A personal review of SUSPENDED


by Jameel Spann*

The inmate population at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri is abuzz with praise about the latest production from Upstream Theater, “Suspended.” The play is centered on an extended dialogue between two African refugees who flee a civil war in their native country and struggle to acclimate themselves in a Western city. While an ambitious spirit has driven one character, Isaac, to start a window-cleaning business in the unnamed Western city, efforts to repress images of the war that he managed to escape four years prior weigh heavily on his spirit. The horrors of bearing witness to the murders of both his father and brother, and his subsequent enlistment as an adolescent foot-soldier with the rebel forces that claimed their lives, rise to the forefront of his conscience when he hires childhood friend, Benjamin.

Unlike Isaac, Benjamin has just arrived in the West, and rather than accommodating himself to its customs his primary initiative is to confront the ways in which the effects of the war continue to wrack his spirit. The reunion of old friends as they hang alongside a building several stories in height creates an enthralling metaphorical backdrop for viewers. From start to finish both characters are literally and figuratively harnessed and suspended in multiple respects. Their extensive discourse unpacks a myriad of social issues ever present in Western culture, including but certainly not limited to the indifference Western nations typically have for the victims of revolutionary conflicts who flee to the West.  But these social issues are all focused through the intimate lens of a conversation between old friends, rendering them all the more captivating as a result.   Their job of washing the windows of corporate offices, for example, depicts them as being granted access to view rather than participate fully in the world to which they fled. Socioeconomic or sociocultural status notwithstanding, viewers will connect with the experiences of the characters, as the play artfully personalizes the prism of social issues that refract their subtle rays yet remain largely ignored in an otherwise evolving world.


*Jameel Spann is a recent graduate of the Washington University Prison Education Project.  He is now living in St. Louis and working at Watlow, a company that manufactures and distributes heating systems globally.  He plans to continue his studies at University College at Washington University. The Washington University Prison Education Project provides college courses in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Math to incarcerated students and prison staff at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri. Operating since September, 2014, the program now offers some sixteen courses per year.  Upstream Theater has performed four plays at the prison. 



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