Despite living very close to it all summer, before last night I had never been in the famous Public Theater. But, now that I live in the city again I have restarted my theater lotto apps. It turns out the The Public offers free tickets to the first previews of their shows by lotto. I had heard through a grapevine that Party People, a transfer from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was supposed to be amazing, so I entered and won!
I’ve been to shows in previews before (in Chicago), but never a first preview. It was exciting to think that I was at the actual NY debut of this show. (And of course the performances were already great, it didn’t feel like I was watching anyone rehearse anything.) I’m definitely going to take advantage of this program again.
OK, not onto the show itself. Developed by the ensemble Universes, who, according to the playbill, are known for mixing genres (poetry, rap, theater, political protest) to tell stories, the play looks at the legacy of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords (a Puerto Rican nationalist group started in Chicago that I had embarrassingly never heard of until last night.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack about the history and impact of 1960s radical revolutionary politics (I’ve took a class in grad school that spent weeks on it), and that may explain why this play feels like 3 separate shows mashed up and remixed into one. There are too many “truths” to attempt a cohesive narrative.
For the most part this strategy works, but as with any kind of collage there are parts that are more successful than others. And this is probably a personal preference, but up until the very end, I just really preferred the songs set in the sixties and seventies. They had a vibrancy and urgency and explained the history without feeling pedantic. On the other hand the frame narrative (a gallery show featuring interviews with former party members) never seemed to fully come together for me.
But, the final number, which brings together the two stories with a rousing chorus of “Give me land, bread, housing. Give me justice. Give me peace” was a powerful call to action (as in actual action rather than tweeting about the things you believe) that really resonated.
The show runs through Dec 11 in the Anspacher at The Public Theater 425 Lafayette St.