This theatre isn’t intended for you.
Ok it may be you, maybe you had a childhood that consisted of throwing dolls representing African Slaves around the school to depict slavery, or maybe you are a hyper-sexual and often jarringly awkward middle school teacher. Perhaps you were born with a connection to the emancipation of slaves and the American civil war or maybe this performance speaks to you in a way that won’t be conveyed in this review. Viewing this show as an Australian audience it felt as if there was always a gap between the stage and the audience members.
The show starts with clear links to southern slave depictions in films like Gone with The Wind, with the frightened slave escaping and seeking refuge with a “Quaker”. Initially, it follows the traditional depiction of presenting the heroic white man instead of presenting the slave’s story or what happened to the slave with her.
The lights came up, LEDs beamed through the audience and in a great reveal, we received the first pieces in understanding this play. The audience is divided by two middle school teachers who were just reenacting this relationship between a slave and a “man of god”. Confederates and Union Soldiers were decided in the audience as the theatregoers were put on the bleaches of the Hanover Middle School Assembly.
The teachers who set up this educational game also start to form a relationship. It is at this point where you examine both characters and cringe. Scott R. Sheppard’s characterisation went from cringing to confusing. His character as the awkward history teacher led to awkward and cringeworthy lines of “in college me and my buddies would play a game and try and date as many people from different countries…I’m winning” to literally sucking Teacher Caroline’s (Jennifer Kidwell) breasts and whipping himself while masturbating and saying “n***er lover”. The fact that Kidwell’s character never explicitly calls him out over his fetishism of her and his offensiveness was infuriating. There seemed to be a lot to unpack. Particularly in the scene as they fought over the sign “n***er lover” that someone had graffitied over the “safehouse” in the game as it was revealed. Sheppard’s character overcompensated in discussion, didn’t let her speak and went to the point of proposing. There were points were they got frisky, childish and scary when interacting with one another. There was a moment where Sheppard’s character was extremely aggressive with his body language, covering her mouth and holding her to the point that it felt tense for the audience, however it was later played off.
It was hard to get a sense of the characters’ intentions between the different scenes. There are times in this performance where actors mess up the stage but go on like everything is fine, or seem to be in front of fifth graders and suddenly have sex. These are sharp, surreal transitions that stylistically are interesting and fascinating to attempt to unpack but leaves the audience unsure how each scene works with each other. Yet when you try to unpack it, the performance gave nothing but a little blue or grey American Soldier to remember it by.