Massacre (Sing to Your Children)
by José Rivera
Directed by Brian Mertes
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place
April 4, 2012 — May 12, 2012
production web site
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 5, 2012
We enter the world of Massacre (or the characters of Massacre enter our world) in a rush of sound, noise, blood, animal masks, and weapons from a childhood horror movie — knives and machetes and bats rather than guns. Our seven screaming characters have clearly just done or witnessed something horrific, and over the next two acts we unpack the nature of their relationships to one another and to an eighth character who may or may not exist outside the door of the basement/outbuilding/rustic forest shower room that comprises our set. There has or has not been a killing, there has or has not been a five-year reign of terror, there has or has not been complicity of our characters in their own persecution. What there is here is horrifying and spectacularly visceral storytelling.
Our rag-tag group of New England townspeople from the small town of Granville is led by Panama (Jojo Gonzalez), a suit-wearing gentle leader. Hector (Brendan Averett) strips to his skivvies and shows us his large out-of-shape body for most of the play — he and his family run a restaurant, and his romantic feelings for Panama are made fun of by several of the group, and are not reciprocated by the ad hoc group’s leader. Truck driver Erik (Adrian Martinez) and Janis (Jolly Abraham) are married, drifter Eliseo (William Jackson Harper) and Tarot reader Lila (Sona Tatoyan) are having a fling, and Vivy (Dana Eskelson) is a teacher and may have lured their victim to a vulnerable place, promising romantic adventures. The group attacked and killed the final character Joe (Anatol Yusef), a kind of charismatic leader who has been demanding sacrifices and terrorizing the town, if we are to believe the blood and horror the characters exhibit the first minutes of the play. There is celebration and continuing fear, the shared feeling that “something doesn’t feel finished”, and a knocking comes at the door. Is Joe dead? Is the Joe the rest of the characters don’t really see but hear on the other side of their shelter’s door for most of the second act really alive? Are we dealing with a non-human creature, evil incarnate, or some kind of retributive force of nature? (There is much talk of how the earth has been tilled with blood and human beings have violated their pact with the earth, that kind of thing, at the end.)
There are mysteries that drive us, surprises that make us jump out of our seats (literally — I got to know my neighbors, otherwise strangers, quite well during my performance at a certain point of the play). We watch a group of characters who Joe calls the “awkward Furies of Granville” demonstrate activism, faith, resistance, resignation, and bravery. And we enjoy one of the best laugh lines of the play in an observation by Joe of the group inside the basement room: “Why is it that the only people with balls in there are the women?”
There is a delicious purity to this piece, full of realism and symbolism and ready to be interpreted in myriad ways.
© Martha Wade Steketee (April 7, 2012)