Welcome to America
Real life events inspire tale of morbid reflection on nature of evil
|Prologue Theatre presents|
|Welcome to America|
Review by Clint May
One of my favorite difficult-to-attribute proverbs is, “To understand everything is to forgive everything.” To see a production that distills the real-life tale of Christina Riggs—who killed her own children before failing to kill herself—confronts us with the audacious desire to help us not necessarily forgive, but understand. This is not an easy emotion to feel to say the least. Certainly, one must think, there are bigger problems than trying to deconstruct the motives of an admitted child killer who then sought out the death penalty. Instead, Welcome to America slowly helps us realize that the monstrous deeds are frequently the end result of a long path of discrete problems that were similarly seen as insoluble. It is in fact that seeming capricious attitude towards the endemic problems that create such horrors that gave the show its title: “My response to that is welcome to America. Plenty of folks are in far worse situations than she was.” —Larry Jegley, the Pulaski County prosecutor.
Christina (Carrie Hardin) is in her cell in the last hour of her life. She assures us that she sees us in the audience. Fiery and Southern, she is unimpressed by the pleas for clemency from the people outside her cell holding candles. Where were they when her life was falling apart, she wonders. As far as she’s concerned, they can shove the candles and go back to their lives. She is well aware of what she’s done and desires to leave ‘feet first’ so she can be with her children. In unsentimental detail, she outlines the tragedies of her life that lead her to believe that death was the only way out for her and her children.
What’s key here is Hardin’s daring performance. I have a fondness for one-person shows, and she offers every argument as to why that’s so. Drifting in and out of the various players in her life: a mother most of us would consider insane to an abusive husband. Hardin succeeds magnificently in drawing us into this pathetic life of bad circumstances and bad choices. When the time comes for her to become a Southern-styled Medea, the horror is brought up to the level of existential dismay along with the very personal tragedy. Not easy to behold. Fillion finds the right notes in the pacing for the most part, but the ending needs a more somber beat to settle in and not feel rushed.
Fellow fans of “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” may remember a tantalizing episode entitled “Can We Eliminate Evil?” Like the above proverb, it made the point that as our understanding of the human condition increases, our ability to lay blame becomes more nuanced than simply declaring something ‘evil’ and moving on. Getting passed that difficult, visceral desire to hate without contemplation is not at all easy (I’ve had friends just get up and walk away from even the beginning of that conversation). But society hasn’t been done any favors by ignoring the complications in favor of righteousness. Lauren Lubow’s Welcome to America is a small but necessary part of that larger conversation we need to have with ourselves about our ability to have compassion in the face of horror.
Welcome to America continues through November 16th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at PrologueTheatreCo.org. (Running time: 1 hour, no intermission)
Photos by Elaine Bell
Carrie Hardin (Christina)
behind the scenes
Shannon Fillion (director), Kat Zukaitis (dramaturg), Eli Grove (technical director), Ryan Emens (scenic design), Sarah Jo White (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), Bec Willett (properties), P.J. Schoeny (sound design), Elaine Bell (photos)