SAMO: 'Wrecked' Identities

The Prop Thtr was the closest thing to "hole in the wall" I have ever experienced. No, seriously. We drove past it twice. But once we went inside, it was evident that though small, the companies that performed there and the stories told were mighty. I was greeted at the ticket booth by two smiling women. When I asked the price of water, they responded that it's a dollar minimum donation and I could take any of the other food on the table too, including baked goods and candy. I donated, grabbed my water, and got ready to watch the show: "Wrecked," an original play written and directed by Sudanese woman Philister Sidigu.

Kelsey and I outside the theater before the show.
Photo taken by Ava Izenstark

It was announced that there we no playbills because they are expensive, and the theatre company is just trying to do its best to keep telling stories. Having seen most of my theatre on Broadway or at GBN (what's the difference) I was not used to such a thing, and my ears definitely perked up.

The theater space was small, but the exposed brick wall of the stage lent well to the story and the frequent location of an apartment. The set design showing the Chicago skyline was also very clever.

Once the play began, I became a little confused. There were not many characters, but there seemed to be many storylines I was following, and not one overarching conflict-resolution plot. Many different CST related topics were touched upon throughout the play, but the theme that I was most latched to was the struggle protagonist Kuol faced in trying to find his identity as an American after growing up in Sudan and spending time in a refugee camp. He even dubbed himself a "lost boy," a term used to describe the 20,000+ boys who were displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005.

The set design for the show. On the right and center was
Kuol and Eliza's apartment, the left was the set for when Kuol
was driving his uber.
Photo by me. 

It is evident to the audience that Kuol is very proud of where he came from, and we find out later in the show that he still belongs to a Lost Boy community here in Chicago. But at the same time, being a Lost Boy, regardless of the stories he has to tell and the wisdom he's gained from the experience, most people in America aren't going to care. This is very unfortunate. I wish we lived in a place where every single person was welcomed into this country and their story is told, and they can do what they are passionate about, but it just doesn't work that way. Kuol works as an Uber driver, trying to support his pregnant wife, while dreaming about one day being a barber or real estate agent. He strains himself trying to feel "American."

As a member of multiple agent groups, it's hard for me to relate to this concept of split identity. The closest I may come to understanding is identifying fully as a Christian after growing up celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays, and having direct relatives that were killed in the Holocaust. My grandfather fled the Nazis and my dad won't buy a German car. When the choir visited Jewish sites on our trip to Europe, I felt like I knew everything. I could read the Hebrew on the walls (poorly) I knew all of the prayers and traditions, and I was deeply struck by each Holocaust memorial and especially the visit to concentration camp Dachau. However, I felt like a bit of an outsider because of my new faith. I felt like I wasn't "allowed" to have those feelings because I no longer see myself as Jewish.

While I am lucky to know that I will be accepted no matter what, Kuol's struggle was more complex. He had multiple encounters in his Uber that exemplified to audience members who he is an how the world sees him, as a Sudanese refugee.

The play's poster.
Source: Philister Sidigu and Prop Thtr

One of these encounters was with another Sudanese man headed to the airport, who Kuol recognized immediately by his unmistakable accent. The man was in a sand-colored suit, which Kuol complimented. Feeling as though a "brother" has sat down in his Uber, Kuol very understandably tries to converse with the man about Sudan, but the passenger is very stubborn. He explains that he doesn't usually tell people that he's from Sudan and seems despondent of his past, and as if he is trying to forget about it (hold that thought). He appears to be fully acclimated to life in America, holding a job in the financial sector and heading off to visit his daughter in Washington D.C. But Kuol kindly pries, in serious need of empathy and conversation. The man eventually opens up and the audience discovers that he was a child soldier who killed many in the war. He knew about the Lost Boy focus groups in the city, but chose not to attend because he was ashamed of his past.

This passenger's story made me think about how the past shapes us, and what we should do about it. If the past is something we are afraid of and trying to push away, it will only come back to haunt us. It even reminded me of Tayo from the book Ceremony, who had a difficult past fighting in World War II and struggled with PTSD upon his return, as well as feeling close to his Native American roots. If Tayo's story is any indication, it appears that the best solution is to accept one's past, to forgive yourself, and learn from it. It's easier said than done, but it's a start.


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