Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Mythic "Janitorus" Seeks Reparation in
Also see Bob's review of The Ladies Man
"... the relationship between economics and morality ... will be the focal point of our upcoming election cycle."- Jane Mandel, Artistic Director, Luna Stage
In Gino DiIorio's Reparation the history and status of race relations in the United States is presented in order to promulgate a heartfelt and harshly critical view of our country and those who are prepared to work together to improve our lot without first demanding Reparations for slavery.
It takes some time to become apparent, but DiIorio has chosen to present his message in the form of a mythological allegory dominated by the Roman god Janus in the earthly form of William Patterson, the black janitor of the crumbling Mineral Springs housing complex. Janis, who has two faces looking in opposite directions, is the Roman guard of gates and doors. It is from whose name the term "janitor" derives. On these grounds, Patterson tends the decaying remnants of an old black cemetery.
Aurora Investment Trust, which is run by Chrissy Aurora, DiIorio's stand-in for white America, has one week to complete a deal to buy the Mineral Springs property. Chrissy wants to tear the complex down and redevelop it. She has hired and dispatched David Robert Burns to the complex to negotiate the terms for William and the property's tenants, who will follow where Patterson leads, to obtain their agreement to Aurora's plans. Burns is a black man who previously had a successful career as a protégé of Chrissy's late father at Aurora. Although it is hardly a spoiler, the plot detail that is described in the next paragraph (and is key to understanding what is afoot here) is held back by DiIorio until it is presented as a late second act revelation in his script, and any reader inclined to discover it for himself as DiIorio intended should skip the next two paragraphs.
The falling out was precipitated when Burns investigated Aurora and discovered that it was originally a merchant company and that one of its subsidiaries, Morgan Shipping, was involved in the triangle trade which delivered rum and sugar to the West Indies and Africa, and transported slaves back to America ("the trade that made you and your ancestors rich" ... You're always going on about your father and the proud past of your company."). Burns brought this long forgotten fact to Chrissy's father and demanded that the company make it public and issue a formal apology. However, Chrissy's father refused, and Burns selfishly acquiesced in order to enhance his leverage and status with Aurora. Now Burns sees an opportunity to redeem himself.
Eventually, Chrissy agrees to maintain and preserve the cemetery, but Patterson, who now has revealed himself to be an incarnation of Janus (I think of him as "Janitorus"), decides that he cannot agree to any deal with Chrissy, despite her good intentions, because she is untrustworthy. So "Janitorus" locks the cemetery gate, leaving Chrissy and the once complaisant Burns in the dark, sunless, alcove-like narrow cemetery to work out their futures while being in conditions somewhat resembling the horrendous ones to which transported slaves were subject.
Luna Stage is most fortunate to have Frankie Faison in the role of William Patterson. During the second act of the play, the story comes to a grinding halt in order for DiIorio to subject the viewer to a series of extended and repetitious speeches attacking America. The task of delivering most of these speeches falls to Faison. His hardy, slyly humorous, mellifluous reading of the text, and easygoing, larger than life incarnation of Janus bring their own pleasures to the production, mute the pretentiousness of the mythological shroud in which he wraps his bitter ideation, and deflect anger from the extremity of DiIorio's attack on America.
Catherine Eaton is most effective in her portrayal of the seemingly progressive heir to a seemingly progressive financial institution who turns hateful and vicious when her plans and profits are at stake. In a play as polemic as Reparation, her bared fang evil can hardly be considered too over the top. Shane Taylor as Burns delivers a smooth, naturalistic performance which further contributes to muting the pretentious mythology of DiIorio.
Director Jane Mandel has clearly made the right decision in directing her cast to play against the mythic elements of the text. Although the play is described as taking place in the present in a northeast city, and a mention of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg might suggest NYC, there is nothing else in the text, performance, or unevocative set to suggest any particular place which seems appropriate to this play.
Both dramatically and polemically, Reparations is a washout because the key element of intellectual conflict, of countervailing ideas to engage and defeat is missing. In a quality drama of ideas, those opposing the playwright's point of view would be given the opportunity to cogently present their point of view, and the viewer would be given the respect to be allowed to hear it. Of course, in the end, the playwright would counter and conquer it as he has already done in his own head. There is an unbecoming arrogance afoot here. I would hope that this isn't true, but DiIorio and his enablers appear to be telling us that those who disagree with them are some combination of stupid and bigoted, and there is nothing to said by or for them that merits being heard. Without any real conflict, a professed play of ideas becomes a sermon preached to the choir.
The raison d'être for Gino DiIorio's Reparation is to promulgate the view that the United States is an evil nation whose wealth is based on its exploitation of slave labor; that the United States refuses to publicly acknowledge this and apologize for the evils of its ways; and that, because of the latter, African Americans, who accept the opportunities and good will offered by white America in lieu of demanding that the US loudly trumpet, apologize for and grant Reparation for the its evil and the ill gotten nature of its success, are selfishly, self-debasingly and harmfully complicit.
For some who share that view, and the good people at Luna Stage would surely be among them, it is likely that the advocacy of such a viewpoint is more important than the effectiveness with which it is delivered.
Director (and Luna Artistic Director) Jane Mandel and her Luna Stage colleagues tacitly reveal the likelihood of hostile responses in a disingenuous letter in the program:
Really??!! Reparation is boldly and intentionally the polar opposite of that description.
Is there anyone here who is not aware of the slave trade and its vile, despicable cruelty and inhumanity? Of the almost unimaginable physical, mental and emotion pain which it caused? In the latter part of the twentieth century, economic issues concerning slavery in America have been researched and analyzed as never before and published by scholars who have written about it in greater depth and numbers than ever before in our history. Artists have every right to promote a political agenda as well as to present severely incomplete, biased and distorted histories and propose unpopular solutions. Director Mandel states that this play provides needed context for discussing today's issues. Reparation destructively sheds far more heat and divisiveness than it does light in presenting its content out of the greater context of American, European and African history.
Reparation continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 3 pm) through March 11, 2012, at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. Box Office: 973-395-5551; online: www.lunastage.org.
Reparation by Gino DiIorio; directed by Jane Mandel