Unless you have been living under a rock these last few years, you’ll know that America is divided and Americans are being encouraged to take sides. There is little room for exploration into opposing ideas and ideologies, let alone understanding. We are being encouraged to see the world and its issues as black or white, with little room to acknowledge the grey. But the truth is the world is filled with grey issues. And Awake reminds us of that.
Awake, a powerful new play from playwright and director K. Lorrel Manning, not only encourages a glimpse into the grey, but rather makes us sit in it and question, what would I do if I found myself in these given circumstances? The answers are never easy. Because if they were, well, America wouldn’t be the way it is today.
Awake is performed by The Barrow Group with a cast of 15. The play is broken up into two person scenes and monologues thematically centralized on race relations, hate speech, gun violence and immigration.
The most powerful of Manning’s vignettes are the ones with no easy compromises. For instance, the show opens with ‘The “N” Connection’, where Matt (Michael Giese) and Melanie (Madeleine Mfuru) are in an inter-racial relationship and the question of who can and who cannot use the “N” word is the hot button issue. A conversation we’ve seen play out in real life, in the media and on stage and screen a million times over. Melanie defies Matt to use his privilege not just in her presence, but especially when it’s most inconvenient and difficult.
In the mighty two-hander ‘Saving Souls’, the lines between what is and what is not hate speech is brilliantly blurred by Manning and even more skilfully executed by actresses Nelly Savinon (Bertina) and Julia Ryan (Mrs. West). After a top student at a prestigious private school does a too-well researched presentation on Adolf Hitler’s military career (with too little focus on his anti-Semitic atrocities), his mother, Bertina, must face an ultimatum presented to her by the boy’s teacher, Mrs. West. In order to avoid expulsion, Bertina must get her son to apologize for presenting Hitler as a “military genius.” Alternatively, she can stand by her son’s unpopular presentation, forcing the school to pull his financial aid. Either way, no discussion is without everlasting consequences.
A dystopian future is foreshadowed in the vignette ‘The Future’, where brother and sister Max (Luka Kain) and Jennifer (Ana Roshelle Diaz) come face to face with the reality that the American dream is dead and the immigration crisis has reached new depths of terror as they make a run for the Canadian border. However, the rhetoric is all too familiar to that surrounding today’s current immigration crisis that we must question how far we are from achieving ‘The Future’’s humanitarian projections? We already live in a world where family separations, unlawful arrests and detentions have been normalized that the fears of Jennifer and Max may already be the world in which we live in.
Hard hitting, effective storytelling, with riveting, unsentimental performances, Awake is a fresh, honest take on what America looks like today. It may not always be pretty but at least it’s truthful.