September 22, 2010

Polemical Break the Whip

Theater review:  'Break the Whip' at the Ivy Substation

By Charles McNulty“Break the Whip,” the piece Robbins developed through a series of improvisational workshops with his Actors’ Gang company, teems with cast members in a production at the Ivy Substation that’s like a social studies pageant devised by a teacher who lets his sympathies dictate his storytelling. Set in the Jamestown colony in Virginia, the first lasting English settlement in North America, the narrative is told from the point of view of what the play calls “the anonymous, the indentured and enslaved, the muted voices, the vanquished.”

The plot boils down to a love story between an indentured servant and a newly arrived black slave, whose only hope as a couple is to be given refuge by a Native American tribe. Because the bad guys (the racist, power-mongering and generally unneighborly English settlers) and the good guys (everyone under their heel) are so clearly defined, the ensuing conflict (unfolding in super-slow motion) is a melodramatic one. The Jamestown movers and shakers are indeed such a bigoted and hypocritical lot that it’s hard to feel sorry that so many under their jurisdiction are dropping dead from starvation.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

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