From Prison to Us: A Theater Review

From Prison to the Stage is heavy. This new play explores the inner demons of prisoners. Their guilt, their haunted memories, and their will to carry on take center stage. Written by inmates from around the country, this compilation of plays debuted at the Kennedy Center Saturday night. These interwoven tales expose audiences to new voices, to new truths.

The show was part of the Kennedy Center’s annual Page-to-Stage festival, which features developing shows from around the D.C. region.

Interspersed between the ten plays of From Prison to the Stage are selections from Faces. Director of last night’s show Betty May adapted writing from female “lifers,” women in prison for life, to create Faces. For both of these works, the goal is to transform incarcerated people through art and to transform audiences through the perspectives and experiences of these playwrights.

The language of the show sounds like poetry. Natural, nostalgic images are paired with brutal scenes of abuse and hopelessness. Sifting through stories, the common themes reflect the cyclical nature of crime. The line between victim and victimizer blurs. Much of the show is hard to watch. You will cringe. And that is the point.

Actors Raoul Anderson, Melanie Boyer, Brandy Facey, Ed Higgins, Lisa Kays, Tommy Malek, and Maxton Young-Jones play many roles, bringing painful realities to life.

Among the most striking short plays is “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” by Craig Ellis. Two children roughhouse in what starts as a funny scene. It reflects the universal feel of the show. We can all relate to the impulsiveness of these boys, just as we have all felt loss and loneliness. Their fun turns tense, when one of them reveals his father’s gun. Ellis gives us a poignant picture of America’s gun culture through the eyes of the innocent. Like other moments, this play is difficult to watch and impossible to forget.

On a somewhat lighter note, “Tuesdays with Mortie”—an obvious pun on Mitch Albom’s famous book—shows how a dying man can change. Written by Patrick Cox, Mitch Gooldy, Gary Green, Kevin Henry, Jon Ornstead, and Steve Pigg, the play presents prisoners writing a play. Go figure. This play-within-a-play pairs the prisoners’ story with that of Ted, a dying Vietnam War vet. A bitter man, he lost his wife to a cold-blooded murderer. With the help of a comical talking dog, played by a lively Maxton Young-Jones, Ted learns to forgive.

This artistic collection demonstrates the humanity in prisoners. But it is important to remember their victims. People go to prison because they steal and kill. From Prison to the Stage does not run away from this, and the characters admit to their sins.

An important project, the effort of everyone who worked on From Prison to the Stage shone through at its weekend performance. Let’s hope for many more.

We at BleakHouse Publishing were proud to sponsor From Prison to the Stage.

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