Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Politics: Religious Conversation

In my last two posts, I've written a little about how politicians, journalists, and artists should bring themselves into conversation with the greater community as a whole. In the examples of Sen. Rick Santorum (in that appearance), Jon Stewart, and John Cage, I found positive examples of this conversation occurring. Unfortunately, for my next examination of conversations with culture, I'm going to levy some criticism toward a man who is actually far smarter than me, and who is not undeserving of respect, to illustrate what happens when conversation is not pursued constructively.

There are many, many, many examples of a breakdown in religious conversation in the United States, because of the dislike of moderate religious figures to speak publicly about religion. The moderate position is that religion is a personal belief, and other than speaking to a small congregation of like-minded believers, is not best suited for large public discussion.

Although I can agree with this view to a certain extent, what that creates is a religious power vacuum, where those who are looking for a religious leader find those who are most vocal: those leaders, on a overpowering national scale, can be extremely negative. Fred Phelps, Louis Farrakand, Pat Robertson, Jeremiah Wright, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Ted Haggard, etc.; these names are familiar to us because they typically come with extravagant, hate-filled messages of religion attached, whether it be Phelps protesting at Iraq War veterans' funerals because the Iraq War is a punishment for homosexuality or Jeremiah Wright's invective that 9/11 is a punishment for America's hubris.

I think most of us would prefer moderate religious leaders, who are passionate in their beliefs but holding moderate beliefs, would be preferable: religious leaders cut from the mold of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose religious beliefs inspired him to take on social problems in a manner that was mostly affirming and positive. Of course, sometimes that leadership comes from a non-religious direction; but specifically in religion I believe there need to be leaders who step forward to show what a compassionate, moderate religion would look like, who could bring the flocks of people readily in.

But my post is not about this religious phenomenon: it's about the mirror effect of that phenomenon. This phenomenon is currently happening in atheism, a movement known as New Athiesm. New Athiesm makes Athiesm aggressive and evangelical in the way that neoconservativism makes conservatism aggressive and evangelical. When one asks for prominent athiests, one is led to think of people for whom athiesm is prominent: people who make athiesm into a strong part of their lives.

This is the position of a select few scientists in the current wave of thinking who believe that it is not enough to not believe in God; the mission of an athiest is to spread his teachings (or lack thereof) to as many religious folk as possible. And I feel myself in a privileged position to criticize this New Athiest movement (led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris): I myself am an Athiest, and I have always been an Athiest and will, likely, always be an Athiest. But this New Athiesm is not serving the greater culture--a culture which has both athiests and religious folk, and agnosts and spiritualists.

To take an example of this effect, I decided to take the most concise work on the subject that I felt still represented a whole argument: the introduction to The Portable Athiest which was written by Christopher Hitchens. Perhaps this is disingenuous, and I should have devoted the time to read God is Not Great or The God Delusion or Letters To A Christian Nation before taking this up, but I have seen all three of the authors speak many times and I have a very strong belief that their conversation is a destructive conversation, rather than being progressive it merely embitters and divides.

It seems to me that there is what the poet Shelley once called the necessity of athiesm. One cannot avoid taking a position. Either one attributes it to a divine design. (You can tell a lot about friend or foe, depending on how he or she answers this inescapable question, and on how he or she faces its implications.)

Arguments for athiesm can be divided into two main categories: those that dispute the existence of god and those that demonstrate the ill effects of religion.
Or my favorite:

On the part of civilized people,...the main enemy we face is "faith-based"

The underpinning of both of those passages can be simply states as thus: "you are either with us or against us." This is an extremely divisive sentiment to be held; it pushes aside all of those who disagree with you and closes the door on any sort of a compromise. This isn't to say that there is some sort of a middle ground between believing in a spirit other than existence and not believing in it. People shouldn't compromise their beliefs. But at the same time, in terms of how our culture operates, it needs to have space for both sides to air their views and coexist; in that way, the bad parts of religion can be reformed out and the good parts can be preserved.

Of course, this would overshoot Hitchen's belief about religion: that it is wholly a negative force and has no potential for good.

