Archive for April, 2010

“Riot” at the Zeum (ACT Conservatory)

April 9, 2010

On Easter Sunday I went back to the Zeum to see the ACT Conservatory class of 2010, along with members of the ACT Young Conservatory (their high school training program), perform the world premier of “Riot,” by Ursula Rani Sarma. My previous blog post was also about an ACT play at the Zeum, and I was happy to return to see another.  I knew nothing about “Riot” before the matinee performance I attended, but I learned about it quickly as I walked inside the Zeum.  As with most other shows there, the theater itself was a part of the show. Before the performance began the cast were already on stage, in character, creating the scene. The setting was a “psychiatric institution for young adults,” and it was as if the audience was locked up inside with them. 

My first reaction to “Riot” was that it reminded me of the stage version of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” That was perhaps inevitable – they had similar settings, and both felt claustrophobic. In the second act, though, things took off in a different direction. The ending was quite a surprise. I didn’t think of at the time, but afterward I realized that it had a similar feeling to George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House.” I’ve only seen that play once, a few years back at Berkeley Rep. It was a long play, and I don’t remember much about it, but the ending was unforgettable. It has been described as being “apocalyptic,” and that was be an appropriate description of the final moments of “Riot.”

The cast was great. Some of them had been in England last year and had worked with the playwright. The patients at the institution were played by high school students, and the people running the place were played by the ACT graduate students.The first act set up who the characters were, and the second act had more emphasis on telling the story. At times, as I was watching, I was trying to remember who was in there for what reason and what their particular psychological problem was. But as the play neared its conclusion that didn’t seem to matter.

In the days since I have seen “Riot” I have been thinking about it a lot. I am still trying to understand my feelings about what happened on stage that afternoon, but that’s okay. It was a powerful and worthwhile experience, and one that I will not soon forget. 

Pax, Vox