Playwright and performer Carlyle Brown in “Therapy and Resistance”
Photo by Charissa Uemura
Carlyle Brown has been writing and performing in the Twin Cities for years, but he’s recognized nationally for his plays that take on racism, racial identity and American history. The New York Times has called him “one of the more significant American playwrights without a regular presence in New York” (although his shows have been staged regularly nationwide).
Brown’s play “Pure Confidence” explored the relationship between a slave race-jockey and his owner. His one man show “Fula from America” was a primarily autobiographical piece about his travels through West Africa looking for a deeper understanding of his African heritage.
Brown’s latest play takes on the insanity of war, drawing again from his own personal experience, this time as a peace activist at NYU during the Vietnam era. The show, titled “Therapy and Resistance” runs September 2- 19 at Dreamland Arts in St. Paul. Brown says it follows one draftee’s attempt to avoid the war by being diagnosed as a “manic depressive schizophrenic with paranoid tendencies.”
At first he’s just going to resist and go to jail, but he’s encouraged by someone that he won’t serve any useful purpose in jail while if he’s out, he can organize and protest.
In order to get out of the army, he has to entertain what it means to not be in one’s right mind. And in the case of altering his behavior in order to get this deferment, he comes pretty close to the edge of his own sanity.
Brown says the main character’s own faltering sanity is set against the backdrop of an even crazier world:
The play takes place in 1968, which was really a mad year. It’s the year of the Tet offensive, and America was getting its butt kicked. It was the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Nixon was elected and we went to the moon; altogether it was a pretty crazy year.
Brown says he was motivated to write “Therapy and Resistance” by the resurgence of news about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans coming home from Iraq. As someone who vividly remembers the Vietnam era, Brown is disappointed in the relative lack of anti-war fervor today.
In the Iraq war we are so much less affected – you can walk around day to day and not be aware of the fact that we’re at war. I feel we’re irresponsible as citizens to send our men out there. Why aren’t we saying anything? There are coffins coming back, and body bags. The body count of the dead is the least of the numbers. We don’t talk about the “life count” those lives that will never be the same.
Brown points out that he and many of his fellow protestors felt the U.S. mission to bring democracy to Vietnam was hypocritical, considering the racial inequalities they were experiencing on the home front. He says the war in Vietnam was in many ways a great distraction from the Civil Rights movement. Which makes you wonder, what is the Iraq war distracting us from?
Our country suffers from its own neurosis. Because if you don’t look at your whole self, what makes you who you are, how you got here – if you don’t look at your whole self, you can’t heal. We’ll always blame somebody else for our problems.
Brown says he hopes “Therapy and Resistance” succeeds in getting audiences to look at how we remember history, and its effect on how we react to the present.