"I often agree with the criticisms leveled against political theater," said Rick Sperling, director of "Brigadista," a new play about a North American activist in Nicaragua which will make its Midwest premiere this month at the Performance Network. "Much of the time it's either overly simplistic and generalized, a kind of 'political cheerleading,' or it's written insuchaspecialized'in-group'kindofvocabulary that it's completely inaccessible to a mass. audience." "What I like about "Brigadista," said Sperling," is that it is subtle and complex- it grapples with important issues and at the same time is very accessible. It uses accessible forms such as comedy and music, and creates for the audience real characters they can idenüfy with who are neither villains nor saints...real characters with assumptions andcontradictions and mixed motives that they aren't always aware of themselves." One of the issues the play confronts is this North American activist' s attitude towards the Nicaraguans. "It's a kind of hero-worship that romanticizes the Nicaraguan people and yet is patronizing toward them at the same time," said Tanya Shaffer, the play wright, who is currently living in Ann Arbor and working closely with Sperling on the production. "Part of her coming-of-age process comes in recognizing that she can neither depend on the Nicaraguans for her own inspiration, nor control the directions they take in developing their own society." Slides and tapes from the recentpre-election campaign period in Nicaragua provide a backdrop to much of the action. The play also includes music by Carlos Mejía Godoy, Silvio Rodríguez, León Gieco, and other great musicians of the Latin American New Song movement, and the poetry of Latin American poets Ernesto Cardenal and Cintio Vitier. "I like to think that theater can do something that lectures and essays can't," said Shaffer. "It works on another level. I've often thought that if people in the U.S. really knew what their tax dollars were supporting in Third World countries, they wouldn' t allow it to continue. Maybe it's naive, but I think that when the lives we are affecting become real to us, not just statistics on a page, that it has a profound influence on our behavior. Through the play the audience has a chance to meet these characters and get to know them - they develop an emotional attachrnent to them." "It's a kind of fictionalized autobiography," Shaffer said, when asked whether the character of Debbie represented herself. "I hope I wasn't quite as naive as she is when I went down ! " Most of what happens in the play is, however, drawn from her own experiences. "One of the things I did during my time in Nicaragua was to interview mothers of héroes and martyrs - women whose children were killed by the contras or by Somoza's National Guard. In the play you see a mother giving testimony while behind her appear slide after slide of mothers holding photographs of their children who were murdered or disappeared." A recent transplant from the Bay Area, Shaffer is best known for her one-woman show "Miss America's Daughters," which toured nationally for two years to critical acclaim. Shaffer developed "Brigadista" through a playwriting lab sponsored by California theater group El Teatro de la Esperanza. The play was given a staged reading in San Francisco, and had a successful workshop production in Berkeley. Nevertheless, Shaffer still considers the script in process. "I'm continuing to develop it with the new cast," said Shaffer. "The play ends directly after the elections, but the ending has a forwardlooking quality. As events unfold...I'm looking at the script and asking my self what I can do to make it best serve the current situation. The story deals with a particular place and time, but the themes it deals with on both the political and personal levéis are far larger than this particular election in this particular country." "Brigadista" is produced by the Mosaic Theatre Project and Common Ground Theater Ensemble, and is co-sponsored by Latín American Solidarity Committee. Mosaic is a new theater ensemble devoted to the creation of original works founded by Riek Sperling whom Christopher Potter of The Ann Arbor News called "Ann Arbor's actorwriterdirector wunderkind." After the Ann Arbor production, the show will tour the Midwest región on weekends through mid-March. "Brigadista" will play Thursday through Sunday, January 31 through February 10, at the Performance Network, 408 W. Washington. Thurs., Fri., and Sat. shows are at 8pm. Sunday shows are at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $9 general and $7 for students and seniors. Opening and c losing night performances will benefit local peace and justice organizations. For informationreservations, cali 663-0681.
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