Comrades: In America, some things never change

  • Posted on: 4 May 2008
  • By: worker

<table><tr><td>From <a href="">VueWeekly</a> - By <a href="">DAVID BERRY</a>

When Beth Graham debuted Comrades at the 2000 Fringe, there’s no way she could have known how relevant it would become just one year later. In the wake of 9/11, Graham and writing partner Daniela Vlaskalic’s take on the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti trial took on a life far beyond the modest tale of two passionate idealists the playwrights had first set out to tell, morphing into a multi-headed beast that touched on renewed concerns about racism, the role of the justice system and the demonization of dissent.

“It was amazing, because all this stuff was in the story already,” Graham says of the serendipitous dovetailing of the plays themes with global event. “The whole way they were treated at the trial, the way the American justice system was called into question, how they were persecuted, basically, for who they were and what they believed. It’s amazing how relevant it all became.”</td><td><img title="Called into question and what a difference that made" src="files/pictures/sacco_venzetti.jpg"></td></tr></table><!--break-->

It was that newfound relevance that attracted Nathan Cuckow and his multiple-award-winning Kill Your Television Theatre company to a remount of the show. Taking place in a cell while the pair awaits execution, Sacco (Kevin Corey) and Vanzetti (Cuckow) relate the story of how they got there: poor Italian immigrants drawn to the land of the free, they quickly come to understand that the American dream is hardly for all. Pushed by their circumstance towards social anarchism, eventually the impropriety of their beliefs and their race in America catches up with them, and they are arrested and tried for a murder they didn’t commit by a system that holds them guilty from the beginning.

As Cuckow explains, it’s not much of a stretch to see parallels between the tale of two 1920s anarchists and what’s happening in America right now.

“In the wake of 9/11, and especially leading up to the Iraq war, the government basically tried to squish out any kind of dissent or opposition with propaganda and fear: that whole ‘with us or against us’ mantra,” he says. “They were basically saying that to have an opinion that was opposite to the American president made you un-American and made you unpatriotic, and that’s basically the same thing that happened to Sacco and Vanzetti: they were immigrants and radicals, and they got punished for it.”

Of course, one of the most touching things about the story—both the real-life version and Graham and Vlaskalic’s interpretation—is how steadfastly Sacco and Vanzetti cling to the American dream, even as it betrays them. Even in jail, Sacco comforts himself with the knowledge that things will be better for his children; one can only wonder how he and Vanzetti might react to see the same problems plaguing the nation that once held so much hope for them.

“So often, I think, people look around and feel helpless, and that’s where apathy comes from: people don’t think they can make a difference,” Cuckow says of the seeming lack of change in America then and America now. “But I think that even by telling stories like this, by showing what some people have gone through for these ideals, we’re able to say something that maybe in a small way does create some sort of change.” V

Thu, May 1 - Sat, May 10 (8 pm)
Directed by Kevin Sutley
Written by Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic
Starring Nathan Cuckow, Kevin Corey
Catalyst Theatre (8529 Gateway Bvd)
$15 - $25