My own response has been to issue a challenge: name me an ethical statement made or performed by a believer that could not have been performed by a non-believer. As yet, I have no takers. (Whereas, oddly enough, if you ask an audience to name a wicked statement or action directly attributable to religious faith, nobody has any difficulty in finding an example.)
This disingenuous challenge is moot: you cannot prove or disprove anyone's motives. It is possible to be kind because of religion; it is possible to be kind in spite of religion; it is possible to be kind irrespective of religion. And the same moves in the opposite direction. For instance, if I were to say that Mother Theresa did her good deeds because of her religion, he would probably counter with an example of an atheist who did the same thing because of religion, and say that therefore people don't need religion because they can do good things anyways. And then, on the other hand, if he were to say that the Inquisition could have only happened in an environment of religion, I might counter with Stalin's gulags.

This whole argument is moot, because we cannot tell the difference between coincidence and causality. Most of the major non-violence movements have been religious; holy wars are always religious. Most of the major abolitionist movement have been religious; most people who drink are religious. Hitchens sees violence as endemic to mankind. But he also admits that religion is endemic to mankind. So is it a chain (mankind is religious, religion is violent) or is it a parallel statement (mankind is religious, mankind is violent)?

The argument is also moot because, from the tone of Hitchens' work, we can presume that he is going to shoehorn any of his observations into his beliefs about religion. His work is dripping with contempt for religion and the religious:

What nonsense this is.
If religion is innate in us, then so is our doubt of it and our contempt for our own weakness.
The bare and narrow and constipated and fearful world of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and Osama bin Laden
Children (who suffer worse at the hands of the faithful than any other group)
Logic-chopping polemicist
Considering the polemic involved in this text, and the ways in which his correspondence/causality flaw as well as other logical blunders pervade the text, it is ironic that he levy that charge in particular. But at any rate, the question of the book is not, "How can we make religion better?" or "How can we minimize the negative effects of religion," it is, "How can we force people to get over their ridiculous superstition?"

This is not the way that adults talk about grown-up issues, I hope. If I invite Christopher Hitchens over to dinner I won't call him a logic-chopping polemicist, even if I think he chops logic and employs polemic. Frankly, I doubt Christopher Hitchens would like to come over to dinner with me, because I refuse to join his war against religion. I know plenty of people who take positive ammunition from their faith and make the world a better place in spite of or parallel to or because of their faith.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Politics: Conversations about Politics

In my last post, I discussed the way in which John Cage converses with a commercial audience, as a model of how artists should converse with popular culture and wider audiences. The idea of using the rules of polite conversation as a model for how to deal with culture has been growing in my mind, and I can trace at least part of it back to a very influential source of mine: Jon Stewart.

Although I originally came to Jon Stewart because of the jokes and the commentary, the interview portion of the show has become stronger and stronger the longer I've watched. Part of this has been the increasing number of fascinating and important guests. When I first watched, it was largely actors and unknown authors; but in 2004 John Edwards announced his candidacy for the Presidency on the Daily Show, and the show has been graced by Senators (Obama, Clinton, Specter, Santorum, Lieberman, etc.), former Bush Administration members (Fleischer, McClellan, Snow, Ashcroft, Powell, etc.), current world leaders (Musharraf, Fox, Morales), top-tier journalists (Geraldo, O'Reilly, Matthews, Williams, Russert, Rather, etc.) and many more.

What was most fascinating to me was the high level of discourse. One of the moments which solidified Jon Stewart's transition from 'merely' a comedian into a powerful social force was his memorable appearance on Crossfire. He appealed to hosts Tucker Carleson and Paul Begala to stop hurting America and bring a dignified level of discourse to the realm of politics. It was clear that this was not what they had in mind: the hosts (in Begala's defense, mostly Carleson) dismissed his concerns and tried to make the Daily Show look silly and discredit Stewart's concerns.

The state of discourse on the network news is fairly poor. An incident springs to mind where Robert Novak told James Carville that everything he had to say was bullshit, and got up and walked off the set. This is a slightly extreme example of a fairly onerous way of speaking which is more typified by Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity's notoriously rude interviews. ("Cut his mic!" the cliche goes...). So when I really started to watch Jon Stewart interface with politicians or journalists he disagreed with, I was incredibly impressed by his candor and polite discussion.

The interview which blew my mind the most was the one appended to the end of this post; that of Senator Rick Santorum. To begin with: let me say that I have a strong dislike of the policies and agenda of Rick Santorum, and was very happy to see him defeated in the 2006 Midterm Election. But I do have to respect that although in other public appearances, where he can be inflammatory and offensive, here he does earnestly complement the mode of discussion which Jon Stewart equally exemplifies.

