America Is Hard To See

Travis Russ
Life Jacket Theatre Company
Underbelly, Cowgate

America is Hard to See

Cognitive dissonance is the state where a subject holds two contradictory ideas at once, much like a state of ambivalence. In its correct sense, it's possible for a person to find themselves hugely conflicted about a situation, or a person. It's a particular state of uncertain soul-searching that can bring out some of the deepest moments of self discovery, as well as empathy with others. It's a state that America is Hard to See keeps the audience intentionally locked within.

The documentary play is constructed from verbatim interviews with members of the community of Miracle Village and the surrounding areas, a place that at first sounds quaint, but strange, then later understandable, and yet confounding. As is revealed early on, the community is a home for sex offenders on parole, a fact which is at first shocking, particularly as, despite myriad hints, the genial and pleasant townsfolk have come across as welcoming and likeable. From there, the situations only grow more emotionally complex and the lines between punishment, rehabilitation, justice and mercy all become blurred in a real and unavoidable sense.

It's a masterfully constructed work that has rightly deserved the acclaim in its off-Broadway run last year. The stories, as collected and devised into a performance, by writer-director Travis Russ, weave a narrative that at each turn asks you to listen to human stories, stories of people who have done something very wrong and who will, to some extent, admit openly to it. At times, the hand of justice seems to have been unfairly heavy, at others, not at all. In most cases, there is a sense that there is more to the stories of some of the people and the question of how much truth lies in each word is one raised more than once in the piece. All of which is contrasted with the reintegration of these men with society, with music and with religion, and how they react and the world to them.

The entire production, from cast to costume, deserve credit for creating a play that is quite beyond superlative. It's an experience that manages to be both uplifting and crushing, heartfelt and horrifying. The duality of feeling it evokes will stay long in the mind and heart of those who see it. For that it alone, it deserves to be seen.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan