The Bible and present day gentrification in New York are linked in this ambitious study of religion's influence on slavery and oppression. Although there are great ideas and good intentions, the production is flawed and the writing lacks maturity.
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Daren Taylor's Exodus is a revolutionary mission statement to Black America about gentrification (to Taylor, a form of modern-day slavery), specifically the kind that's going on right now in Manhattan. Rather than a call to arms, Taylor's is a call to votes against the involuntary migration to the outer boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, etc). In Exodus, Manhattan is represented as a glorious, abundant America, while the outer boroughs are ironically and metaphorically transformed into “Paradise,” a small town in Kansas where “lambs” (child labor) work 19 hours, 6 days a week, and the overseers (religious zealots) are called “Benevolent Shepherds, Protectors of the Path.” There are many parallels drawn to the Exodus in the Bible: characters have abbreviated Biblical names and there’s a call for an Israelite-type deliverance (“let my people go!”with Abel, considered the Bible's first martyr, leading the journey instead of Moses) with Taylor waxing not so poetically on the heavy hand that religion played (and continues to play) in oppression.
Exodus attempts to tackle many dense topics, such as why no one came to the rescue of the hardworking lambs when America kicked them out, but Taylor has bitten off way more than he or his young cast can chew. The staging is poor, limiting the cast to small sections on the spacious Connelly stage. The acting is also inconsistent; while that’s somewhat expected of a 14-member, multicultural cast, some of them are dispensable (Beverly Cabaluna and Lola Ogden are sitting ducks as non-speaking background) and a stretch (as the Old Man, Adam Swiderski can do nothing to hide his youth and as Mag, DeWanda Wise's drag is a joke). There are Shakespearean revivals one minute, and the lack of the spirit moving the audience the next. Worst, the performances doesn't merit the urgent, drumming sound effects that link the scenes. For all of the “hard labor” referenced in the dialogue, visually, there isn't any. It is admirable that Taylor wants to awaken the world to the history and immediacy of injustice, but the maturity in his writing needs to be awakened first. Once that happens, he'll be a formidable presence in the theater.
Exodus (2 hrs with intermission)
Venue #17, The Connelly Theater (220 East 4th Street)
Tickets: $15 (866-468-7619)http://www.fringenyc.org/
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