  1. Polite Greetings: The interview begins with Jon Stewart's usual greeting: "Thank you very much for coming here tonight." And that greeting appears to be genuine. This is pretty straightforward, human tactic, but you'd be surprised how often the simple pleasantries are abandoned when vitriol and acerbicism is much easier to sell.
  2. Common Ground: Then Jon Stewart tackles an important place to begin: that most people were surprised that Santorum would be the guest, and there was a general assumption that they might not agree on a lot of things. He then very directly proceeds to lay some common ground. The tone is, of course, whimsical ("I believe ice cream is a delicious treat, but too much will spoil the appetite"), but it does serve an interesting purpose: it gets the audience (which, as Santorum notes, had booed him before he came on) to cheer in agreement with him. Santorum may hold negative beliefs about gays, but at least we all believe in the sanctity of ice cream. He returns to this point later, in a more serious way, when he agrees with Santorum's point of "character equals virtue"--even though this is a set-up for a point of contention (that sexuality does not equal character). It seems simple, but it creates a very human mode of discussion, rather than discussions between People as symbols, which is what a lot of politics becomes.
  3. Acknowledge Complexity: Stewart begins talking about the fervor behind certain religous groups regarding positions such as abortion. After he mentions abortion, however, he is quick to say that "other than the ultimate extreme positions at both ends, that's a really difficult issue, a real moral quandry, and I think a lot of people understand that." This is another moment where Santorum gets to nod along with Stewart, proving to the audience that he is not the frothy-mouthed bible-thumping wacko that he can appear to be in the media. And it sets the tone for a debate in which the legitimacy of many different opinions and the inability to objectively establish one morally, absolutely correct position is important. He does this a moment later when, with his first question of criticism, he says, "Or am I mistaking your take on it?" which gives Santorum room to speak for himself, rather than responding to Stewart's impressions of Santorum.
  4. Talk Impersonally: There isn't a point at which it is possible to isolate this, but at no point does Stewart or Santorum discuss each other or themselves (except in the adult manner in which Santorum's background in psychology is brought to play).
  5. Recognizing the impasse: This is the biggest point for me. The interview truly becomes memorable and defining when, just before the commercial break, Stewart says: "Ultimately you end up getting to this point, it's like this crazy stopping point. Literally, like, we can't get any further. I don't think you're a bad dude, I don't think I'm a bad dude, but I literally can't convince you..." and then goes on to outline his own opinion. Can you imagine O'Reilly acknowledging that sort of divide between him and Nancy Pelosi? It is an incredibly mature move to make, and it helps them continue the discussion even when both have made their points.

What neither of them say, but I think both of them are aware, is that the point of a debate is not to convince the other person they're wrong. It is, in the end, to educate the observers of both sides of the issue. Although I still don't agree with former Senator Santorum, I can understand the position a lot more clearly, and I can see what a solution to the debate would have to address. When Santorum discusses that government should be designed around the ideal, I can understand why someone would believe that--although I disagree (I think the strength of the Constitution is its pragmaticism) it lends me an insight into a view that I previously couldn't fathom. And this is not just because of the way that Santorum spoke; it is also because of Stewart's permission for Santorum to take his time, to explain himself, and the ways in which Stewart pressed against those explanations without attacking them. Stewart in turn led me to understanding of a position that I agree with that I hadn't understood.

Can you imagine if that was the level of discussion we had everywhere?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Theater: John Cage; The Artist In Conversation

The word elitism is in the air again right now, in reference to Barack Obama and his comment about the perceived bitterness of Pennsylvanians, and their attitudes toward that bitterness. I'm not writing about that yet (I have to let that percolate in my brain a while before I throw my ideas out there), but I am planning on addressing the idea of elitism in a place more often accused of it than the Democratic Party: the avant-garde in America.

Before we begin, I'd like to briefly state that I am going to refer to the avant-garde in the third person, because as yet I'm not sure I know whether or not I fit into that category. The avant-garde does the sort of things I want to do, and they are plagued by the same problems I come across, but it is not for me to say where I land in this tradition, and certainly not at this tender early age.

Having said that, the avant-garde secretly enjoys the term 'elitist' because it does like to think of itself as an 'elite.' And that is not necessarily a bad thing. But the term 'elitist' when used by most of us is really the word 'arrogant.' So often we see theater-makers who alienate themselves from their audience. They talk down about them--even if they have good intentions--talking about how they don't want to 'sell out' or 'dumb down' to an audience.

There is a notion of integrity to be discussed. The give-and-take between integrity and adjusting for the sake of the audience is not my point here.

