Knock Knock. It’s Me. I’m Dead.
The past looms over us all whether we like it or not. Even as a nation, we have ghosts that follow us as we attempt to grow and move past the difficult parts of our history. Tania El Khoury explores the ghosts of Syria in Gardens Speak, where the audience prostrates themselves before the graves of Syrian martyrs and, ears to the dirt at their headstones, listens to their stories as gathered from the accounts of surviving friends and relatives. As I lay on the dirt and listened to the story of the man I’d been assigned to, I couldn’t help but feel the burden of guilt. That I was somehow responsible, in some way, for this man’s death. And I am.
We may not be directly involved in what our government does, but we are complacent unless we do something. The United States has been causing unrest in other countries for decades, and the blood of those people is on our hands unless we stand up and speak out. Perhaps an extreme message to take from the performance, but it feels appropriate.
There are other ghosts that follow us around, too. Blueprint Specials resurrects a few as it revives old songs and skits created for the troops in WWII to perform. The action is thinly united by a slipshod narrative of gods coming down from heaven to play on earth. Still, the performance manages to raise specters of wars past and present.
The cast is made up of a fairly diverse group of actors ranging from Broadway stars to first-timers, many of whom are military veterans. This diversity is, of course, welcome in today’s society. However, when the Blueprint Specials were written, the United States did not have integrated units in their military. Furthermore, racism, as well as misogyny, were featured in many of the skits and songs. Of course these things were prevalent at that time (and continue to exist today), but why didn't the production address them?
Performing this portion of military history is admirable but why the failureto mention or grapple with the issues that arise from the period of the work? This failure is like failing to comes to terms with the legacy of those issues in our own time. It’s almost the opposite of Gardens Speak, the ghosts are not acknowledged or mentioned and the piece is just presented as-is. Even a simple disclaimer would be a big step in the right direction, but the show remains silent. However, we the people living in 2017 can’t help but wonder about the things that haunt our history.