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    2008-2009 reviews:
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  •  REVIEW: VOICES FROM GUANTáNAMO

    Voices from Guantánamo

    State of Exception

    In "Voices from Guantánamo," Actors and Poets Group employ the intimacy of theater to confront their audience with the shameful treatment of prisoners held at the infamous prison camp.

    By ELIZABETH BACHNER
    Offoffoff.com

    Many of the hundreds of men detained at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp after September 11, 2001 have been held without trial, tortured, and subjected to violations of the Geneva Conventions. The work collected by editor Marc Falkoff in "Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak" was written by prisoners confined in small cells who had limited use of pens and paper, and expected their audience not to extend beyond fellow prisoners. Some of them wrote poems with toothpaste or scratched them on drinking cups. Volunteer lawyers managed to get 22 of the thousands of poems written by these prisoners cleared for release by the Pentagon. Poetry, it seems, was a dire threat to National Security under the Bush Administration.

      
    VOICES FROM GUANTáNAMO
    Written by: Duane Mazey & Carlo D'Amore.
    Directed by: Carlo D'Amore.
    Based on Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak by: Marc Falkoff, editor.
    Cast: Bernadette Drayton, Ely'Aina Rapoza, Adeel Ahmed, Dave Hall, Sunny Joseph, Al Nazemian, Seif Badrawy.
    Music by: Dave Hall.
    Production stage manager: Brian Taylor.
    Conceived by: Duane Mazey.
    Produced by: Actors and Poets Group.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    St. Veronica's Church
    149 Christopher St
    Nov. 14, 2008 - March 27, 2009

    This is neither the first time, nor the first place, that the United States government has detained, mistreated, and confined innocent people — The Lawyer (Bernadette Drayton) in Actors & Poets' Group's production of "Voices from Guantánamo" reminds us of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Learning the real stories of Guantánamo prisoners, and hearing the ways that they have been abused and denied basic human rights under international law, forces us to confront unpleasant truths, and hopefully to take action. There's no question that breaking the silence about Guantánamo has great political and moral value. But any play (and for that matter, any poem), however politically significant, and however well-intended, is also art. Before seeing Actors & Poets Group's stage adaptation "Poems from Guantánamo," I wondered: does it make sense for these poems to become a play? If this play were pure fiction, unrelated to any great cause or educational need, would it earn its keep as good theater?

    Voices from Guantánamo  
    From the opening scene of "Voices from Guantánamo" to the heartfelt conclusion fifty-five quick minutes later, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. The five prisoners, hooded and dressed in white, line up on stage as images from the prison are projected onto their bodies. It's immediately evident that these are human beings, and that their confinement is wrong. The simple set, with all five actors on stage throughout, gives a sense of the space the prisoners are forced to live and write in. Discarded pages from a legal pad line the floor between their cells. The Lawyer serves as a narrator, telling us the prisoner's stories and the history of the so-called War on Terror. We learn in the opening scenes that twenty-nine of the "men" kept in the prison are minors, a brazen violation of the Geneva Conventions.

      
      In the theater, we are confronted with the intimacy of the prisoners' physical presence, and with the tragedy of how their minds, bodies, and spirits are pushed past the limits of basic endurance
      
    Strong direction, evocative music, and sensitive performances bring the poems to life and continue to humanize the prisoners. In the theater, we are confronted with the intimacy of the prisoner's physical presence, and with the tragedy of how their minds, bodies, and spirits are pushed past the limits of basic endurance. Each actor, from the charismatic Sunny Joseph to the poignantly understated Adeel Ahmed, brings something unique to his role, evoking empathy, outrage, and the urge to rescue.

    Voices from Guantánamo  
    "Poetry, art of the human voice, helps us turn toward what we should or must not ignore," wrote Robert Pinsky on "Poems from Guantánamo." "[These poems] deserve, above all, not admiration or belief or sympathy — but attention. Attention to them is urgent for us."

    "Voices from Guantánamo" is accomplished enough to bring our attention to matters beyond current events, to raise the question of what it means to be human, and what limits we should set on governmental abuse of power. The book brings the prisoners' poems to the public, but this play forces an unavoidable confrontation with the situation. We cannot turn away. Americans, this year, should force themselves to see Errol Morris's "Standard Operating Procedure" and Josh Fox's "Memorial Day." New Yorkers — with pleasure in the art of it, with pain at its reality, and with attention — should go to see "Voices from Guantánamo."

    FEBRUARY 14, 2009
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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