Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tales from the Salt City

Bob and I went to Syracuse Stage last evening to see Tales from the Salt City. It's a play, but not really a play, more of an extended interview with "cast" members telling their individual stories. The stories are honed from real life - they "play" themselves - by Ping Chong, the director.

For 1 hour and 33 minutes I sat in rapt attention on the play (for lack of a better word). I know that part of it - a good part - was because I knew so much about what the actors described. I knew the streets, the schools, the times. I knew Syracuse, or at least as much as my own experience alotted.

The main actor was Albert Marshall. We grew up in the same area of the city, at the same time, and graduated from Nottingham High School. I've watched his progress as an actor over the years and seen several shows. He was a dominant presence on the stage as he told his story.

Because he is African-American, his story was different than mine, as he pointed out several times. But it fascinated me that of the extremely minimal details of his childhood he extracted there was the Westcott Cinema. He remembered, as I fondly do, standing in line to go to the movies. When he spoke about high school he praised Mrs. Katzenberger for pushing him into acting. I remember her well for being that special English teacher everyone raved about.

The other stories were equally mesmerizing, but they were stories I didn't know or hadn't guessed. We knew another of the actors, a Cambodian Muslim, through friends. His incredible journey to the person he is now was overwhelming.

The other actors came from Cuba, Mexico, Macedonia, The Sudan (one of the Lost Boys), and the Onondaga Nation. They are all real people telling their real lives as edited by Ping Chong. While at times I had to strain to understand the strongly accented English, the effort was worth it.

Just like my friend Eva's complaints about the United States, these people also missed the ease of social contact they had enjoyed in their homelands. Eva speaks about the cafes of Germany and Mexico where she's lived; people expect to mingle and socialize on a daily basis. It doesn't have to be an occasion that is prepared for weeks in advance. I wish there were some way to bring that richness here.

As the actors brought us up to date on their lives I was sorry to see the end in sight. I remember being a child at Sumner School and hearing about the lives of the many immigrant children in my class. It's as if they all grew up in front of my eyes.

If you are interested in seeing Tales from the Salt City you'll have to hurry - the last performance is November 2nd.