The Art of Protest
Playlets by J.B. Alexander, Jaisey Bates, Thomas C. Dunn, Jeff Dunne, Elizabeth Gordon, Liv Matthews, Robin Rice, Scott C. Sickles, Judd Lear Silverman, andBara Swain
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
The many personalities of political dissent in the U.S.A. are explored in The Art of Protest, ten playlets exploring different sides of various American protest movements going back to the Vietnam era.
Some dramatic, some comedic, each of the ten plays (staged by ten directors and performed by members of a 22-actor ensemble) strive to give a human face to the subjects of picket lines, marches and sit-ins. In Robin Rice’s Before Yesterday, a man (Michael Gnat) discovers that he had sold the gun that was used in a murder. In J.B. Alexander’s Melting the ICE, a desperate lawyer (J. Dolan Byrnes) deploys every trick he knows to get a stubborn ICE bureaucrat (Mireya Rios) to reveal the whereabouts of an illegal immigrant’s child who was forcibly separated from his parents.
In Elizabeth Gordon’s Perversity, a now-elderly artist (Laurence Cantor) remembers the battle to get timid fellow protestors in the 1960s to take a chance on a vivid antiwar poster he had drawn, which later became a classic image of the era.
To leaven the earnestness of most of the contributions, The Art of Protest also includes some comedic pieces, including Scott C. Sickles’ #Bastille, about an eager young firebrand who finally meets her blogger hero—only to find him more practical about starting a revolution than she imagined.
The title of Bara Swain’s Yearning for Peace doesn’t refer to Vietnam or Iraq, it’s about an expectant couple arguing over which protest standard-bearer to name their baby after. The evening’s weakest link is Jeffrey Dunne’s This Is Bull, a lame skit about auditioning matadors that lobs soggy sponges at political correctness.
The two best of the plays come in Act II.
Judd Lear Silverman’s Consequences imagines a taut confrontation between the principal (Sarah Babb) of a private school a parent (Valerie David) whose child refuses to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The fact that the two women are longtime friends greatly raises the stakes during the clash.
Gun violence is again the subject of Thomas C. Dunne’s Triggered, a dark revenge fantasy in which the parents of a child killed in a mass shooting take a U.S. Senator (Denise Pence) and her husband hostage and announce plans to kill their children as payback for the 18 gun-control bills she voted down, including one that would have denied guns to the mentally ill. “You made us crazy,” one of the hostage-takers says, “and you gave us guns.”
Considering its sharp-toothed subject matter, this collection rarely bites too hard or too deeply. Oddly, there’s nothing on current movements lighting up Twitter like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s nothing from the newly disturbing red side of the political spectrum.
Even so, the best of these stories linger like the images of classic protest posters arranged on the stage by designer George Allison.
Produced by the Articulate Theatre Company as part of its Articulating the Arts festival, The Art of Protest played a limited run through April 6 at Tada! Theatre Off-Broadway.