Review: America is Hard to See

Using interview transcripts and music, this production demands that the audience challenge their views of one of society’s horrors

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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America is Hard to See
Photo by Em Watson
Published 06 Aug 2019

Deep in southern Florida’s sugarcane fields, there’s a village where sex offenders can live after they leave prison. It’s called Miracle Village. The residents are baffled that anyone would write a play about them, but after several visits, that’s exactly what Dr Travis Russ did. Using field notes, music and verbatim accounts from residents and those who work there, Russ has written a profoundly nuanced and provocative snapshot of several of the men in the village. As well as taking a sensitive look at a demographic of people who are easily demonised, it is groundbreaking in its form and emotional complexity.

The script employs a sophisticated structure and range of characters, seamlessly blending narratives that are punctuated with hymns and original music. When a new resident arrives, everyone introduces themselves and their charges as part of their regular group therapy programme. Their offences are horrific, but the script also portrays them as people with talents, interests and families rather than two-dimensional monsters defined by their crimes. Their vulnerability, and processes of rehabilitation and self-acceptance, are evident in the actors’ performances, which challenge preconceptions about sex offenders.

The ensemble of six is exceptional. Playing multiple roles, these actor-musicians embody their characters with commitment and capture their emotional landscape in song. The production asks questions rather than gives answers, and one of those is the difficult request that the audience sees the characters as people rather than headlines and court cases. Deliberately pushing the limits of human empathy, this is theatre that can transform how we see the world.