Presented by ArtsEmerson
Created by Back to Back Theatre, Australia
Authored by Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben
Directed by Bruce Gladwin
Composed by Luke Howard Trio – Daniel Farrugia, Luke Howard, Jonathon Zion
Performed by Michael Chan, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price
Jan. 23–26, 2020
Emerson Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box
559 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111
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Critique by Kitty Drexel
Boston, MA — One of the ignoble truths of living as a disabled person is that people stare. People stare at us because we’re different. They stare because they can. Performance is one way that disabled people wrestle back control. We get to choose when people stare at us. It is liberating.
In Back to Back Theatre’s The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes, the disabled cast wants you to stare so they can stare back. And when they do, they do not flinch. I’d wager good money that Thursday night’s audience has never had their gaze turned back on them. Witnessing this was deliciously rewarding.
The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is activism. Performers Michael Chan, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, and Scott Price are using their international platform to speak for those who don’t have a voice. There are members of the disabled community that either can’t or don’t participate in activism. Not everyone is suited to it. So, Back to Back is using its platform to disseminate important truths about disability to the wider populace.
Their message is greater equity, compassion and visibility for the disabled community. Audience members might not be familiar with disability activism but they are likely familiar with Siri, the iPhone helper. The script compares experiences of intellectual disability to the visible evolution of techno-ignorance in the modern age through the use of supertitles and Siri’s pansophical voice. In this production, neurodiverse is to neurotypical as all humans will be to the tyrannical super-computer that will one day rule us all.
AI will advance past human capability. When, not if, it does, we will all be at a significant intellectual disadvantage. Just as the cast appears before us in their othered glory, we too may one day stand before Magisterial Overlord Siri. Siri will not judge us kindly.
The characters onstage don’t think much of us either. They are well aware that the abled infantilize disabled people with great frequency. But the characters didn’t give up on us. Instead, they repeated themselves and used small words so we’d understand.
Abled people have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the fact that actors who don’t look like them are telling stories. The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is pretend like Romeo and Juliet, or the 2016 presidential election.
The people on the stage are real. Their disabilities are real. Tragedies such as modern turkey farm enslavement, Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, and rampant abuse are real. The story told on stage is not real. No one in the Emerson Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box should believe that they attended a meeting in Australia. They shouldn’t think that the actors believe that either. That’s because the actors are pretending. Disabled people only think theatre is real in the movies. Movies are pretend too. #AbledsAreWeird
Abled audience members who doubt this production’s efficacy should look to their own limitations first. The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is potent art: it tells a story; we’re introduced to four interesting characters; it’s equal parts comedic and dramatic; the actors use all of the space to tell their story. It is not inspiration porn. Not all of the shows playing in Boston right now can say the same.
By asking their audience to reconcile western society’s bigoted misconceptions about the disabled community, they gave us a headstart on arguing our sci-fi, terror-dystopia overlords for humanity’s continued existence. If cell phone dependency is a precedent for our future addiction, Back to Back Theatre is doing us a favor by preparing us for the inevitable techno civil war. Everyone is at risk of becoming disabled by age, accident or ancestry at any time. We might as well prepare.