The story of the Good Samaritan was told by Jesus Christ to answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?" A person from a discriminated class of people -- someone on whom you would have looked down -- is the person who saves your life and is who you are commanded to love as much as you love yourself. We have heard the story so many times that we are not shocked when the very person we would have disdained is the unexpected hero of the story.
I'm a Southern white girl. I do not know what it is like to be poor and black. I do not know what it is like to be a gay man or an undocumented immigrant. I do know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my gender, but that doesn't mean I understand the depth of discrimination that others experience.
It is difficult to put yourself in the position of another whose background and demographic are different from yours. The dramatic arts help us to make that leap by allowing us to feel emotions shared by those in the scene before us and empathize with them. Our eyes are opened to realities we didn't know before.
In March, I saw the play Vietgone at TheatreSquared. My whole life I have looked at the U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a failure. And, while I abhor the animosity American soldiers experienced when returning from that war, I have always believed it was a war in which we should not have been involved. I would dare to admit that I have thought that young men's lives were wasted on a country that didn't want us there.
I learned a different perspective from Vietgone. I saw the war through the eyes of Vietnamese refugees, who viewed the soldiers from the United States as their salvation. A play in a dark theater, with a story coming to life in front of you, can draw you into that world. The joys experienced by the actors become your joys, and their struggles your struggles. The Vietnamese father -- who owed his life to those who risked theirs to save him -- explodes at his Americanized son for expressing the same sentiment I would have expressed. I felt shame as an American in a similar way to the son -- even though I am not Vietnamese.
In San Diego and Los Angeles, with a group from TheatreSquared, I had the opportunity to see two other plays that focused on cultures with which I am not familiar: A Thousand Splendid Suns, about the treatment of women in Afghanistan, and Soft Power, in which a Chinese-American is attacked because of his ethnicity. As with the play Vietgone, although I am neither Afghan nor Chinese, I resonated with the injustices endured by women in Afghanistan and those Americans of Chinese heritage here in our own country.
Drama is a medium through which the prophets of our own time illustrate the identity of our neighbor. We are called to identify with those who stand up to the injustices inflicted on others, just as the hearers of Jesus were called on to identify with the person who was helped by the Samaritan.
If theater is criticized as being too political, so too, the preaching and actions of Jesus of Nazareth were condemned as being political statements against the religious and political leaders of his time. One could claim that being political is what got him killed.
As Jesus was quoted as saying, "Let anyone with ears to hear, listen" (Mark 4:9).
NAN Religion on 06/09/2018
Print Headline: Theater opens eyes