Review by David Walters
When Scott, Sarah, Michael, and Simon divulge, “We are a group of people with intellectual disabilities,” they are not just talking about themselves, who they really are. The lights are still up in the house and they are speaking inclusively. They are talking about all of us. The audience is not there in this space to remain on one side of the yellow tape line as voyeurs or students, inflictors or inflicted, but are addressed as full participants (call-and-response does come in to play). This performance is both a reflection of the past, a cold look at the present and a warning about the future and what we are all becoming.
I want to entice you here to include this production on your list when you create your schedule of what to see at the Under the Radar series because it touches on our humanity in ways that aren’t often addressed.
If you don’t know, Under the Radar is a Public Theater festival, running January 8-19, of works from around the world highlighting creativity and the possibilities of theatrical form and expression. I’ve attended every year since its inception and come away charged with what I’ve experienced.
Australia’s Back to Back Theatre represents in this year’s festival with their production of The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes. It is a mirror-up-to-nature theater piece created from deep in the heart showcasing sincerely talented performers with intellectual disabilities who are its co-authors and dramaturges that will challenge you to expand your humanity and force you to sound the depth of the pool of empathy you daily draw from.
But, you ultimately might not get it. As the cast repeatedly says in direct address, “They’re not getting it.”
We are all well met in the Public’s LuEsther Hall for a public meeting to speak up for those who can’t. It’s called disability activism. Chairs are assembled, preliminary rules are laid down and we are told not to worry, everything will be alright. Upstage and mounted high is a video screen that transcribes what each performer is saying for clarity (“I’m autistic AND I have a thick Australian accent”) that becomes a fifth character itself. What ensues is the current and historical struggles of our onstage heroes as they’ve fought to be understood and accepted their whole lives, co-mingled with our treatment of intellectual disability and the imminent place we will soon all be in with the advances in AI and robotics. As the meeting progresses, the politics of language as applied to disability, both theirs and ours, is examined through each character’s personal experience laying out a grim litany of historical discrimination and abuse that people with intellectual disability have faced and leading to the idea that everyone will soon be in their shoes.
Life is grey. It is one of the conundrums about existence we must cope with as we mature. Even in the direct fight for acceptance against oppression and injustice, there are incongruences in how the oppressed become the oppressor and the oppressor of the oppressed. Up cannot exist without down. Normal cannot exist without abnormal. Our heroes may have fallen from grace, but their grand achievements of what brought them to their pedestals still stand though we may pull their statue down. Their shame sits with society. We are all fallible and the question we are left with, will we be judged harshly for it?
Go and question yourself.
The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes presented by Back to Back Theatre
Performers: Michael Chan, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, and Scott Price
Authors: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, and Sonia Teuben
Music Composition: Luke Howard Trio – Daniel Farrugia, Luke Howard, and Jonathon Zion
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Screen Design by Rhian Hinkley and lowercase
Lighting Design by Andrew Livingston and bluebottle
Sound Design by Lachlan Carrick
LuEsther Hall425 Lafayette Street
(at Astor Place)
New York, NY 10003
January 8 – January 19, 2020
Running time: 1 hour