Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Our Town" at Sing Sing Correctional Facility - A Very Personal Review by Brent Buell

Last night's performance of "Our Town" inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility was heartfelt, sincere, deeply moving--and ultimately consummately professional. For me, it was an emotionally charged opportunity to see the men I worked with for so long as a theater volunteer in that maximum security prison. Under the excellent direction of Kate Powers, this play--so easily mocked or caricatured--was truthful and made Wilder's deepest points with seeming effortlessness.

Try as I might to be completely objective, my take on the evening was also extremely personal. The lead actor, a prisoner like all the male performers, was someone I taught in his very first introduction to acting class about four or five years ago. He had no theatrical experience and little knowledge of the theater when he began. Last night, in the role of George, he was a seasoned professional playing the young man convincingly--sweet without a touch of cloying, innocent without a touch of mockery--so in love with Emily that his final scene in the graveyard had me wiping away tears. That was enhanced by the fine performance of Kate Kenney, the female volunteer who played the role of Emily with equal charm and believability.

The Stage Manager was performed masterfully--and I mean that absolutely--by the man I had the pleasure of directing in the role of George in "Of Mice and Men." (I would like to name every cast member, but need to follow facility protocols). He "took the stage" so effortlessly, with such disarming ease, that when the Metro North train rumbled by outside (it runs right through Sing Sing) and he included the "train that runs over there--from north to south" in his opening monologue--the reality was fully integrated into the theatrical event.

The program that produced the event is Rehabilitation Through the Arts. Founded by Katherine Vockins in 1996, RTA has been the means of introducing hundreds of men to theater, music and art, and thus been a toe-hold for them to expand their world views. With recidivism nationally at 67% within three years, men who participate in RTA have lowered that grizzly statistic to less than 10%.

I am so happy that I got to reunite with many of the men I taught--and with whom I've forged lifelong friendships. I am so proud of each of them because when someone works to become a better person--as they so clearly have done--and then uses art to pass on the means of improvement, they are part of making the world a better place. I salute them all--my brothers who have made beauty while in hell.

--Brent Buell

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