By Marivir Montebon
Long Island City – When young people talk of things that matter to them and mount these in a play, you will have nothing but tears and goosebumps. ‘Unpacking American Identity’ at the La Guardia Performing Arts Center is a gripping artistic articulation of racism and isolation that’s shaking up America.
A Black Lives Matter play written and performed by theater students of the La Guardia Community College, the school theater was packed on January 24 for its afternoon and evening shows.
Most of the cast wrote their own narrative while some wrote for others, and when put together by directors Stefanie Sertich, Steven Hitt, and Jacquise Burkett, it was simply mind-blowing. Kudos goes to Rafaele Castaldo for the scenic design and to Sertich, who is LAGCC’s program director for theater, for its sound design.
Society is reflected in the voices of these young artists of color as they write about their lives in an atmosphere of alienation and exclusion.
Unpacking American Identity is powerful because of its honesty. Relayed in dances, monologues and drama, the one-hour-twenty-minute play opens an avalanche of feelings that confronts the proverbial American dream becoming a nightmare. Here we listen to a mom’s anguish as she loses her child to police brutality, and to stereotypes that become a racial slur of sexism and murder.
In this play, we are made to introspect into our capacity to accept people, thereby breaking, perhaps, institutional racism.
The choice of music is superb – obscure but beautiful. “What the fuck is wrong with you…” is one brave song melodiously questioning racism that actually made everyone laugh and then reflective.
The play is set to go places in the East coast. It is produced in cooperation with the Carnegie Hall’s The Somewhere project, a city-wide exploration of The West Side Story.
Although mounted for only a month, the actors said the play has already established their closeness and affirmation of each other. “It was so hard to write and act. But it feels like we are a family now. I will remember this forever,” said Dyangels Peralta who impersonated the sexualized Latina.
“In the beginning, we had lots of rules. But we eventually became accustomed to each other and it is just so fun,” said Tanaja Sanford, who did an impassioned choreographic portrayal of the deaths of many Black youths.
For Mia Raguro, being the only Asian was tough in the beginning. “But I made it. I can identify with the issue on color. Being brown skinned, I have been discriminated against too. But I know we are all the same.”