Art and life, life and art are so intertwined as to almost render A Song For Peace surrealistic. It’s edge-of-the seat drama throughout this bold, honest community theater production of a contemporary, sordid, unrelenting story of individuals caught in the cross fires of social, economic, cultural and political disintegration in a neighborhood in Indianapolis and a village in Ethiopia.
Episodically conceived as if for a television drama, the story of two young men who dare to dream unfolds on the stage of the auditorium in the recently built Indianapolis Public Schools Community School 51. Writer and director Dija Henry has a sharp ear and eye for what really is happening here and abroad. A large cast expertly articulated the script’s realistic dialogue and situations, well-rounded characters and honest outcomes. Each actor, be it in a lead or supporting role, made that character come alive, even to the point of inviting us to care about the drug dealer who says, “I am the street … so many people walk out on me and I’m still here.”
The entire production infuses some 25 scenes with authenticity, integrating screenings of TV news spots and a computerized dream episode as part of the play’s action. The setting itself expressed a dichotomy between a loving, protective and yet unsettling home life and the ever-worrisome world outside the home for high school student Elijah, who lives with his grandmother. In Ethiopia, Elijah’s pen pal exists in an orphanage. Both boys find a way of communicating belief in each other throughout turmoil in their personal lives.
Circumstances surrounding production of the play make its appearance all the more amazing and heartwarming. As an outgrowth of the Felege Hiywot Center, with its core emphasis on gathering residents of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood for community service, rehearsals for the play followed the hard work of planting and maintaining a garden. The random murder of one of the project’s mainstays could have stopped work on the play. Yet the mourning and grief was turned outward for the common good, and rehearsals resumed.
With no printed program, and in the absence of a listing of names of actors and their characters, designers and of backstage crew, suffice it to note that everyone involved earned the standing ovation from a full, appreciative audience.