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The Second Act Is American Life

And it drains the power from Lonnie Carter's play about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

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Director Jim Corti manages to suggest all of this on a bare set, using only some projections, a drum, brisk pacing, choreographed movement, and versatile ensemble work from a cast of eight who create the illusion of much greater numbers by seamlessly slipping into multiple roles. Corti's no-fuss approach allows Carter's verbal pyrotechnics to provide the majority of the play's effects. Employing a heightened poetic language that includes chanting, rhymed couplets, and evocative wordplay, Carter evokes both the elemental gravity and the bizarre unreality of the events he describes.

The unreal quality grows more pronounced in the limbo-like refugee camp, as Josh, Ollie, and Sam prepare for their new lives in Fargo—or, as they call it, "Go Far." Camp workers don't have much to tell them about their destination, other than to warn them against baggy clothes and Skittles and to assure them, in a phrase that becomes one of the trio's chants, "America is a land where they can't just come and kill you."

Set entirely in Fargo, the second act follows the kids' bewildering process of adjusting to subzero temperatures, American slang, canned food, and the overwhelming importance of making money. "Who is this? What is this? Why am I here?" the Africans say. "What are we part of now?"

Carter sees the pathos in their predicament, but also the humor. In fact, he sees a little too much humor: before long, the play becomes little more than a fish-out-of-water comedy.

A Fargo family takes the refugees under its wing, helping them enroll in high school, signing them up for extracurricular activities, and providing endless opportunities for them to display their adorable naivete and shake their heads at our crazy American ways. Meanwhile, the singsong couplets grow more frequent, the flights of poetic fancy get more indulgent, and stakes diminish with every passing second. By the time a character went off on a Gil Scott-Heron-esque rant ("The revo will not be TiVo'd"), I was wishing that the show had ended with Josh, Sam, and Ollie getting on the plane.

There remain some affecting moments addressing the Lost Boys' loneliness and feelings of displacement. Inspired by Hamlet, Ollie riffs, "My skin of solemn black, my inky cloak—/ What do you make of me, you Fargo folk?" Later, when Ollie speaks of going back home, Josh says, "There is no back to go back to." The sadness and uncertainty of these lines reflect the feelings of many relocated Lost Boys, who've voiced their disappointment with the educational and employment opportunities they've found in the States. But melancholy notes register only as blips in Carter's otherwise jolly second act. His verbal gymnastics grow tiresome and phony, divorced from reality rather than reinforcing and heightening it—a far cry from the dazzling first half, in which poetic language comes to seem the only appropriate means of expressing inexpressible suffering.   

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