All people have voices, and in “Blu” and Poet’s Corner, Rainbow Theater acknowledged them by speaking — and shouting — to the hushed-up stories that so many share.
Opening with “Blu” by Virginia Grise, a troupe of ten players exposed a poverty-stricken family’s experience in the American barrio. This ranged from broken family ties and child abuse to prison confinement, drug use, gang violence and military recruitment.
The set was static, the lighting simple — but the characters, forced to embrace a life of hope, fear, setback and dismay, wove a portrait more dynamic and complex than any social worker’s record could hope to capture.
While Grise’s characters were beautifully three-dimensional, the piece as a whole focused on recurring conflicts of “life in the ten-mile radius.” The narration-driven plot emphasized an overlap in frustrations; several times a chorus of onstage players spoke in unison with individual characters, giving their words exponential weight.
Portraying the ever hopeful Blu, Carlos Ocampo’s wistful monologues, interrupted by violent outbursts, faithfully embodied his character’s discontent while struggling for articulation.
Fourth-year Gaby Franco also gave a strong performance as the multi-faceted Soledad, a woman who, though tangled in a web of conflicting roles, refuses to abandon her painful commitment as mother in the troubled family.
Although the set was simple, each item was strategically placed to echo the themes of the play. A disco ball gave the illusion of hundreds of stars and made Blu feel like “I’m here, but I ain’t,” echoing the character’s feelings of disconnection from his Latino culture.
The performers of Poet’s Corner entered to a roaring reception of “Rainbow! Rainbow!” and “Poets! Let’s go Poets!”
Each Poet’s piece was personal and unmistakably genuine. Newcomers to Rainbow Theater slid easily into the rhythm of a Poet’s Corner performance. Individual experiences, declared in defiance of ignorance and secrecy, were compounded to form a powerful collective awareness.
The Poets focused on the spaces of social oppression: female body perception, queer identity “habitats,” child abuse traps and racial segregation lines. Encouraged by finger-snaps and exclamations from the audience, several performers were singled out.
In a mock report, the Poets crucified Fox News for its portrayal of the Occupy Wall Street protests, arguing that the station had stacked misrepresentation upon misrepresentation, and proceeded to present a renegade news report about the status of social justice struggles worldwide.
The Poets approached the stage from the within the audience and rejoined it once they were finished. This and the sentiments shared emphasized, just like “Blu” had, the shared humanity of all present. Rainbow Theater shows the audience that everyone has a story — they are just taking their turn to talk.