|[Christopher Livingston is Malik, the Panther cub]|
In an engaging device sometimes seen at OSF, this play begins in a sneaky way as two young men wander around the stage setting up their gear. Then the cast gathers in a sort of Chorus and begins to speak or sing. Immediately, I begin to cry.... I was there. Back in a time in the past that is seldom, if ever, portrayed in a way that I experienced it myself: the crazy time of the Sixties and Seventies that left so many with lifetime recurrences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
|The struggle wasn't just about guns and who used|
them, and those who participated weren't
all focused on violence; but neither does the play shy
away from telling unpleasant truths about gender conflict,
violence within and without, and betrayal.
The title seems to refer not just to the Party of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, but also to what is about to unfold: Malik and Jimmy (sons of a Panther and a Lord) are preparing for guests to arrive, and the space is an art installation. Their intention is not just to display photos and artifacts from the struggles of the Seventies, but, in an edgy spirit of contemporary art, to provoke their guests (whose lives the show exhibits) into unpredictable behaviors. So this is a complex setup: one evening, about history, yes, but for the characters, it's also a story about art, and a generational saga. It's one any child of activists can identify with. In this sense it reflects the change from one theory, and one expression, of revolution to another.
|members of Universes|
And also some editing might help tighten the focus. The element of the play where Malik and Jimmy seek to provoke their guests, and introduce strong elements of satire into the nostalgia, introduces a hostile clown and a game show that seem at first to ridicule the issues; I get the point, but for me there was a little too much of that. The guys want to provoke the participants, yes, but from my point of view they overdo it. From comments I overheard, some people were confused by those turns; probably, younger viewers would understand it better, as it has that mashup feel to it. Also, there were pop culture references older viewers might not catch, and because this confrontational style is a recent tactic of the younger generation in its street theater and demonstrations. (Though, actually, it has been around for a long time in one form or another - think of John and Yoko in Paris... or the Dadaists, come to think of it...)
Well, Shakespeare confuses me sometimes too, and there are excesses in his plays I don't relate to either, and that says more about me than it does about Shakespeare. They might be making further changes. This is a world premier, after all. The first performance I saw, a Preview, was basically a run-through (not quite the "technical rehearsal" that OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch warned of in some beginning comments, but there were some evident technical glitches), and the second time I saw it, only a week or two later, the play seemed to be altered in spots. I heard later that they'd cut one whole song, but I didn't miss it.
|Liesl Tommy, Director|
With simultaneous multiple-screen projection and live performance, this is a multi-media musical revolutionary happening, and you just have to be there. I hope there will be many productions of this play in many places in the future, but they will have to incorporate different kinds and levels of technicality depending on the venue, budget, and changing times. The OSF's complicated simultaneous video presentation must call for some special equipment and skills, and the New Theater is rather unusual in its intimate mood and flexible seating. It would be interesting to see different interpretations of this play over time, and I hope there will be many.
I've seen Party People twice now, from different vantage points (I recommend seeing it at least twice, because it is so rich--once from the side, and once from the center, or close to it, of the "U" seating arrangement; the experience is very different in the intimate New Theatre). And if you don't already identify in some way with the politics of the Seventies, Panthers et al, I recommend you do a little homework; at least view the videos OSF offers, or see a Preface Plus. Then fasten your seatbelt and just experience the art of human revolution.
Update: nice article here - echoes many of my own experiences: http://www.osfashland.org/connect-with-us/explore-our-stories/2012/new-work/the-ripple-effect.aspx