A few weeks ago “Rift,” a play from the award-winning US Latina dramatist Caridad Svich, was performed as the Performing Arts and Social Justice department’s fall performance piece. The story is centered on a young woman named Illona and her journey in a war torn country after being ripped away from her beloved. A woman who runs a brothel picks up Illona. Chains are forced around her ankles and she involuntarily becomes a victim of the sex trade. As the remainder of the play unfolds we are introduced to other characters that are currently or have been involved in sex trafficking as either victims, perpetrators of the crime, or both.
In the Oct. 28 issue of the Foghorn, the scene editor labeled the show “confusing,” but I have to disagree, and say that the plot line unfolds fairly obviously right before your eyes. The thematic elements of the show that may have been “confusing” for the audience could have been because of their lack of knowledge of the prevalence of the slave trade within our society and throughout the world. There are well over 100,000 people living enslaved in the United States (Not For Sale, 2007), and throughout the world there are thirty million people enslaved today (notforsalecampaign.org, 2010). To contextualize this, take the entire population of San Francisco, and multiply that by thirty-eight; that’s how many people are enslaved throughout the world.
The Not for Sale Campaign, a world wide organization committed to the abolition of modern day slavery was established by USF’s David Batstone. There is even a living learning community on campus called Erasmus, where students spend time each week investigating and taking action against modern day slavery. Considering these facts, I would have to say that “Rift,” was perhaps one of the most incredibly important, and most relevant pieces of theater performed at USF.
I applaud those involved with the show for putting on such a profound piece. Showcasing injustice isn’t easy; you can’t neatly place it on stage or give your audience a downgraded, easier version of the truth to swallow. What justice would the show do in portraying the tragedy that exists every day for millions of people throughout the world if it made you feel warm and cozy when you left the theater? Although “Rift” is a fictional piece of theater, modern day slavery does exist and it is thriving. “Rift” doesn’t sugar coat the existence of slavery, and why should it? If the show is deemed overly vulgar because it highlights material that makes viewers feel uncomfortable then I believe it has done what it was set out to do– to shake audience members up, and have them begin to acknowledge the existence and complexity of the sex trade. To criticize the show as an “offensive act of theater,” seems to mean that the critic themselves is offended by the story. In this situation, I hope you would sit with your feelings and try to uncover why you are offended with light being shed on this injustice.
“Rift” doesn’t try to scare you, and it is not overtly vulgar. It places a representation of what is actually going on in the world on stage. After experiencing the world of “Rift,” I was left with a strong motivation to take action, and with the need to learn more about how I could positively make an impact on the abolition of modern day slavery.
Alia Al-Sharif is a senior psychology major.
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