Often times the best art is art that makes you feel something, whether it be joy, sadness, anger, regret, hope or guilt. One of the most common tools artists and writers use is the art of surprise to shock their audiences with controversial and occasionally vulgar material, hoping it will get them to consider the subject matter more deeply. “RIFT,” the fall play the Performing Arts and Social Justice Department is performing, walks the line between educational, eye-opening depictions of war-torn nations and using vulgarity to scare people into defiance against war.
After seeing most of the play during rehearsals and the entire production on opening night, I still could not describe what it was about or why it was chosen. From what I could tell, two lovers, Ilona (Ilyse Liffreing, sophomore) and Maurice (Shoresh Alaudini, alumni) are separated after she bombs a factory and Maurice is imprisoned and killed. With nowhere to go and nothing to live for, Ilona becomes swept up in the sex trafficking trade with other mentally and emotionally disturbed individuals. As Ilona searches for Maurice’s body so she can bury him properly, she comes into contact with shady characters who teach her about the depth and complexity of relationships. At both intermission and curtain call, murmurs of confusion broke out from the audience members. Abby Bauss, a sophomore hospitality major said, “I’m so confused that my brain hurts. What are we supposed to be understanding from this?”
According to the PASJ Department, “RIFT is an epic story about lives torn by war and its aftermath, by abuse and damage, profit and trade and the intimate search for beauty and grace. (RIFT is) A violent, erotic, dream-like fable from award-winning US Latina dramatist Caridad Svich.” Director Gutiérrez Varea wrote in the playbill, “In it, war becomes a metaphor for all sorts of violence inflicted on individuals and entire communities such as those driven by a culture of extreme self-centeredness, consumerism and greed. And yet, RIFT is also about our capacity to endure, about deep resilience of the human spirit and, the most unsung martyrdoms, redemptions of common folk.”
Sex trafficking, drugs, rape, torture, terrorism and the constant inappropriate language twist the play so far outside the plot-line that audiences got lost on the purpose of the entire production. There were scenes in which it seemed that every other word was an expletive. Regardless of the emotion the scene called for, it was jarring as well as distracting for the rest of the script that was not written in controversial language. Another scene was more tasteless for the visual content as well as the script. In it, a masked figure prepared to rape the imprisoned businessman in his cell. When the prisoner protested and exclaimed out of fright, the figure instructed him to be quiet, “like church,” as he took off the prisoner’s pants and continued to chant in Latin (alluding to the hymns monks sing in monasteries). Not only was this visual more than I physically needed to see to be convinced he was about to be raped, but the allusion to religious corruption seemed entirely out of context because it was the first and last time such an example was used.
However, the actors performed exceptionally and gave depth to each character. Desperation, insanity, and longing were all emotions characters frequently experienced and were delivered sincerely every time. No doubt their understanding of the characters came from the amount of time spent researching documents and photos form war-torn regions to prepare them for their roles. Alaudini performed especially well despite the fact he had three roles to play, each one drastically different from the others.
The scenes and monologues without R-rated material were much better received in terms of understanding and consciousness of the difficult concepts than the more dramatic scenes with cuss words falling from characters’ mouths. It is up to each individual to decide where their comfort zone lies, but even as I consider the target audience is college students, there were parts that I personally felt fell into blatantly inappropriate and offensive acts of theater. RIFT is certainly worthwhile, but the effectiveness of some concepts were clouded by the excessive use of traditionally inappropriate conduct, causing the audience to be more confused than thoughtful.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain
Scene Editor: Tamar Kuyumjian