By Wesley James
Raggedy And is a deep, relevant, and confidently excellent exploration of modern progressivism. Highly concept-driven, Raggedy grounds its poetic dialogue and grand stakes in the exposed humanity of its characters - a constant reminder of what we’re fighting for. The voices and situations, particularly the conclusion, ring with a boldness-backed-by-skill reminiscent of Sorkin; the characters represent ideals intentionally, freeing the play from justifying or excusing them. Most importantly, each side of the arguments presented is examined thoroughly, and though the play does align itself, it doesn’t insist upon us to do the same.
The play follows a non-traditional family: two moms - the published poet Ondi (Dellia Kropp) and the rugged contractor Clem (Katurah Nelson), their compulsively politically correct son Ben (Averis I. Anderson), and his new (and first ever) boyfriend Jayden (Manuel Ortiz) - the campaign manager for a fictionalized Hillary Clinton.
The new relationship comes under strain when Jayden pursues Ondi for the position of “First Transgendered Inaugural Poet;” trapping her between accepting a coveted honor and rejecting its offensive (and even dangerous) subtext. The first act is highly expository; it forgoes a certain level of humanity to lay its vital conceptual and philosophical foundations. The second act tacks the other way entirely, letting its arguments play out among subversively strong and familiar characters, providing emotional investment in the heightened ideals. This dichotomy exemplifies the biggest topics the play debates - concept v. emotion, greater good v. human cost.
These concepts are the spearhead of the many topics covered in this relevant and insightful piece. By exploring the relationship between a young, perfect progressive and his “old feminist” mothers, we get to see the recursion and evolution of progressivism - the conflict between those who fought in the trenches and those who’ve internalized those same stories into a personal mythology. Raggedy is rooted magnificently in the present: Ben’s alarm that his parents aren’t willing to dive into yet another round of self-sacrifice, his affectionately anti-climactic coming out, and his non-traditional parent’s extremely traditional “old married couple” rapport all serve to normalize and ground the new parameters of our society. It’s exciting to have reached a point where the hard arguments of progressivism are taking place within, and the play indulges in some light revelry to that effect.
Raggedy And strikes it’s most remarkable chord in it’s definitive stance on the issues presented. Against the very rational and overwhelmingly charismatic message of giving up ones pride in service of the greater good, of sacrificing the one for the many, our protagonists choose family. They hold their ground as if to say “not this way” to these duplicitous and aggressive means of change; the arguments are presented in such a way that while we may not fully agree with their decision, we understand it intimately - which perhaps is more important. This understanding is vital because, while the exploration of concepts will always be eye-opening, expansive, intriguing, it’s the emotional aspects that we’ll remember: a tired woman, shellshocked to have to fight a war she won a long time ago. A gruff and old-school feminist, defending politically correct verbiage (that insidious hydra) at its most vital and overlooked chokepoint. A kind and prematurely certain young man trying to carve out definition in a world with fewer and fewer parameters. A brilliant idealist, made to play the villain for his commitment to some truly noble beliefs. A poem, unapologetically delivering on promises of expertise made from the beginning.
This play wastes no time: it is a rapid-fire, thumb-on-pulse, no-room-for-uncertainty piece of theater. It’s nice to walk away from any experience with so much mental and emotional stimulation - the world seems fresher, and like it makes more sense. Special note must be made of Delia Kropp, the actress who plays the poet Ondi - all performances are consistent and solid, but Kropp embodies a combination of compassionate confidence and exhausted resilience that carries the entire, considerable weight of the play. Raggedy And is current, moving, insightful, and bold - with the chops to back it up.
Raggedy And runs through April 10th at Rivendell Theatre, presented by Pride Films and Plays. More information here.