Below there is a video of John Cage from the year 1960 on the show I've Got A Secret. He performs his music piece (or perhaps more aptly, music-theater piece) "Water Walk" -- so titled, as Cage says, "Because it contains water, and because I walk." The piece itself is interesting, for the usual reasons that Cage's work is interesting, but I was most drawn to the content of the video before the piece begins.

You see, the show I've Got A Secret is a game show, and although the game isn't played for this episode, the audience is I've Got A Secret's usual audience, and its host is its usual host. The audience strikes me as not being a particularly 'avant-garde' audience; it doesn't even seem to be a particularly 'theater' audience. In fact, what we've got is the audience of a show along the lines of Who Wants To Be A Millionare.

The way that John Cage relates to the host and to the audience is very interesting, and it is very insightful. The audience is remarkably open-minded--my voice teacher Richard Armstrong described to me how when 4'33" reached England, there were cries of "This is boring!" and boo's. Certainly, with some of Cage's performances, there can be a sense of betrayal--audiences who came with certain expectations that they are unhappy that are broken.

So how do John Cage and the host cooperate to create an environment in which the audience enjoys the work (they do seem to enjoy it, even if they might not consider it music)? There are a few key points that contain volumes of lessons. Let's move through the important ones:

  1. Presence: The simplest one of the crucial points is the presence of the host and the presence of the artist. John Cage stands there as a "contestant" and, although he doesn't 'contest,' he is present to take accountability for his work. The host is the host as usual, a familiar figure, and he establishes himself (through his familiar style) as an ally of the audience. He also, early on, holds to the usual format of the game--asking John Cage to slate himself and interviewing him as any other guest.
  2. Suspending the game: The host does not tell the audience that the game has been cancelled--the host asks the producer, and then explains it to John Cage. What this does is establish an atmosphere of respect, of equality. The host, the artist, the producer, and the audience are on the same footing--we have all mutually agreed that we are going to see this interesting work without needing the perfunctory vehicle of the game.
  3. Humor is key: Humor is key. Humor is key. I can't stress that enough. When the instruments are listed, the host makes a few silly faces--which serve as an opening to the audience to laugh. Nothing feels worse for a theatrical audience than to feel as though something you are going to do is right or wrong. Discomfort might be used to good offense in some theater (the play Offending the Audience bases its production on that), but in terms of reaching a wider audience, there must be freedom provided to the audience. That is what gives them the freedom to enjoy the work in whatever way they feel fit. Cage also gives permission for humor when the host tells him, apologetically (which is key) that some in the audience may laugh. Cage responds that he "prefer[s] laughter to tears," which is both honest and a funny line.
    The avant-garde has an obsession with having the audience receive its art in a specific way, whereas the commercial merely asks that the audience like it. Cage releases the obligation from the audience to have a 'profound' relationship with the piece; all he asks is that they listen (which, considering how unlike their musical tradition "Water Walk" is, isn't nothing). By opening the door to whatever response people feel is necessary, the audience is unpressured; and thus there is yet again a feeling of respect. Respect between John Cage and the audience, between the host (who doesn't want to belittle Cage's work but is honest about the gap in their tastes and experiences) and Cage, and between the host and the audience (as the host makes sure to defend their interests and protect them from the possibility of hurtful elitism).
  4. Talk to the point: Cage's concise, clear way of speaking, and how he does not dodge the questions. It is tempting, as an artist, to attempt to couch your art in terms of mysticism and technical terms, just as an academic enjoys to stuff their papers full of literary terms. And that is perfectly fine from artist-to-artist or from academic-to-academic. But when Cage is asked "seriously" whether he considers "Water Walk" to be music, he says, "I consider music to be the production of sound, and since in the piece which you will hear I produce sound, I would call it music." This answer is straight to the point. (His response, quoted earlier, as to why he titled the piece 'Water Walk' is humorous because it is overly succinct; the expectation of a complex emotional-intellectual history to a title is blown out by his simple way of approaching the piece).
  5. Room for opinions: The host does not endorse or deny this claim about music ("He takes it seriously, I find it interesting, if you are amused you may laugh"), and Cage does not seem to take a highly emotional stance on the issue. It seems as though if you said to John Cage, "I think there's something more to music than the production of sound," he might respond, "Well, that's interesting," but he certainly wouldn't yell in your face that you're closeminded and that's the reason Broadway is slowly dying, or what have you. Room is given for debate to happen; this is in the same vein as the 'giving space to laugh' point.
  6. Union dispute: The charming problem with the radios is an accidental piece of goodwill; it places John Cage in the real world in a humorous way, giving him sympathy from the audience. He does not whine or declare that his piece is ruined; he simply adjusts his game plan. And bonus points because his solution is humorous.
  7. The stopwatch: the host does well to highlight the stopwatch, and how "each [sound] must fall mathematically at a precise point." Again, he does not say whether or not he thinks this is music, but he respects John Cage enough to communicate that there is something going on beyond a man walking around making random noises. It is up to the audience as to what to make of that, but it is another moment of respect between the host and the artist.
  8. Cage's response to the piece of criticism: the criticism the host reads contains both positive and negative aspects; this goes back to the host's role in the situation as a neutral arbiter, and the room for both positive and negative response. Cage does not respond angrily to the criticisms; in fact, he smiles as some of the worst bits are read. He does not seem too affected; this is important. Again, he is respecting the ability of the audience, the host, and the critics to come to whatever conclusions they will.
How can we tie these bits of advice together? Suffice it to say that John Cage's presence on I've Got A Secret is conversational.

