by SOPHIE KERMAN
The program for Savage Umbrella’s latest production, Care Enough, cites quotes from Vaclav Havel, John Berger, Susan Sontag, and Cat Power (among others) as the play’s inspiration.
If that does not immediately seem like a red flag to you, let me explain why it should.
Works like Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” take a long, long time to digest – as they should, since the political and personal ramifications of watching another person’s pain are complicated and difficult to untangle. When paired with Havel’s impassioned arguments for hope and Berger’s musings on death, the play’s subject matter becomes very dense indeed. (Let’s just forget about the song lyrics by Cat Power and the Pines for a moment, since they seem to have no other function than to add a hip spin to what has already been said much more thoughtfully by Sontag and Berger.)
I am not suggesting that one couldn’t write a really strong and thought-provoking piece of theatre using these works as inspiration. What I am saying is that such a play would involve a degree of focused consideration that was demonstrated in Care Enough by neither the playwright, Carl Atiya Swanson, the director, Laura Leffler-McCabe, nor by any of the members of the cast.
To put it bluntly, there was no moment during this 90-minute play that I had any idea what was going on.
What I managed to glean: There are uprisings going on that are somewhat reminiscent of the Arab Spring, and Stephen (Adam Scarpello) likes to go, but mostly just to watch and feel like a part of something important. He meets Sophia (Anna Carol), an impassioned free spirit dreamer-type – yes, exactly the stereotype we’ve come to expect from most movies that involve a girl and a brooding male protagonist. Stephen and Sophia might fall in love, although they have little in common, and Sophia often seems frustrated with Stephen. Sometime before, after, or during one of the political demonstrations, Stephen gets kidnapped and toyed with by Sebastian (Santino Craven), who is probably – though not definitely – a figment of Stephen’s subconscious.
The characters all have very strong feelings about their situations, which they express loudly and passionately in elaborate and deliberately vague language. In the meantime, four ensemble members (Kathryn Fumie, Sarah Hollows, Mason Mahoney, and Nora Sachs) enact various forms of inner psychological torment through movement and dance. (There are also several lovely, calm vocal interludes, which were very well sung by the ensemble.)
I should also mention that there is an uncomfortable use of rape as a metaphorical device, as well as two or three sound effects that are abusively loud and probably dangerous to any audience members with cardiac conditions.
The driving question of the play – or at least, the only question which is posed more than once – comes in the form of a parable, in which a hunter must decide whether or not to shoot a monkey. If he kills the monkey, then his family will eat, but the hunter will not be able to sleep at night. If he spares the monkey, then his conscience will be clear, but his family will starve to death.
In Care Enough, it is never clear what big decision Stephen is expected to make, what the moral stakes are for his own conscience, or even whether Sebastian is presenting Stephen with a choice at all. As far as I’m concerned, the hunter probably should have just stayed at home, read a good book, and made a calm and considered effort to digest it before entering into such a confusing, no-win situation in the first place.
Care Enough, by Carl Atiya Swanson, presented by Savage Umbrella at the Nimbus Theater, 1517 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413. June 1-June 16, 2012. $12-20 sliding scale tickets, no-one turned away for lack of funds. Tickets available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/239207.