Theater for the New City cast belts out the prom scene number from Crystal Field's "Social Insecurity."
Jonathan Slaff

These are dark and dangerous times. And
Theater for the New City’s Street Theater Company has responded
with a show that is dark, and may actually be considered dangerous
by many.

"Social Insecurity," with a book and lyrics by Theater
for the New City artistic director Crystal Field, and music by
her longtime collaborator Joseph Vernon Banks, tells the story
of a journey taken by three soldiers (Craig Meade, Primy Rivera,
Alexander Bartenieff) through Operation Iraqi Freedom and their
return home, as seen through the lens of an eccentric documentary
filmmaker (Mark Marcante), who tells the audience in English
and Spanish, "The truth will make you free." (The original
saying belongs to Goethe, and he made it in German.)

In "Social Insecurity," the soldiers have been recruited
by overzealous military personnel who prey on vulnerable youths
– offering them free college tuition, alternative sentencing
and the road to glory. But what they find in Iraq is quite different
than what they had anticipated. They witness the anger of Iraqi
citizens, the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, and
the corruption of mercenary forces.

The soldiers share packages from home and memories of loved ones.
When a missile that American forces have buried in a roadbed
accidentally kills one of them, the soldier’s ghost says he cannot
rest until the injustices of the war have ended. On bivouac,
the two remaining soldiers meet the filmmaker and help him save
his footage from those who would like to destroy it.

At last the soldiers come home, but the America they return to
is filled with insecurity – not only social (President Bush plans
to "play the market for our pensions"), but also political
(the Patriot Act has deprived people of basic rights) and economic
(jobs are flying offshore, affordable housing keeps disappearing
and public education is under-funded because of the war’s $80
billion price tag).

Packed into a subway car on a track with only one exit, the soldiers
and filmmaker end up at the Bling Bling Bros. Circus, where George
W. Bush is a lion performing tricks, Condoleeza Rice is a snake
and Dick Cheney is the incoherent ringmaster.

The musical asks, "Can America survive?" According
to Field, yes, but only if American citizens, through protest
and political action, make their elected officials see the folly
of their ways, if corporate greed is reined in and if more humane
values guide national and local policymakers.

"Social Insecurity," which is presented in free, outdoor
performances throughout the city – including several Brooklyn
parks this month, is filled with rapid scene changes facilitated
by a 9-foot by 12-foot running screen (or "cranky"),
movable flats and props carried by the actors. The weighty message
is lightened by dance; music that combines, jazz, blues, rock,
rap and Tin Pan Alley; and an excellent ensemble cast whose exuberance
is infectious.

But much of the commedia dell’arte techniques Theater for the
New City traditionally uses in its street theater is missing
from this production. There are no puppets and a minimal use
of masks.

Given the tenor of the times, the solemnity seemed entirely appropriate.
And then again, there is much that is inspirational and empowering
in "Social Insecurity." The upbeat "An Artist
Tells the Truth," brings comfort, and the rousing final
number, "Bring the Troops Home," offers hope.

Having cut her teeth working with Theater of the Living Arts
in Philadelphia, Bread and Puppet Theater in New York and protesting
the Vietnam War, Field is a confirmed believer in the power of
theater to educate and inspire. But even more important, her
work is rooted in the understanding that theater should be presented
in a context of relevancy not only to an elite who can afford
big ticket prices, but also to the poor and minorities – the
people who hear and spread the message on the streets of Manhattan,
Queens, the Bronx, Staten Islandand Brooklyn.



Theater for the New City presents "Social
Insecurity" at Herbert Von King Park at Marcy Avenue at
Greene Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Aug. 14 at 2 pm, Coney
Island Boardwalk at West 10th Street on Aug. 19 at 8 pm and Prospect
Park’s concert grove (enter at Lincoln Road off Ocean Avenue
in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens) on Aug. 27 at 2 pm. All shows are
free, outdoors and open to the public. For more information call
(212) 254-1109 or visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

More from Around New York