Two members of the Re-Entry Theatre program embrace during a recent rehearsal.

Two members of the Re-Entry Theatre program embrace during a recent rehearsal. 

 

 “Streets Like This” recounts the real-life stories of people caught up in the criminal justice system, re-entering outside (‘regular’ society) after being on the inside (jail, rehab). 

This remarkable theatrical experience, created by the ReEntry Theatre Program of Civic Ensemble in 2018 and revived this March, had just two performances before the pandemic forced it to shutter. Fortunately, the cast reassembled to create a professional video record, available to the public between Thursday, April 30 and Sunday, May 17. Pay What You Can Tickets are available via donation at givegab.com/nonprofits/civic-ensemble. Also, a live online facilitated discussion will take place on Zoom on Saturday, May 9 from 8–10 p.m. More information is available at: http://civicensemble.org/streetsonline/

This review is based on the final live performance, which was electric, filled with passion, smarts, humor, heartbreak, and hard truths. Not to forget generosity and love.

How do they (we) break the cycle? How do probation, the courts, social services and the larger community put stumbling blocks in the way? Who helps us up when we fall? 

As Narcan Man, the recurring ‘super-hero’ who administers the drug that can resuscitate someone who has overdosed, says: “With so many dying, I don’t feel like much of a hero. All I can do is keep people above ground and try to give them the best quality of life possible. I mean we all deserve at least that much, right?”

Devised from the stories of over a hundred local individuals who have experienced incarceration, including theatre exercises and story-telling at Day Reporting, “Streets” final script was written by Thom Dunn and A.C. Sidle “in collaboration with the members of the ReEntry Theatre Program.” 

“The Laramie Project” about the local community’s reactions to the beating death of Matthew Shepard is one of the best-known devised theatre works. The difference with Civic’s approach is that for the most part the people acting the stories have lived some version of it—10 of the13 strong ensemble have been incarcerated. There is a rich texture to the playing that comes out of the strong bonds between the ensemble members and the ownership of their text. 

The play’s stories:

Abby, an addict who is fighting not only for recovery but to regain custody of her son, Johnny, who is currently being cared for by her sister Annabelle;

Brian, another addict (who got hooked when prescribed opiates for a back problem), a young Black man whose lifelines are friends on the street and a determined mother;

And Crystal, a sex-worker who struggles to find legal employment and to feed her two kids, facing a blizzard of red tape and Catch-22s that keep tossing her back to square one.

These stories are framed by the stories of Dion, a sort of street sage on the stoop, and his friend Dennis, an alcoholic. Dion, who can see the audience (Dennis, hilariously, does not) is our guide; he frames the play’s central question: how to break a cycle “like a snake that eats its own damn tail.”

Leroy Barrett makes a compelling Dion, a rough, savvy, caring man, at ease in the story-telling rhythms of the show’s griot. Co-author A.C. Sidle’s crafts a rascally Dennis: a taunting know-it-all who learns a lesson in being less judgmental with touching humbleness. 

Casandra Ponton’s Abby combines softness with a steely focus on rejoining her kid (a sweet, well-observed performance by Brian Briggs, who doubles as Narcan Man). Suzanne Burnham as her sister Annabelle is her natural opposite—bristly on the outside, a marshmallow within.

As Brian, Jo-Louis Hallback layers a bemused, slightly fuddled comprehension of events atop an urgent desire to stay clean. Sherron Brown plays his immigrant mother with force and anguish. Their scenes ache with love.

Director Sarah K. Chalmers (stepping in for Elizabeth Seldin) shines as Crystal—sassy, frustrated, prone to shoot off her mouth. Completing the ensemble, all tremendously adept, varied and moving, are Melissa Cady, Terrell M. Dickson, Heather Duke, Edwin Santiago, and Dan Zanella.

Adroit design—lighting by Lea Davis, sound by Rudy Gerson, and costumes by Elizabeth Kitney—along with Chalmers’ fluid direction and the vibrant ensemble acting, come through strongly in the video, recorded the weekend of March 14 in the Cherry ArtSpace.

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