachers Lisa Cordes and Damian Torres-Botello rearranged the R's to include Race and Religion, those don't-talk-about-them topics we need to talk about. The two switch off more than a dozen times through a content-packed hour in addressing these topics through their own stories.

Lisa goes back to great-great-grandfather Levi, born in 1809, to root her topic — "race" and racism — squarely from whence it springs: our hearts and homes. I shudder to think what her mostly-dead relatives (209 years is a long time) thought about her standing up in a theater and exposing their own participation in the false construction of race and "miscegenation" ("race-mixin'," as my own grandfather would have called it). But then they've already have the playwright's own beloved granddaughter to contend with, bringing our teacher's wide-ranging exploration of our topic — all mapped out, quite literally, on the chalkboard-walls of The Fishtank — to a moving and quite personal end.

Damian switches off with his own story throughout the evening: as a proverbial switch hitter with a team that gives this reviewer the willies — the Roman Catholic Church. Beaming smiling sweetness throughout, where bitterness is more commonly imagined, our teacher here uses his own awakening experiences as a gay Catholic to depict a vision of the faith as a loving, embracing spiritual home, starting with his recitation of the "Our Father" in Spanish. He doesn't spare us the reality of the Church's institutional stands on the topic — and on gay people (er, activities) in general — but returns again and again to his own true theology: that the Church is really grounded in its people, his own self included.

Sam Cordes provides solid support from our "classroom," running the projector that helps illustrate these parallel stories, responding to our teachers' questions, and reading off the definitions that have bounded our collective thinking on these topics. In their show description, the third "R" of the "American Alphabet" is identified as a rant, and our curriculum leads us through rancorous terrain. But where better than the theater to dramatize the high price we pay for our own American stories, and shine a light toward the future?

In all, "American Alphabet" offers up a fascinating and thought-provoking evening of theater. The only hickory stick involved in this teaching is our own difficult history: let the healing begin!

Repeats Friday at 9:30 and Saturday at 8 at 1715 Wyandotte.

read the review at KC Stage

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