After four years as a student at Yale, poet and self-described activist Kenneth Reveiz ’12 said he wants to use a new play to express his view that Yale inducts undergraduates into a hegemonic system and rewards limited styles of creative expression.
“People [at Yale] want antiquity, neoclassicism, pastoral fetishism, which are so entwined with a class and race that I am not that it’s just not possible that I can buy into them,” Reveiz said.
“OSAMA PLAY,” which Reveiz wrote last year and said he hoped to stage before graduating, goes up this Saturday and Sunday at the Jonathan Edwards College Theater. Constructing the play in a non-narrative form that features scenes with characters including Osama bin Laden, bin Laden’s wife and a tomato, Reveiz said he specifically selected a cast of actors from relatively under-represented groups, such as queer people and people of color.
The show is more “noticeably political” than other plays produced at Yale, which may be political in nature but remain aligned with dominant power structures, Reveiz said.
“I think [other] Yale theater [productions], even the Control Group, reproduces the hegemony of which Yale is a part, whether they like it or not, whether they think so or not,” he added. “This is about leaving Yale having articulated what I thought was wrong about it.”
Gabriel DeLeon ’13, the director of the play, said that observing New Haven politics and exploring his identity as a queer person have given him an increased awareness of overarching social forces, in turn enabling him to better grasp the issues “OSAMA PLAY” spotlights.
“I wouldn’t have understood the point of this production until my junior year,” he added.
Reveiz said that in order to articulate his own dissatisfaction with systems of power and consumption in the world as it stands, he chose to create a “humanized” version of Osama bin Laden as his lead character. A key issue in the script is socioeconomic class, he added, which Reveiz said is both a determinant of one’s place in society and an issue that Yalies in particular shy away from discussing.
DeLeon said the prevailing Yale lifestyle promotes a high level of consumerism and an ignorance of other class experiences.
“We’re playing down the amount of terrorism Osama has done in history, and comparing it to our interactions with other people, which embody everyday terrorism,” Nicholas Leingang ’13, who portrays Osama, said.
Leingang added that “OSAMA PLAY” is unique compared to other productions he has acted in because it is being put up by a group of people who are themselves members of marginalized groups.
“Queer people, people of color and freshmen were particularly encouraged to audition,” Reveiz said, adding that in a Yale theater scene that does not regularly feature these groups, the play can help them gain a space in the cultural discourse on campus. DeLeon, for instance, was selected to direct the play because he and Reveiz are “on the same page aesthetically, ideologically and even politically.”
DeLeon said that casting involved finding both the best actors to convey Reveiz’s message and selecting individuals already aligned with a “radical energy.”
The show’s producer, Wilfredo Ramos Jr. ’15, said “OSAMA PLAY” changes the circumstances of the character Leingang described as “the ultimate villain” to convey a challenge to capitalism. Using a character “grounded in myth,” DeLeon said, may be scandalous, but it also extends human treatment to the slain terrorist.
The play explores Osama’s legacy in the American public, Leingang said, causing audiences to question the idea of straight white males controlling the world.
Reveiz said that “OSAMA PLAY” aims to inspire a recognition of what individuals can do differently to actively create a society they want to be part of.
DeLeon said that audience confrontation, a deconstructivist palette and casting actors that look very different from the characters they are meant to portray help convey the playwright’s message. In the course of the show, everyone in the theater becomes aware of their place in society, DeLeon said.
Ramos said that the style of the production reminds him of the current craze for “devised theater” in his native Chicago, a style that prioritizes free-form improvisation and interaction with the audience.
“OSAMA PLAY” is Reveiz’s first play to be staged at Yale.