This metaphorical new play sets up archetypal conflicts between a white male protagonist and a white female co-antagonist and a black male co-antagonist. These characters are part of something that resembles the Occupy Wall Street protest environment. Director Laura Leffler-McCabe’s spare staging leaves lots of space for dynamic stage movement which is this production’s virtue. A chorus-like ensemble of four other actors aside from the main three adds to this, along with haunting primal vocal power.
As you enter the theater space to take your seat, the white guy, Stephen (Adam Scarpello), sits downstage, hands tied behind his back, and blindfolded. At some point he’s released but the rest of the show has the white woman, Sophia (Anna Carol), badgering him, and the black man, Sebastian (Santino Craven), bullying him. It gets really excessive. There’s nothing in Stephen’s demeanor, dress, or disposition to make us feel this self-righteously cruel treatment by the other two is warranted or rationally motivated.
Sophia is one of the most nagging female characters I’ve seen in some time. She doesn’t trust anyone who cannot remember their dreams – a dubious prejudice to be sure. And it seems that Stephen doesn’t measure up in that category.
Sebastian borders on the monstrous in his harsh need to degrade and humiliate Stephen. What’s really creepy is that soon after a beautiful moment of male to male physical intimacy which is clearly organic between the two, Sebastian goes into a tirade about what one assumes is either the white race or The West essentially raping him or what he represents and Stephen is the unmistakable representation of that. This is a disgustingly homophobic moment that reminded me of men who are aroused by another man and then snap and blame their own urge on the one who turned them on. Though I don’t think this was this show’s intention, I was struck by how President Obama’s announcement to support gay marriage has elicited some utterly obnoxious reactions from some black Christians. (Another irony is that Craven’s father, James, is in the current and wonderful revival of The Amen Corner by Penumbra Theatre at the Guthrie. That play is gay black playwright James Baldwin’s attack on sexual intolerance in his own black community.)
Care Enough playwright Carl Atiya Swanson has the co-antagonists continually telling Stephen that he doesn’t care enough or words to that effect. He’s not a good enough radical. He’s just interested in being a spectator apparently. And that’s bad. That’s hypocritical. And because he’s not towing their ideological line, they get to treat him very, very badly. If this were Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Jeff Gannon, Donald Trump, Rahm Emmanuel, or even Eric Holder, I could understand the hostility. It could make sense. With Stephen, however, a simple, likable guy who appears to be blue collar, it makes no sense.
The nasty pair never seems interested in trying to either educate him or really get to know him or how he’s arrived at what they arrogantly, if not sociopathically, think is his lack of enlightenment. They see him merely as a symbol of ‘the oppressor’. It’s the classic downfall of many quarters of racial equality, women’s, and glbt movements, where the straight white man is demonized for simply being white, male, and straight. And it points to that nagging problem that many in all three of these movements continue to avoid: all white straight men are products of their class. There’s no such thing as one who isn’t. And class contains profound variations and different levels. But oddly enough, much of the civil rights-oriented part of the Left hasn’t seemed to have figured that out. Lip service is often given to ‘class’ by civil rights activists, but it’s not applied intellectually. Sophia and Sebastian seem to be products of this yawning gap. Compassion and understanding be damned.
What’s really ironic and synchronistic is that the current Brave New Workshop comedy revue, Occupy Arden Hills, is a clearly ridiculing right wing satire that portrays the Occupy Movement as a bunch of hedonistic idiots. (It’s Occupy leader is a swishy black queen). In contrast, Savage Umbrella portrays it as a bunch of sadistic creeps (the chorus plays into this as well). I wonder what some of the Occupy folks would think of this.
That said, the voice, movement, and precision of Savage Umbrella far surpasses Brave New Workshop. Scarpello should be given a medal for all that he has to endure and his transitions from one extreme situation to another are brilliant. He and Craven are hunks, yet they move gracefully and are unafraid of close contact with one another. Some of those moments, as mentioned before, are homoerotic. Some are simply intense. Moreover, they achieve a symbiotic effect at times that beguiles. I haven’t seen anything quite like this in dance or theater since Erik Hoover and Billy Mullaney’s riveting physical duo scenes in Theatre Novi Most’s The Oldest Story in the World a few years ago.
Carol is a strong actress and she does the best anyone can do with this role. Ted Moore’s music and sound design are dreamlike and gorgeously ethereal. At some points the aural seems to overpower Scarpello’s dialogue. But that has more to do with Scarpello needing to tap into the primal power of his voice. When he makes such a breakthrough he could really become an acting powerhouse. He moves extremely well and he connects with the material intelligently and with emotional clarity. But his voice needs to free up and find its primal source.
Ultimately, Savage Umbrella has created an ultramacho left wing world where a totalitarian black man and a screeching white woman willfully wallow in wretched disharmony. It’s almost enough to make you vote Republican!
Through June 16
1517 Central Av. NE, Mpls.