Kenya dig it?
Rick Gray's one-man memoir "Impossible Safari" takes him to Kenya with the Peace Corps for an uplifting experience involving lust, mutilation and imprisonment.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Here is the baggage Rick Gray took along to Africa:
White middle-class anxieties.
|Written and performed by: Rick Gray.|
Directed by: Colin Campbell.
Excessive amounts of acting class.
Decades of Catholic guilt. (Kennedy was killed the day after he was born, and his mother later told him it had been hard to get help in the hospital, he recalls, adding: "It had the sound of an excuse, I thought.")
An unresolved relationship with his actress girlfriend.
A cryptic passage read randomly from the Bible
In "The Impossible Safari," Gray recounts his two-year Peace Corps stint in Kenya. Whether he achieved the enlightenment he sought there, I'm still uncertain, but he did bring back some striking observations about both Africans and Americans. Conceptually, the show resembles Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia" with our protagonist sharing his funny, poignant and even embarrassing experiences in an unfamiliar environment, and looking for insights into himself as a person and a displaced American. But Rick Gray has none of Spalding Gray's New Age/New York neurotic loopiness in fact, he seems very regular by comparison yet, even this is something he's trying to overcome. He seems certain that Africa will change him.
When he gets to Africa, he finds it surprisingly easy to cast off his American preconceptions and embrace what he finds there. "For the first time I began to see value in my suburban New Jersey upbringing it was so easy to chuck," he explains. He visits holy people, dances with warriors, stares deeply into the eyes of the local women, chews stimulant herbs and gets thrown in jail all experiences that come off as both plausible and meaningful.|
And he is surprised at the lack of acknowledgement of his race, which would be considered such an obvious, defining fact in America. "You are not white," he seems to hear Africans telling him in his most ecstatic moments, "and we are not black." This vibe, coupled with some of his most extreme experiences which I won't reveal here, seems to give him the transcendence that he went looking for. While at the beginning he saw everyone's actions, including his own, as some kind of performance that he's learned about in acting class, by the end, he seems to have learned to look for the genuine humanity in the life and people around him. And we in the audience get, if not transcendence, at least a fun and fascinating, vicarious immersion in a place and life totally different from ours.
|JANUARY 25, 2000|
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