Gemma @ ‘Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment’ - theatre’s impact on young minds

Prior to attending the first preview of Theater For the New City’s Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment, which delves into the political and legal systems in Peru, I did some research on the country, specifically on Peruvian politics and prisons and some of the surrounding scandals. And guess what? I’m now convinced that political and legal systems are basically corrupt everywhere.

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Peru is a country in South America with many beautiful attractions such as Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. The capital of Peru is Lima, where Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment happens to take place. Martín Vizcarra has been the president of Peru since 2018, after the country’s previous leader, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned in the wake of multiple scandals, including receiving advisory fees from corrupt companies, pardoning a former corrupt president and attempting to buy a vote against his own impeachment.

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Comparatively, Vizcarra appears to be more morally fit to run the country, having signed a law designed to monitor and combat climate change and promising to head up an anti-corruption movement.

Politics in Peru

Peru is a unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic, where the president acts as both head of state and head of government. The president and the government exercise executive power, and legislative power is vested in both the government and the congress. The judiciary branch is independent of both the executive and the legislature. In Peru, voting is mandatory. Those who choose not to vote can face penalties such as being denied both goods and services provided by public offices.

Prison conditions in Peru

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Prisons in Peru are considered to be some of the toughest in the world, containing so many inmates that there isn’t enough space or security to keep things running smoothly. There is such severe understaffing that the leaders among the prisoners basically rule over their incarcerated peers. This naturally contributes to violence and corruption on an internal level.

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My Own Political Journey

I was never very into politics. Growing up in the social bubble of New York City, I naturally developed very left-leaning beliefs on every issue you can imagine. But I wasn’t the type of person who sought out political news, attended protests or even watched political debates. As soon as I turned 18 years old, I happily voted for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election. It was pretty cool—I proudly displayed my “I Voted” sticker, and I got to post about the momentous occasion on Facebook. While I chose to exercise my right to vote, I was otherwise quite disengaged with most of what was going on in the world around me. And it was my privilege that allowed me the luxury of remaining in that blissfully ignorant state. I know now that it’s very easy not to care about politics when you feel that none of the issues affect you directly. Back then, as an 18-year-old white female, many of the issues politicians concerned themselves with didn’t affect me on a personal level. Yes, as both a Jewish person and a woman I had experienced some hardship and mistreatment by that point in my life. But I was unaware at the time of just how privileged I was.

And I had a lot going for me:

  • I was white.

  • I was straight.

  • I was able-bodied.

  • I was born into a family that was positioned well above the poverty line.

  • I was always provided with sufficient access to health care.

  • I was able to attend top-tier public schools for my entire academic career.

The list goes on…

I really credit my liberal arts education at Hunter College for making me aware of issues I never had to think about before. I remember initially being annoyed at the idea of being required to take women and gender studies and race-related classes. But once I was exposed to the material, my way of thinking shifted, and I was well on my way to becoming a more compassionate and informed adult.

I made sure to vote in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and then once again in the 2016 presidential election. But this time around, I had done my research. Not only did I want to play my part in electing the first female U.S. president into office, but I wanted to stop Donald Trump at all costs.

And… well, we all know how that turned out. Suddenly I was living in the “Election Night” SNL skit, but it was too on the nose for me to find funny. It was just true, and painfully so. The sketch perfectly illustrated for me how even well-meaning privileged people could just completely miss the point. And clearly, I was one of those people. But once I was aware of the nearly infinite ways in which I was privileged, I could better act as an ally for less privileged people. I am constantly trying to learn and improve.

Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment

Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment ’s set

Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment’s set

Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment is an adaptation of a biblical story, set in a prison cell in Lima, Peru, in the year 2021.

Various Peruvian political parties

Various Peruvian political parties

The Peruvian citizens have just elected a new president who is determined to rid the country’s political and legal systems of corruption. Jesús, a political criminal and whistle-blower, and Bara, a young, rash, intelligent lawyer, guilty of accepting bribes, share a prison cell while under the watch of two cruel guardsmen. Together Jesús and Bara debate morality and nationalism while suffering under Peru’s harsh prison conditions, and attempt to navigate the landscape of their crimes.

Post-Show Thoughts

Following my experience at Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment, I am more aware than ever of how privileged I am. While I didn’t ask for my many privileges, I certainly benefit from them on a daily basis. I can live without fear of being targeted for my skin color or my sexuality, and am lucky enough to live in a community whose politics align with my own, where I have very little reason to worry about being thrown in prison.

Peruvian political and legal systems are tainted by misconduct. I think this is true for all countries.

What are the boundaries of modern morality?

I would like to think that humanity trumps everything, and that modern morality is far-reaching, but it’s hard to believe that when confronted with all of the atrocities taking place globally.

In Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment, Bara committed a horrible crime and then publicly lied about it with a smile on his face in order to better his own circumstances. It was difficult to watch, especially after getting to know his character.

But like the late, great Fred Rogers said, “Always look for the helpers.” There are people actively resisting tyranny and fighting to make the world better for as many people as possible. Looking for the helpers in scary situations inspires hope. My hope rests in the belief that humanity is inherently good.

Can history, politics and law be taught through theatre?

I think theatre can be an excellent resource to teach history, politics, law and similarly complex subjects. Just ask the high school students who have Hamilton to thank for getting them to care about American history.

Theatre is far more than entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and can have a real impact on the molding of young minds. Teachers should take note.

While I flinched at the more graphic and violent parts of Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment, like when Jesús and Bara were severely beaten and demeaned, it gave me an idea of what actual Peruvian prisoners might be experiencing.

Is it important for these theatrical productions to stay true to the documented events throughout history?

I think it is preferable for these productions to take the responsibility of representing historical events on stage seriously. That being said, I don’t think there is any harm in people experiencing theatrical productions with historical inaccuracies, as long as teachers make a point of illustrating exactly where the productions stray from documented events. In the case of Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment, it was set in the future, and therefore none of the events represented have actually happened.

Should history be taught through a theatrical lens in schools?

It depends on the teacher, but I say YES! The more ways we can get kids genuinely excited about learning, the better. Textbooks have their place, but supplementing education with live arts can help people learn in a different, more engaging way. Teens would benefit from seeing Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment because it inspires a dialogue about morality that no textbook ever could.

See it?

$15 Tickets

Barabbas: The Annoyance of Enlightenment

@ Theater For the New City

Through July 14th

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