The model of the relationship between the artist and the audience should be that of a conversation.

When you talk with friends or colleagues, even if you think their opinions are 'low brow' or 'misinformed,' it is considered rude to tell them so directly. It is far more constructive simply to help inform them, to talk to them, to feel out their positions. In America, sometimes the elite believes that because their opinions and feelings are backed by more information, they are more valid. In one sense, that is true. But in the emotional sense, that is incorrect, and in terms of a healthy speaking relationship, the emotional equality must be preserved.

Again, the content of the conversation does not need to be altered. The same happens in politics (and I'll return to this point later by discussing the Daily Show's interviews); it is possible to have a conversation where political opinions are expressed without it becoming ugly, partisan, and personal. Sure, shows like the ill-fated Crossfire or Hardball or Hannity and Colmes makes it seem as though when people talk about politics, they get angry, but if we want to go back to the legacy of William F. Buckley, or watch discussions on some of the better shows on the BBC, you can see that is possible to discuss your own opinions while still giving space for other's opinions.

This is not an easy task, and I want to emphasize that it is difficult. Art, politics, religion (see this again when I discuss Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins), etc. are all very emotional subjects, but they can still be discussed rationally without the emotional violence inflicted on one another. And too often the theatrical avant-garde lashes out at what it sees as conservative theatrical views; the "masses," the great unwashed.

If we want to bring the average person with us, we must remain in conversation. That conversation may be confrontational and still respectful (think of an intervention for a friend, perhaps). That conversation may be emotionally charged, and still respectful (although if emotions run wild, it may not remain respectful for long). But it must remain a conversation; what we mean when we talk about the 'ivory tower' is artists who have left the conversation. And when we talk about 'elitism' in the pejorative sense, we mean artists who dominate the conversation, and yell alot.

I wouldn't invite them to a discussion at dinner, and I certainly would feel irritated if that was the tone their art took.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

The most exciting part of seeing a rarely produced Shakespeare production is that it is a rare event--although we may see plenty of Hamlets or Macbeths in our lifetime, we will only see a few shows like Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This is a risky proposition: the reason that these plays are less produced is usually because they are simply not as good as their more-produced counterparts. But as New York University's Classical Studio proved this weekend, even the Bard's less brilliant plays can still be excellent productions if they are produced with care.

The pitfall of the script of Pericles is that, though it has an interesting, Shakespearean plot, the language does not have all of the bells and whistles of Hamlet. Yet on the other hand, the sparser, plainer language actually lends itself to being understood easier. Indeed, Director-Choreographer John Farmanesh-Bocca has tackled the production in a way which makes it far more accessible than the average Shakespeare play. The movement pieces are cunningly arranged to break up the play without disturbing the flow, and to illustrate elements of the script which (without the movement) would be too briefly hit upon.

The other support which this production leaned upon was the humor. The script is not a particularly funny script to begin with, but Farmanesh-Bocca teased out a lot of humor in ways that, although not necessarily the original intention, harmonized with the script and made it even better.

