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Stage Review: Identity Crisis

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Identity Crisis is an original show that has been put together by Suffolk University’s Performing Arts Office. The show was written and directed by Dawn M. Simmons, however members of the cast also contributed vastly to the writing of the show. Their involvement in the writing and conception of the show makes their representation of the characters and their actions even more powerful. Identity Crisis takes on several issues and discusses them in a way that is engaging and thought provoking yet tasteful and respectful.

Identity Crisis opens with a line of people standing outside a store waiting to get in on Black Friday. Before they can enter, however, the store’s “Tolerance Officer” (played by Ben Pompilus) asks that they all “check their privilege” at the door. One by one, each person steps on a scale to determine what privileges they have and words and phrases including “Able Bodied”, Education”, “Cis-Gender”, “Racial Privilege”, “Heterosexual Privilege” and “White Male Privilege” are heard for the first time in the show. It’s in this moment that the audience gets a sense of the issues that Identity Crisis plans to address.

In the name of getting more store discounts, most of the characters decide to give up at least two or three privileges. However, one chooses not to give anything up and another gives up his white male privilege, which is described as “all the privileges rolled into one”. Once inside the store, the shoppers and store employees go about their business. Is isn’t long until their interactions soon evolve into exchanges that address the issues hinted at in the first scene.

Throughout the show different characters are put on the spot and recite poem-like monologues that force the audience to think about privilege and what if truly means to be privileged. In this first kind of cut away, two characters step forward and proclaim that “Dieting sucks” and go on to discuss that people don’t all look the same and that that’s alright. This exchange is the first of many similar ones in the show. Another moment like this comes when two of the shoppers (Jo’lise Grant and Kane Harper) take center stage and speak about gender inequality. This moment is punctuated by the repetition of the phrase “Just because I’m a woman”. One of the elements that made this moment stand out was the decision to have Harper respond to Grant by continuing the “Just because I’m a woman statements”. This choice added an extra layer of depth to the scene.

The topic that the show deals with in most detail is race. In particular, it challenges the idea that we’re living in a “post racial America” where racism and racial privilege has evaporated. In one particular scene, there’s a recreation of an instance of racial profiling and the scene is electric. Another striking moment comes when Ben is playing with a toy gun on stage and a voice comes over the intercom and asks that no one mistake the toy gun for a real one and tells Ben to put it down before he gets himself shot. These two moments provide a wakeup call for the audience because in these two instances it becomes abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already, that the issues that Identity Crisis presents are relevant in the world outside the theatre. Everyone can connect those scenes to events that they have heard reported on the news.

One of the last scenes in the show is particularly poignant. The entire ensemble is mulling around on stage, wandering through the store. During this time they take turns asking and answering various difficult questions. These questions cover a vast array of subjects; race, gender, sexuality, religion, everything. Hearing such subjects discussed so openly liberating and even though there are tense and awkward moments, it inspires the audience to be more open to such discussions.

After the show was over, there was a talk back with the cast. They talked about going through the process of writing scenes for the show and having to do their homework when it came to researching the issues that their show was to address. They also talked about the discussions that they had when writing the scenes and developing ideas for the show. It was mentioned that part of the reason that these meetings were so productive was that they were all there to learn from each other and they were made to feel that they were in a safe space where they could “say the wrong thing and then learn and grow from that”.

One of the main goals of this show was to make people own up to their privilege. The cast explained that in order to do this, they had to equip people with the appropriate language to recognize and define privilege. Through this, privileges (such as religious affiliation, able bodiedness, education and cis-gender privilege) that typically go unrecognized were defined and brought to light. When asked if they thought that they left anything out, the entire cast responded with a “yes”. Expanding on that topic and explaining why some issues were left out or weren’t discussed as in depth as others, Kendra Eddy said “It comes down to what you can honor, what you can do well and what you can translate well to an audience.”

Identity Crisis certainly accomplished what it set out to do. The show forces you to think about your own privilege, to recognize which privileges you have and to think about how you’re using them. Through an equal mix of moments of hysterics and humor and seriousness and gravity, Identity Crisis highlights issues that we’re dealing with right now and demands that we give them the attention they deserve.

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