Cargo and “Scattered Voice” Pack a Persuasive Punch
Cornelius Rogers | Tuesday, October 13, 2009
It is not often that the teachings of Catholic social justice intersect with theatre performance. Nevertheless, the student productions of “Cargo” and “Scattered Voices” boldly stood at these crossroads and dared viewers not to listen to their powerful message.
The double feature production took place in the Philbin Studio Theatre at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Oct. 6-10. This black box theatre has no stage, just a floor. There is a small amount of seating on three of the four sides. The creativity of these two performances stretched the spatial limits of the theatre, as the action did not always take place in the center. The plays utilized the overhead catwalks and multimedia technology, such as PowerPoint slides, sound effects and non-diegetic music. The technological success was also an aesthetic one, as the lighting and costumes could not have been in more perfect harmony.
The plays also had well-coordinated blocking. Actors fluidly moved around, often going behind the audience. Audience members could not help but feel submersed in the action as characters shouted some of their lines from all directions. This was complemented by the wealth of acting talent from the students. The actors did a great job portraying juvenile miscreants and immigrants from all parts of the world.
But the aesthetics only served to underscore the powerful message that the performances had to deliver. “Scattered Voices” told a convincing story about youths incarcerated in Juvenile Detention Centers. The performance used the personal stories of youths as a microcosm to showcase larger societal issues. It was a story of miscommunication, as the young characters were unable to articulate the injustices of being caught up in a system that constantly keeps them down.
“Scattered Voices” forced audiences to rethink the process of rehabilitation. Does the current juvenile detention system allow youths to become beneficial members of society, or does it simply attempt to mold them into people they clearly are not? The point was further hammered home with incarceration statistics on both the federal and local level.
“Cargo” took a more direct approach than “Scattered Voices.” It told the story of illegal immigrants and their perception in the present-day United States. The writers added a more creative element to the plot: immigrant characters were stored in wooden crates and featured as the entertainment in a three-ring circus. As shocking as this may have seemed, it was a well-crafted metaphor. Immigrants always stand out from some American/Caucasian norm, and often the first and only thing we notice about them is their difference. Like “Scattered Voices,” “Cargo” also reinforced its message with statistics and laws concerning the arduous process of acquiring citizenship in the United States.
But “Cargo” differed most from “Scattered Voices” in its use of humor and entertainment. Instead of a dark and serious performance, “Cargo” was not afraid to make audiences laugh at some of the absurdities of contemporary America.
If there was any downside to these performances, it was that they occasionally sounded a bit too preachy. Some lines in the script were aimed at delivering a message of social justice rather than an actual character’s emotions. But these soapbox moments were few, and the social message they delivered was one worth hearing.
Both “Cargo” and “Scattered Voices” delivered a powerful message. They succeeded in grabbing viewers from the first minute and not letting go. Even after the performance, members of the audience were still discussing the injustices present in American society today.