The cast was extremely talented in bringing these visions to light. Jabari Brisport, Michael Eisenstein, and Juan Grafton-Delgado, playing the role of the Fates, performed the movement pieces with grace and intensity, and managed to invest themselves in all of the portions of the play which they were silently observing. Terence Stone, as a Bill-Pullman-esque Pericles, was also well-performed, and although sometimes he had trouble keeping up with the boundless enthusiasm of the rest of the cast he usually served as an excellent straight man against a background of exciting and enticing characters.

It is difficult to highlight all of the actors who should be highlighted; suffice it to say that there was not a single performance, from Pericles all the way down to the three prostitutes, which was not performed with a grace, enthusiasm, and delicate handling of language which brought what on the page is a mediocre production into full life.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre was being performed in Rep with a production of Hamlet which I saw last fall and is being performed again, and this production succeeds in every way that I thought that production of Hamlet had fallen short. But the growth and grace of the cast was such that I regret not being able to go back to Hamlet to see if it has become a completely different, effortless production.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review: El Grito Del Bronx

According to Aristotle, the aim of tragedy was to evoke pity and fear by watching a noble character have his life torn apart through a series of tragic incidents, fueled by character flaws; on the other hand, Migdalia Cruz's play El Grito Del Bronx (a New York University mainstage production) places a serial killer at the crux of the tragic formula. But by joining the story of a killer with the story of his sister, by pairing his cruelty with his tender love, and by showing the roots of his past, this story manages to evoke pity, fear, and even humor.

The play begins by splitting the story between Jesus and his sister Magdalena into two sections, one taking place in 1977 and the other taking place in 1991. In 1977, Jesus (Anthony Souza) and his sister Magdalena (Monserrat Barrera) watch their mother Maria (Nicole Ramos) being abused by their father Jose (Norberto Briceno). In 1991, Jesus is now named Papo (Ismael Enrique Cruz Cordova) and is in prison for a string of murders. Meanwhile, Magdalena, now called Lulu (Audrey Esparza) is attempting to move on with her life with her fiance Ed (Alex Fast).

This production arrives to existence from last spring's Hot Ink Festival, which stages readings of new plays from across the globe. The school was right to recognize the potential of Cruz's work, although it might have been profited by pushing Cruz to rewrite some of the earlier scenes. One of Cruz's talents is an ability to shift from tragedy (of which there is much in this play) to humor and back in short spans of time. Usually this is effective, both in preventing a dreary march of constant sadness and in humanizing characters who without these moments of humor would be unsympathetic, but in the beginning of the play this shift happens often too rapidly, lurching from humor to abuse without giving the audience time to adjust. The early part of the play also has other problems in the way it is produced; director Candido Tirado chooses to portray a rape onstage, but it seems shoehorned into the moment, and is not properly dealt with.

But the production is overall powerful and touching. One of the most striking, successful elements is the set design provided by Andy Yanni. Eschewing the usual floorplan of the Loewe Theater which this Mainstage took place in, Yanni chose to create a long, narrow set which heightened the tensions and created distinct separations between the 1977 plot on one side and the 1991 plot in the middle and the other side. The prison which Papo is serving his sentence is especially effective; it is a long and thin set which rotates to change the diagonal of the space.

By far the most effective element of the production was the high caliber of performance from most of the cast. Although Audrey Esparza's Lulu was somewhat histrionic and at times tiring, Ismael Cordova's Papo was a stunning and gut-wrenching performance. It is difficult to encapsulate both violence and tender love; Cordova's Papo had not only both but even managed to eerily demonstrate them at the same time. Papo's cellmate, played by Josh Segarra, was a fantastic addition to the production. His stage presence was imposing and his gentleness and strength was a fantastic complement to Papo. The three mothers in the production, played by Stacy Osei-Kuffor, Morgan Lynch, and Nicole Ramos each brought a very different pathos to the production, whether it was Osei-Kuffor's haunting lack of comprehension in the face of tragedy, Lynch's sad humor, or Ramos' all-forgiving love.

There were many "hot-button" issues throughout El Grito Del Bronx; spousal abuse and its effect on its victims, the criminal justice system, and racial relations between the latino community and its neighbors. El Grito Del Bronx did not treat them as subjects to be expounded on, but rather as facts of life which establish a backdrop of the deeply personal life of a single family. The only statement on politics which El Grito Del Bronx seemed to state unequivocally was that all of politics comes down to human lives, that all of these issues are mixed in a deeply woven tapestry of emotion. And although the characters have a wide pantheon of groups to blame, whether justly or unjustly, the most tragic thing about El Grito Del Bronx is that in the end, there is no one to unload blame on or to completely absolve.