Arrest Me - Mom cried, then said, "That was a 6." Unexpectedly powerful - 5 stars
I have to be honest. I went in with super low expectations of Arrest Me. Political theater is always tricky. Political theater with original songs, oh boy. Political theater about something as complex and immediate and festering as our country’s latest wave of struggles around the issue of race? I was certain Arrest Me would be produced with the very best of intentions, but good intentions don’t always make for good theater. I had also warned Mom that I had no clear idea of what we were getting ourselves into by attending this one. But we’re bleeding heart liberals from way back, MSNBC’s target audience, so if anyone was going to approach this show with an open mind, we were it.
“You watch stop signs more than me. You respect stop signs more than me.”
When the performance was over, Mom was crying. On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, for her “That was a 6.” But it was hard for her to watch. Her generation lived and fought through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s when African Americans made so many advances. And yet, here we were, sitting in a theater in Minneapolis in 2015, fifty years on, and these performers were addressing the same pain, the same inequities, the same prejudice, the same institutional racism.
“This whole colorblind thing is ridiculous. I want you to actually see me. I want you to actually know me.”
Sure, we have our first African American president, reelected to a second term even. But voting rights, education, housing, employment, income and wealth - the inequities and attacks just keep on coming. Mom thought of her friends - black and white - who worked, and still work, so hard. The thought that everything they’d worked for seemed to have amounted to so little in the face of these current battles, that hit her hard. They all thought they were giving their children a better, fairer world where they wouldn’t have to fight so hard just to be allowed to live like everybody else. For yet another generation, the struggle continues.
“By reading our DNA you can’t tell if a baby will be born Mexican or Swedish. Skin, we’re talking about skin.”
There’s hope in Arrest Me. There’s also satire. There’s frank talk from both the black and white halves of this racially diverse cast about where we are, and how easily we misunderstand one another. Still.
“The time of sympathy is long past. Know that I will not stand for this.”
So if you were unsure about Arrest Me, like I was once unsure about Arrest Me, let me reassure you. You should go. Is it a little rough around the edges in spots? Sure. But the fact that they nail this thing so much of the time is kind of miraculous. I was expecting an adequate show. This is instead a very, very good show. Not perfect, but what it lacks in polish in parts, it more that makes up for in the earnestness and truthfulness with which these artists tackle their difficult subject matter. Writer/producer K.D. Howells, director Ricardo Beaird, their musicians (Ernest Bisong, Aleko Loughrey, Mark Milller and Samantha Siu) and actors (Constance Brevet, Katie Carney, Roland Hawkins, Jesse McCormick, Josiah Thompson, and Jesse Villarreal) are taking the kind of risks that Fringe was designed to support.
“I’m a slave to this nation no less than my ancestors.”
And honestly, something like Arrest Me probably should be rough, probably should be a little raw. If it isn’t, then it’s probably too safe, probably isn’t pushing the artists or the audience far enough. This is the kind of thing live theater, and especially Fringe theater, is supposed to do. And these folks are doing it extremely well.
“This can’t be the end of this.”
Fair warning: it made my Mom cry. And some of the performers cry, and still others in the cast nearly cry. So if you’re not ready to feel something, maybe Arrest Me isn’t your thing. But if you didn’t come to the theater to feel something, why are you at the Fringe?
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended