Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The People's Temple (Berkeley Rep)

Well. "The People's Temple" currently playing at Berkeley Rep, is sort of a dry subject matter for a play. It is an analysis of what happened with The People's Temple when it finally self-annihilated itself in Jonestown, Guyana. However, created and performed by some of the people who worked on "The Laramie Project," it does come to an emotional climax. Taken from interviews and diaries of the 'victims' as well as the few survivors, the play does create a clearer picture of what was going on with these people, as they followed Jim Jones into their mass suicide. By explaining how economically, politically and sociologically trapped congregation members felt before they even found The People's Temple to begin with, it isn't too difficult to follow their mass depression and persecution complexes as they move from SF, to Guyana and, eventually, to their deaths. The play includes a number of surprisingly musical moments, as the congregation re-enacts the joy it felt when they were together. The play doesn't paint Jim Jones as a diabolical cult leader, as much as a man who manipulated the congregation into creating a micro-society, in which he felt could be the model for the society at large. Apparently, his ideals were quite powerfully engaged by the S.F. politicos at the time, including Willie Brown and Moscone. But it was his machiavellian technique in some matters to make the Temple exist (i.e. claiming members' real estate, etc.), that would drive him and his people out of S.F., to create his own personal Walden, in Guyana. Yet, as even that failed, his final act of destroying the People's Temple by killing its members, was enacted as a societal suicide than a mass murder. Some of the testifying of victim's families don't seem to blame Jones, as much as mourn the loss as suicidal acts. However, the play does not absolve Jones of those that were murdered on the airfield as they attempted to escape during that last day. The heart of the play focused more on how the survivors attempt to resolve The Event, so that the audience can come to a closer understanding of what went on there. It's a complicated, yet quite emotional evening, as you listen to the characters struggle with the choices they made within The People's Temple. It is this internal struggle, as if they were out of control with their destiny, that provides the poignant drama and, an overall successful theatrical evening. It is truly a remarkable piece, considering that it is at the least 'navel gazing' but what an extraordinary group of people to be doing it!

The production values are stark, but quite tasteful and make the point about the exploration and research that the evening is going to be about. Yes, there was a pretty slow period in the first act (Judy caught me snoozing!), and the lady next to me was completely out of it (snoring) in the second act, however, it is a LOT of information to process during it's three hour running time! I would see it again, or at least read it!

P.S., before the play, Judy and I had a bit more than moderately priced dinner at La Rose Bistro, which might be a place worth exploring again! Judy had a fabulous looking Salmon Steak and I had lamb chops, with the creamiest sweet potatoes EVER! (I do, however, need to avoid red meat during these next few months, I believe.) We preceded the main course with crab cakes (yum!) and ended with the cinnamon gelato was different, but nice! Neither of us had any wine, for fear of interrupting our senses for the three hour skit that was to follow...

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