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False Creeds

a World Premiere
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Darren Canady

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2136

SHOWING : February 09, 2007 - March 04, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The winner of the 2006 Kandeda Graduate Playwrighting Competition, "False Creeds" opens up a hidden chapter of American History, as a contemporary college student searches for evidence of his family amid the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riots. And, in 1921, a young girl is forced to grow up too quickly as her well-heeled world comes burning down around her and her family.


CAST & CREW LIST
fannie Joniece Abbott-Pratt
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REVIEWS

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False Paradigms
by Dedalus
Friday, February 23, 2007
2.0
I’ve been delaying writing this review all week. Up until now, I’ve been telling myself it was because “False Creeds” Playwright Darren Canady shows promise and talent, and my opinion should not keep you from seeing his play. But now that the "AJC" and "Creative Loafing" have both published reviews that (more or less) echo my reaction, I no longer have that excuse.

Before I begin tossing my brickbats, let me say that I DO believe you should see this play. It highlights a little-known ugliness of American History that needs to be examined (a 1921 Race Riot in Tulsa Oklahoma that virtually wiped out a prosperous African-American District; in fact, the play did inspire me to do some research into that incident). Mr. Canady shows a flair for dialog and character, and has put together an Act One that is exciting, compelling, and makes you overlook the shortcomings of his plot. You won’t be bored, and you may be inspired.

It’s a very familiar archetype – a young man is confronted with some unexpected facts about his heritage, and goes on a quest to find the “truth” of his family history. It’s a story we all know, enjoy, and can empathize with.

So, what, to me, makes the play fall apart?

Let’s start with its unspoken backbone, the paradigm that we can’t know “who we are” until we understand “where we come from.” I believe this is a False Paradigm (or “Creed,” if you will)* that substitutes an imagined “cultural heritage” for a true recognition of the current cultural forces that really shape our personalities. Because we are a “melting pot,” we are constantly bombarded with diverse and often contradictory cultural tropes. How comforting it is to imagine our “real selves” only have meaning when defined in terms of ancestors who had no such confusion (or so we think). To me, it’s a contradiction that we, who are more often than not embarrassed by the choices our parents make in clothing styles and music preferences, find “self-identification” in the cultural choices of unknown ancestors.

And, to be statistical about it, our “ancestral influences” increase geometrically the farther back you go. Jason, the young man in “False Creeds,” has fourteen ancestors from his great-grandmother’s generation to his parents’. Even though they all contribute an equal amount of genetic and cultural “stuff” to his identity, he picks only one as the dominant influence on his character.

To make matters worse, Jason does not go on an actual historical quest, perusing records, unearthing family diaries, or the like. No, he has a box of photographs which causes him to have “visions” of his grandmother as a child. While this may be an effective plot device in fantasy (or television), it is ludicrous to use it to find “the truth” of his heritage, especially in a play that wants to spotlight a real historical atrocity. How can we believe the historical truth of what we see (and my research shows that Mr. Canady gets all his details right in that regard), when our main character gets there through such “Twilight Zone” means? The dramaturg doesn’t help by including in the program excerpts from a real diary from the time – it shows that such first-person accounts existed, and, considering the educational and financial status of the victims, were probably common.

And, as exciting as the riot scenes are, they throw no new light on such atrocities that we haven’t seen before in films such as “Rosewood.” I’ve written before that atrocity is very difficult to dramatize – we are too often inured to hearing descriptions of it (there are no overt on-stage acts of violence here). Here, the riot is merely exciting drama, much like any scene of off-stage violence. Mr. Canady includes nothing that would awaken our sense of outrage or fear. In this sense, he does the moment he is examining a grave injustice. It turns what was essentially an “ethnic cleansing” into a dramatic stage device.

I have other problems with the character of Jason. For one, he seems too young to have had a grandmother who was ten in 1921. Yes, I know it’s possible (and, judging from Mr. Canady’s bio, probable), -- both his parents and grandparents would have had to have started their families in their 40’s. More than that, we are never given a compelling reason for Jason to go his quest. We know nothing about him other than he is a young college student with a grandmother descending into Alzheimer’s. I realize Mr. Canady is a young man, and should be writing characters who are young. But wouldn’t it have been more compelling to have a questor close to retirement, having lived his life without knowing his heritage, going on a real quest to find meaning in the choices he has already made? Okay, that’s unfair – that’s the play I would have written.

Would really left me cold about this play was its conclusion. At the end, Jason proudly displays a rifle, a jar of dirt, and a box of photos, three objects to which he ascribes profound meaning, as being the veritable personification of his great-grandparents. And all I could think was, isn’t that sad – that the lives and memories of these two remarkable people are reduced to a rifle, a jar of dirt, and a box of photos? They were obviously people of accomplishment, people who achieved great success, people who suffered great tragedy, people who lost everything they had. And the only thing this shallow descendant can be proud of, can point to, is a rifle, a jar of dirt, and a box of photos. And the legacy of his great grandmother? “She survived.” If Mr. Canady was agreeing with this sadness, was making a point of it, that would have been an exceptionally strong ending. But he wasn’t – the tone was that these symbols, this effectless survival, was a source of pride, a piece of heritage made concrete, a symbol to define himself. In other words, it was the “Holy Grail” of his quest. And, basking in their glory, Jason feels joy and pride, not sadness.

Please, PLEASE, let me leave my descendants more.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


* And just what are the “False Creeds” of the title? To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. Either Mr. Canady is confused as to the meaning of “Creed,” or there’s a subtlety in the play that escaped me. If any of you have any thoughts, feel free to share them …


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