Confusions of Theater and Adolescence

The most striking aspect of Thom Pasculli’s FREEDOM! And the Sticky End of Make-Believe is its sheer physical energy. The show, a surreal account of a boy coming of age in a war-mad world, is the first production of a holistic U.S.-South Africa arts education program called <a href= “http://www.thesavannahtheatreproject.org/” The Savannah Theater Project . The cast puts enormous effort into portraying the characters in this absurdist movement theater piece, so that even though the plot wanders, the actors’ efforts go a long way towards maintaining viewers' attention. As they sing, play instruments, dance, and invent “soldier” games, the actors are all riveting to watch. If the viewer looks beyond the abstract movement bits, an actual plot sequence can be discerned. Events are bounded within the three days that remain before the boy, Conner, is to be sent off to military school. He lives with his uptight father Jack and wildly imaginative tag-along kid sister Carly, and across the street from Mildred and her rebellious 23-year-old son Salvatore. Conner is pulled in all directions by the other characters, each of whom has their own idea of what he should be doing. Jack wants him to be a hero in the war on terror army; Salvatore wants him to be a hero opposing the war; Carly wants him to play make-believe with her; Mildred wants him to ignore everything and reach his true self’s full potential, whatever it may be. Not surprisingly, Conner quickly gets confused and disoriented by all these opposing plans for his future.

Even understanding the general outline of the action, one’s head starts to spin while watching it. With random segments of athletic dance, dolls that come to life, and Jack racing around on stilts and skates, the play feels like a hallucination or fever dream. Movement theater can be effective in conveying things that are too difficult or strange to say in plain language. However, since it is frequently developed in workshop classes, there is always a danger that a show relying heavily on it will become an uncoordinated combination of parts that aren’t accessible to someone who wasn’t in the workshop. FREEDOM! And the Sticky End of Make-Believe often falls into this trap. While the physicality is fun to watch, it provides too little of the extra meaning it could, and one leaves feeling exhilarated yet dissatisfied and nearly as disoriented as Conner.

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