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AmerWreka': Timely, Relevant and Deadly Serious

by Ayofemi Kirby

February 23, 2009

AmerWreka will be performed Feb. 26-28 at the Charlotte Arts League, 1517 Camden Road, Charlotte.

Jeffrey Miller, 20. Allison Krause, 19. William Schroeder, 20. Sandy Scheuer, 21.

Sixty-seven shots fired in 13 seconds.

May 4, 1970 brought the war home.

Nearly 40 years later, it’s 2007 and once again violent stories of war fill the front pages of newspapers. Americans’ quiet dissent is at an all-time high, yet regard for political action is at rock bottom. On screen, a President utters, “We stand for… things…” as he searches for complete sentences whispered by his puppeteer, trigger-happy wife. No one is satisfied, but no one is asking any questions either. Not even the cynical, stiff-haired journalist giving the interview.

This is AmerWrecka, the latest production by The Actors Lab, where writer and director J.D. Lewis takes his audience into 21st century New York City. In this “AmerWreckan” city, apathy reigns and conservatism is the most unpopular form of political pursuits. But something in the burgeoning metropolis shifts when four New Yorkers, each wrestling with his or her own demons, receive a supernatural visit from the Kent State students whose lives were sacrificed on that fateful summer day.

The angels-in-training, on a quest to earn their wings, call a conservative politician, a stripper, a firefighter and a militant Latina lesbian to their own revolutionary order. Though their stories are distanced by close to four decades of American history, each of these eight shares the same propitiatory fate.

The show begins with Sandy, played by singer/songwriter Kellin Watson, Jeff, depicted by Steven Buchanan, recently in Godspell at Theater Charlotte, Will, played by stage newcomer Jamie Robinson, and Allison, played by Omaha native Allison Krause all dressed ‘70s garb. They ask a melodic question: “What are we fighting for, half the country can’t be wrong, right?”

Then, they die.

Petitioned by - literally - a rock star God, they are transported 37 years later to meet Gail Brown (Pam Galle), Tess Formicola (Keleigh Thomas), Finn Murphy (Kevin Patrick Murphy) and Jazz Salazar (original cast member, Cher Ferreya) to anoint them as millennial insurgents instructed to develop their own plan of dissidence.

As we emerge from one of the most electric campaign seasons in our country’s history, AmerWrecka’s premise is extremely appropriate. Two years ago, the political climate was similar to that of the play. The dialogue shows citizens who are preoccupied with their own lives, yet increasingly aware and irritated enough to shout an explicative (or two, or three) at the way the country is being run and at those running it.

The set design and direction of AmerWrecka is simple, yet effective. Not much is needed because the dramatic elements of the play – the script, the talent, and the live band are placed less than seven feet away from the audience - carry you through each scene with a rapid pace. You easily forget you’re in an art gallery and feel as if you’re seated amongst your fellow conscientious observers, as though it is your duty to inaudibly consent with each character’s choice whether or not you sympathize with their plight for justice and/or, depending on your perspective, their campaign for attention.

The production does include nudity and explicit scenes - all appropriately indicated on the promotional material. I am unsure, however, if these scenes are necessary to tell the story and communicate the message Lewis hoped to share. The nudity is not necessarily distracting, but with every scene seamlessly melding together, these are perhaps the ones where meaning is most lost. In contrast to the other scenes, the why is not as lucid as the what.

Overall, AmerWrecka is timely and very relevant. It is a fictionalized version of stories that deserve to be told. Too often, those writing official accounts overlook the young adult influence on history. As in the case of the Kent State students (and that of the Chicago 10), no one has an explanation when innocence is lost or stolen, especially when taken by a government pledged to develop American youth into the leaders of tomorrow. But that is no excuse for excluding stories about youth who took a stand for what they believed in – and did so in such creative ways.

We can each make a choice to actively play a role in our own lives until death - like the example set by student protesters at Kent State. This production, with its supernal call to action, suggests the idea that while we can choose to play an active role in our lives, we do not choose the call to action. And once we have received that call, we can only decide whether or not we respond.

With humor, but without letting the message escape us, each of the characters in AmerWrecka ask us to seriously consider the question: If we do allow life, along with the opportunities to change things that don't seem right to pass us by, are we really living or are we already dead?

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