Life Jacket Theatre is a New-York-based company committed to creating theatre from real events, particularly those involving “undertold stories about marginalised and underrepresented populations."
America Is Hard To See, Underbelly Cowgate * * *
Four years ago, they turned their attention to Miracle Village, a Florida community built as half-way house accommodation for sex offenders leaving prison.
After an intensive series of interviews, the company’s founder and director Travis Russ wrote a play based on their research; and the result is America Is Hard To See, an impressively ambitious play with songs for a cast of six, featuring a redemptive storyline about a newly-qualified pastor, Patti, who arrives at the church in the neighbouring town, and tries to integrate the men from Miracle Village into the church choir and band.
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The result is a highly emotional 75 minutes of theatre, in which the men explain their crimes, the community abreacts, and Patti – played with feeling by a tearful Amy Gaither-Hayes – ploughs on, trying to give them the second chance she believes everyone deserves.
The play’s main problem is that many of the characters, in recounting their offences either to the audience or to others, seem to remain in denial about what they did. There is an uncomfortable amount of victim-blaming and special pleading, which while doubtless accurately observed, sits awkwardly with the redemptive tone of the play’s conclusion; and Priscilla Holbrook’s songs – apart from one terrific country-and western number – often seem full of sub-Sondheim self-absorption and sentimentality.
Yet Russ’s play remains a bold attempt to tackle a desperately difficult subject; and it asks pointed questions about how far criminal behaviour has to go, before it puts those who committed it beyond forgiveness, and beyond redemption.