“It’s murky, it’s very murky”, as the audience are reminded early on in this challenging and compelling piece of verbatim theatre. Set amongst the sugar cane fields of rural Florida in the town of Miracle village, a real-life community for sex offenders, America is Hard to See is a mixture of the mundane, the uplifting and the disturbing.
Following actual interviews with residents and those connected to the community, the play pieces together what it is like for those whose crimes have pushed them onto the fringes of society, at the same time exploring the nature of punishment and forgiveness.
There’s much excitement as the inhabitants find out that people from New York want to make a play about them, before the tone changes as we learn more about the offences that have landed them in such an isolated place. Faced with a group of unreliable narrators, the audience are bluntly told that those giving their story may not be speaking the full truth or could be completely lying. At times we also hear from victims whose lives have been catastrophically affected by their actions. Presented in a such a carefully nuanced way, the strength of the production is that the audience is never told what to think but are ultimately left to make up their own minds.
At the heart of the play is Pastor Patty, an anti-establishment member of the clergy who reminisces about once working in a strip club as a choreographer, but whose deep belief in ministering to those on the margins seems to offer the chance of some kind of redemption for the convicts. The actors switch between voicing the words of many different people and do so effortlessly. They also sing hymns which are breathtakingly beautiful and provide sharp contrast with the actions of those who are being portrayed on stage.
Whatever your views, the overall effect is profoundly moving and the difficult subject matter dealt with humanely. Ultimately, you’ll likely be left pondering the issues raised in America is Hard to See for days after.