Bars and Measures at the Jungle Theater
Darius Dotch as Eric and Ansa Ankyea as Bilal
Photo by Dan Norman
So far this season at the Jungle Theater, Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen has proven that she is ready to act on her vision for the Jungle by “creating space for new voices that spark meaningful dialogue.” When it comes to Bars and Measures, it first seems as though this meaningful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam. Then, perhaps, it may seem to be between free and jailed, Classical and Jazz, or maybe even peace and violence. But in fact, the biggest dialogue is found between sound and silence. Eric (Darius Dotch) doesn’t worry about silence; he loves music, but doesn’t desperately run to it. His brother Bilal (Ansa Akyea) runs as far away from silence as possible, or as far as he can while under lock and key. For him, silence is a mark of the decisions he’s made—solitary confinement in exchange for charges of terrorist activity— and sound is his only escape.
The connection between what Bilal says he experiences as a Muslim man and the targeted violence we so often hear about today is vivid. Just as vivid, however, is how this difference in privilege between the two brothers is clearly explained, not shown through moments or interactions for audiences to simmer on after leaving the show. The theme of unity despite difference is also directly explained, maybe to a fault. With such complex relationships and experiences, it can be more striking for audiences to be able to think thoroughly about where these complexities live out, but instead, playwright Idris Goodwin takes steps to tell the audience what to think.
The sheer intrigue in seeing the true story of such a devastating situation, however, is enough to make up for any lack in subtlety, and the steadfast spirit of the brothers’ relationship, while at times harder to relate to, is endearing. Perhaps the love between brothers may not be as tangible as one would hope, but the struggle for acceptance and subsequent resentment is not only apparent, but able to be inferred by the audience. As cliché as it sounds, their creation of music (done by composer Justin Ellington) speaks much more loudly, and honestly, than what they try to say. And the silence between them is even more telling.
In this time of change for the Jungle Theater, and the attempts at altering the theater scene as a whole, Bars and Measures was another homerun. Director Marion McClinton and Idris Goodwin comprise the first African American creative team to work at the Jungle. The casting is also notable, with theater being an industry where diversity is still largely nonexistent (according to a study by The Asian American Performers Action Coalition, in 2014/15 only 15 percent of all roles on New York City stages were held by African American actors). In a new world of theater, Minneapolis is as lucky as ever to be on the front lines.
Bars and Measures runs August 26-October 9 at the Jungle Theater.