"Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising," takes a fascinating and disturbing true story and makes it into an inept and uncomfortable piece of theater.
By FRANK EPISALE
Towards the end of "Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising," I was already feeling guilty that I was about to write a very negative review of an activist show with an admirable agenda. Then it got worse. A member of the audience stood up and declared with the stiffness of a non-actor who's memorized her lines, "Stop this show! This woman has something to say!"
The "audience member" turned out to be Susie Beiersdorfer, an Associate Producer of the production, though this wasn't announced (I only know who she was because I looked through cast photos on the production's web site.) Beiersdorfer ushered to the stage Jackie Bowers, who turned out to be the sister of George Skatzes, one of the Death Row prisoners depicted during the play. Apparently on the verge of tears, halting several times to collect herself, Bowers pleaded with the audience to do something about her brother's case.
|LUCASVILLE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A PRISON UPRISING|
|Written by: Staughton Lynd & Gary Anderson.|
Directed by: Brandon Martin.
Produced by: Ray Beiersdorfer.
Based on Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising by: Staughton Lynd.
Cast: Lessley Harmon, Sam Perry, Chazz Sutton, Arcale Peace, Brandon Smith, Dorian Thomas, Greg Mocker, Monica Beasley-Martin, Jim Canacci, Brandon Martin, Ric Panning, Brooke Slanina, Jackie Bowers
Associate Producer: Susie Beiersdorfer.
Related links: Official site
|Barrow Street Theater|
27 Barrow St.
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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This highly manipulative, emotionally and intellectually dishonest moment, was meant to be a powerful reminder of audience agency, of the fact that any one of us could, in theory, stand up and speak back to the events on stage. Of course the fact that the only "intervention" of the evening was scripted suggests otherwise.
Adapted from Staughton Lynd's controversial book of the same name, "Lucasville" is ostensibly a docudrama meant to bring to life the events of the infamous Lucasville prison riots of 1993. A prisoner uprising that resulted in an eleven-day siege and ultimately took the lives of nine prisoners and one hostage, the story of Lucasville is troubling and complex, and would seem to be an ideal subject for docudrama.
Theatrically inept and astonishingly one-sided, though, this is not the show it could have been. For most of the production, a row of actors sits or stands facing out to the audience, an intentionally visually static decision that would have needed far more disciplined performers to be effective. The stilted acting from an inexperienced cast (most of them students or recent graduates of Youngstown State University) is rendered even more uncomfortable by the obvious earnestness with which these actors butcher their roles. They clearly believe they are making a difference with this work.
|Rife with stereotypes, especially of guards and officials, the characterizations are further hampered by the great struggle the performers seem to have remembering their lines.|| |
Rife with stereotypes, especially of guards and officials, the characterizations are further hampered by the great struggle the performers seem to have with the text. They don't stumble over their lines so much as they seem to be trying really, really hard to remember them. The result is deeply uncomfortable: a spectacle of performers in over their heads, clearly having been given little help by their director, concentrating as hard as they can on what comes next. When some kind of emotional outburst is imminent, the audience can see the actors gearing up for it, thinking to themselves, "this is my big scene; I'm going to get really loud in a minute. Maybe I'll even knock over that chair."
Documentary theater has a rich history that arguably stretches back as far as theater history itself. The recent past has brought us work from Emily Mann, Moises Kaufman, Anna Deavere Smith, and many others, who have repeatedly demonstrated what a valuable form it can be. Nevertheless, there are well-known pitfalls, both logistical and ethical, all of which "Lucasville" falls into. It is a disservice to its cast, to its audience, and to its subject matter.
The program notes are chock-full of information and petitions and letters from the depicted inmates, all of which turn out to be far more engaging than anything happening on stage. With over 200 productions showing at this year's Fringe Festival, "Lucasville" has little to recommend it, but clips from the production are available on YouTube and on the show's official site, if you really want to check it out.
|AUGUST 16, 2008|
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