Lampedusa: More realistic hope might be more robust

promo photo for Lampedusa

Melissa Oei and Robert Garry Haacke in Lampedusa.
(Credit: Javier R. Sotres Photography)

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but I think Lampedusa is naïve. That said, it’s about important things and it’s getting a handsome production from Pi Theatre.

In his script, playwright Anders Lustgarten weaves together two narratively unrelated monologues. In Leeds, Denise collects debts for a payday loan company. At first, she defends her predatory employer, telling us that the interest rates are there in black-and-white for anybody to read. The implication is that anyone who signs up is an idiot and deserves what they get. But she starts to change her tune when what’s left of England’s welfare state threatens to cut off her disabled mom’s stipend.

Layering on more stress, Denise, who is mixed-race, is often on the receiving end of racial slurs.

The play’s other narrator, Stefano, is a fisherman who lives on the Italian island of Lampedusa, near Africa. For thousands of refugees, it’s the first European landfall, but many don’t make it. Stefano tells us that “The Med is dead” — the Mediterranean can no longer support him as a fisherman, so he has taken a job retrieving refugees — almost always corpses — from the water. He says the drowned bodies he handles feel “like oiled, lumpy rubbish bags sliding through your fingers”.

It seems clear that the play is fundamentally about capitalism, which celebrates individual striving — and selfishness, to the point of cruelty. The disadvantaged and different are dismissed as weak, stupid — and unwelcome. They are less than human. They’re not us. And they cause all the problems. [Read more…]

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