In the opening moments of Samara Weiss' disturbing AK-47 Sing-Along, playing at HERE Arts Center, a little girl (Kristina De Mora), clad in traditional Arab garb, announces "I will be a martyr" to her playmate, a guy who looks a like he might have escaped from a low-rent version of Cats. The scene is a recreation of the sorts of things that are heard on an actual Hamas-supported kids' show, and is one of the many harrowing moments to be found in the work, which has been directed with workman-like precision by Lucy Cashion.
Other parts of the play center on the friendship between the Jewish Yakov (played with appealing intensity by Matthew Michael Hurley) and the Arab Hassan (imbued with rugged sensitivity by Adi Hanash), former colleagues on a bilingual version of Sesame Street that once aired in Israel and the Occupied Territories, that disintegrates and is ultimately shattered during Israel's bombing of Gaza at Christmas in 2008.
Interspersed with these scenes are ones featuring a fictional kids' show, which is hosted by Salwa (Mary de la Torre) as well as animal characters (a curiously cute and menacing Devin Bokaer) which are depicted in the show as dying as a result of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. In these sequences, too, the characters berate "Zionist imperialists" and sing songs, such as the one that announces to Jerusalem "Here we come with our guns."
It's an intriguing convergence of absurdism and realism - but one wishes Weiss were less academically earnest in her writing. Both the TV characters and the men seem equally one-dimensional. If they were more fully realized, AK-47 might be an emotionally shattering play rather than just an intellectually satisfying one.
-- Andy Propst
Most of the play's action of shuffles backwards and forwards in time, introducing us to Gina's judgmental sister (Gretchen Ferris), her kindly father who suffers from MS (Ross DeGraw), her good-hearted but prison-bound cousin (the hilarious Jesse Presler), and the woman she loves (Rebecca Nerz). Torn between her own happiness and her family obligations, we see Gina connecting to, fighting with, and being affected by these people, each of whom has their own compelling struggle to deal with.
Gina is the kind of character who we rarely see onstage. This working-class Brooklyn tomboy has a good sense of humor and a great capacity for love (which is especially evident in her scenes with her girlfriend), but she is still discovering herself and forming her understanding of the world. When her sister implies that Gina's "choice" to be gay has brought the wrath of God down on their family, Gina's insecurity allows her to take the notion to heart.
Sympathetic Father Patrick is desperate to turn Gina away from that line of thinking, but soon he is caught between the dictates of his religion and his personal conviction that God honors all sincere forms of love. Indeed, as the drama unfolds, it seems that more than anything this play is about the importance of family and the power of forgiveness.
-- Brooke Pierce
Free is concerned that he can't get past stereotypes in his writing, and so presents us with a series of skits in which he explores ways that both black and white people are portrayed in drama. Unfortunately, despite some cleverness, an hour and a half of these very short plays becomes too much for the audience to sit through contentedly.
Indeed, while there are a few sober moments, most of what we see are silly, satirical, bizarre, and/or puzzling takes on the subject, whether it's a Tyler Perry parody featuring a watermelon and a wig or a discussion over which type of Oreo is superior (original, golden, or vegan.) The show might have been more rewarding if he had probed deeper into his professed problem with stereotypes. We're never even told what a "black play for white people" actually is.
While Free doesn't give his characters actual names -- they are Blackboy, Blackgirl, Whitelady, Whiteboy, and Whitegirl -- most of the cast (particularly Christopher Burris as Blackboy) nevertheless manage to reveal the humanity beyond the deliberately superficial characterizations.
What's most amusing about the show is to see how the likes of Macbeth (played with spiky aplomb by Patrick Pizzolorusso), Hamlet (Josh Odsess-Rubin), and King Lear (an endearingly befuddled John D'Arcangelo), along with Romeo (Ben Holmes) and Juliet (imbued with steamy steeliness by Amanda Tudesco) have adapted to the present day.
The star cross'd lovers, for instance, are privileged prep school kids and Juliet herself has transformed into a creature of pert teen bitchiness and is preciously sexual. Similarly, Macbeth manages to engage in his bloodlust by playing paintball (badly) with kids from the 92nd Street Y. It's rather inspired silliness that could be the stuff of a delicious short play.
Saldarelli expands upon his conceit when he introduces a hapless lawyer -- who just happens to be named Matt Saldarelli (Greg Ayers) -- who hopes to join ranks with the characters. Unfortunately, while he meets (just barely) the first two criteria for club membership, he has to come up with a way to "deface the body, character and/or name of William Shakespeare." The fictional Saldarelli's efforts -- writing and rehearsing a several ill-conceived plays about the Bard -- form a bulk of Getting Even, and, sadly, they just never shine as brightly as what's preceded them.
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