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Massacre (Sing to Your Children)

Jose Rivera's play about the nature of oppression is surprisingly mundane.

By New York City
Jolly Abraham (center) and company
in Massacre (Sing to Your Children)
(© Sandra Coudert)
Jolly Abraham (center) and company
in Massacre (Sing to Your Children)
(© Sandra Coudert)
Jose Rivera's surprisingly mundane play, Massacre (Sing to Your Children), now at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, doesn't waste any time getting to the violent events of its title.

In this magical realist allegory, the lights come up on the gritty interior of a slaughterhouse, where seven screaming, grotesquely masked figures barge in, to a thrash metal soundtrack, after rising up and brutally attacking a fearsome Satanic figure outside.

Given some of Rivera's past work, one might expect this to be a rebellion with at least some heroes in it. As it turns out, the seven warriors in Massacre reveal themselves to be decidedly non-heroic and, worse yet, disappointingly clichéd.

True, Rivera has written a few poignant speeches for them about the nature of oppression and the complex repercussions of revolution -- but he's also tried to wrap an apocalyptic murder mystery around that. The result is an overlong parade of stereotypes that most of the cast can't overcome.

At one point, a devil-like antagonist (charismatically performed by Anatol Yusef) declares, "The only ones in that room with any balls are the women." And, while it's true that the female characters often seem to possess more genuine fight, by the end of the evening, they're mostly stripped of all but selfish motivations, along with everyone else.

Rivera and his director, Brian Mertes, collaborate to inject moments of shock into the work -- they crank up the music, toss a body onstage, or, in the case of one character, Erik (shallowly played by Adrian Martinez), have him start dying again -- but even those efforts come across as manipulative bits of stage business.

The playwright seems to be pointing out that everyone has blood in their collective and individual pasts, and that violent revolution is, at the end of the day, ineffective. It's a potentially rich theme that would have more impact had Rivera come up with a more imaginative story.


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