Tuesday, July 06, 2004

"Ragtime" Resonates, Part 2: How Far Have We Come?

"Ragtime" follows threads of stories weaving together characters from different walks of life, the comfortable white upper middle class, the post-slavery, but pre-Civil Rights African-American, and the newly arrived and generally impoverished European immigrant.

Eventually representatives of each of these walks of life become intertwined in the story. And while there is no happy ending for some of the characters, there is an over-arching theme that focuses on the possibility of redemption and tolerance. When talking to the cast about why this show resonates, they bring up not only their past, like Cath in the last entry, but also the present.

From Wayne (our long distance traveler):

I think Ragtime is a mirror of society today. A lot of ethnic groups live in certain areas were they can be with people who look like them and have the same beliefs. Some are for economic reasons some are not. Sarah gets beaten to death as she approach the President. Minorities get abused by the police everyday. There are some areas in the North East, East, South and even in the western United states were African American are not welcome to live. We have a long way to go.

And from Doug (our multi-show mascot):

It is the theme of hope in the face of fear and ignorance. The hope expressed in the immigrants coming to America, the hope of Mother that Coalhouse Jr can grow up and be accepted as an equal by any American, despite the fears and prejudices his parents encounter. Ignorance is a big part of these prejudices, and that holds true today in the face of how some "normal" Americans have been treating fellow citizens of Middle Eastern descent after the 9/11 attacks. "Ragtime" expresses a noble hope that we can overcome such behavior by seeing the person inside the "other" group. This can only be accomplished by a personal awakening such as that experienced by Mother.

Coincidentally, I was talking today about musical theatre vs. "straight" theatre with a new acquaintance, and he stated the common belief that musicals are "less serious" or "lighter" than non-musicals. "Ragtime" is an example of how musicals can reach out and deal with serious issues too, and probably reach a wider audience with their message than "straight" plays ever do.

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