Monday, July 13, 2009


Mincemeat is exactly what experimental, political theaters everywhere are trying to accomplish. And the company producing it, Cardboard Citizens, accomplishes it in no small manner.

Cardboard Citizens is a theater company that promotes awareness for homelessness in their work and in practice, choosing texts that illuminate the complications of homelessness and choosing actors that have a personal connection to homelessness, all while providing people who are currently homeless opportunities and workshops to learn about theater.

Mincemeat did not take place in a theater, but in a massive, multiple-story abandoned warehouse. The audience was nervously milling around the bottom floor when suddenly one of the garage doors was pulled opened and in screeched a van, spilling out a group of masked vigilantes, with an elderly man as their hostage. The audience was pinned against a wall, not sure what to do or where to go amidst all the screaming and shouting. A few minutes of trying to decipher what the hell was going on later, the actors paused, informed us that this was not in fact "one of those" stories, and to please join them in the next room for a restart of the show.

And so it went. Each scene took place in a different room or floor of the massive warehouse, and we were shuffled from place to place not unlike cattle. But, as the actual narrative began, my annoyance with the herding of the audience was replaced with awe for the writing of this story and the actors carrying it, which were both incredibly far and above anything one would expect in a warehouse.

The story is based on a true event from WWII: The British military planted false papers on a dead man's body and left it to be conveniently found off of the Spanish coast, giving the fascists misinformation about where their next military attack would be, giving the British a huge victory one week later. The play's story began with this man in a kind of purgatory, charged with finding his true identity before he can enter heaven. He has no idea who he is, and so sets about looking for clues, but as the story weaves on we become aware that he is not a top military agent with secret information and a loving family back home as his dress and the content of his pockets would imply, but through a trip to the morgue and through bombed-out London and to an underground shelter, we discover along with the hero that he was no such honorable person, but an alcoholic, mentally unstable vagrant that the military had picked for the mission because no one would miss him or his body.

The acting and physical experience of this show as an audience member, in addition to a script so full with historical and ethical questions, made this play a visceral theatrical event. The physical discomfort that the audience endures as they try to breathe through the smoke and haze of a blitzed London shelter, the heat and stuffiness of the morgue, all make the story incredibly real. At the end of the show, just as suddenly as it began, the main character pulls open a huge garage door, walking out into the streets of London 2009, complete with some very confused looking pedestrians peering into the warehouse trying to figure out where this costumed figure came from and why in the world a hundred people are sitting inside between bunk beds and clothing lines.

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