Silver Chips Online

"Living" excels in theory and reality

Teens offer deep insight of human condition with theatrical flair

By Anika Manzoor, Online Managing Editor
April 21, 2009
The lights dim and curtains open to reveal a fantastical world full of over-sized books, colorful castles and magic genie lamps. Thirty-five teens weave in and out of the set, singing a childlike tune about seeking solace from external pressures through these creations - or "forts," as they call them. This introductory sequence of the 2009 City at Peace production "Living [in theory]," led the way to a show that captivated the audience with its honesty and relevance.

Founded in 1994, City at Peace is a nonprofit program that aims to use "the performing arts to teach and promote cross-cultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution," according to its website. Each year, students from all over the D.C. metropolitan area audition to be a part of the City at Peace cast for that year. Committing to a demanding 10-month program, the cast works together to create and perform in a play with experiences stemming from their own lives. Guided by director Sandra Holloway, this year's City at Peace cast, representing about 20 schools - including several students from Blair - developed a overarching, familiar theme about how easy it is to retreat into a fantasy world when the going gets tough.

This year's stories revolved around various students whose lives are linked in one way or another and whose problems, though seeming to be vastly different, leave them all with a feeling of utter hopelessness. From struggling to pay for basic necessities to feeling ashamed of one's race, characters cope with individual issues by escaping into their unique world where everything goes their way - hence, living in theory.

One particularly impressive scene showcased Micah Saviet dealing with his parents' impending divorce by hiding under the kitchen table and imagining an idealistic turkey dinner between the three, all through a melodramatic interpretive dance.

Through various situations - such as a Racism 101 class, encounters at a clothing store or confrontations on the basketball court - these teens are forced out of their hiding places and into confronting their woes and fears.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the production is its dialogue. Performed with stuttering uncertainty and unfinished thoughts, the speech perfectly embodies the manner in which every human being speaks and truly adds to the feeling of "being there" rather than merely observing. There was never a dull moment, as the stories jumped engagingly from character to character and the many set changes were quick and painless, aided by the fresh beats from composer e'Marcus Harper. Harper provided impressive timing during emotional sequences, beautifully combining heavy melodies with harrowing monologues.

Given the two hours of the play, however, it was impossible for all stories to receive equal attention and there was some inconsistency in the development of each character. It would have been nice if more details about certain characters were provided, such as the reason for two girls' seemingly immense support of people of color and sexual minorities (portrayed by Blair senior Sophie Schwadron and Jasmine Richmond, respectively) and the way a girl (Blair senior Emma Guerrero) escaped from the sexual pressures from her boyfriend (Gonzaga senior Will Jackson).

But with the limited amount of time, the cast did a phenomenal job with the characters they were fully able to flesh out, offering a critical look at why people behave the way they do. "Living [in theory]" reminds us all that even though we may think we've grown too old for make-believe, sometimes we hide in our minds to deal with the overwhelming pressures of the real world.

You can watch City at Peace's "Living [in theory]" during their street theater performances on May 20, May 27, June 3 and June 10 at 6 p.m. Locations to be announced.

Editor's note: Sophie Schwadron is an editor-in-chief for Silver Chips Online.

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/9133