The Public Theatre Gets Political with “The Low Road”

By Emma Hernando, Staff Writer

With the stress brought on by America’s current political climate, we are inundated by every source of entertainment media addressing politics- from social media to the Oscars. Sometimes it seems the only place we truly can escape are through theatre and film, but because these times are so pivotal, theatre makers seem unable to idly stand by as all this goes down. The Public Theatre is no stranger to this, having become infamous for their depiction of Donald Trump as Julius Caesar – complete with him being stabbed on stage- they are none to shy away from political commentary or controversy. Political theatre is often a hit or miss, but the Public’s newest production, “The Low Road,” has definitely hit the mark.


The play is told through the narration of economist, Adam Smith (Daniel Davis). It begins as some kind of twisted fairytale- a baby is dropped at the door of a brothel. He is taken in by the mistress of the brothel, Mrs. Trewitt (Harriet Harris). The boy, given the name Jim Trewitt (Chris Perfetti), grows up to have a knack for finance and becomes the accountant of the brothel, subtly stealing money from the girls. After saving a sufficient amount of money, he runs off to the city to become a businessman. Jim purchases a slave, named John Blanke (Chukwedi Iwuji) who fools Jim into believing that he is deaf and steals all his food and clothing. Yet just as John is getting away, he is also robbed by a hooded thief who before making an escape, chains Jim to John. The pair are saved by a group of good samaritans, with whom Jim debates against equal distribution of wealth, claiming that because he worked for his money he should keep it. Throughout the rest of the play and into the second act, this economic debate continues to be brought up as John and Jim go from living with puritans to working for New York City millionaires.


“The Low Road,” is the most recent play by Pulitzer prize winning playwright, Bruce Norris. His plays are famous for their topical content and Norris is a known cynic. In the words of The Public’s current artistic director Oskar Eustis, he is suspicious of human nature, deeply skeptical about systems and profoundly pessimistic about our species. Yet this is not to say that because the playwright has this viewpoint that the play is pessimistic.


In fact, the play’s cynicism and irony is what makes it so ingenious. Because Norris develops each side of the complex arguments so thoroughly, it becomes difficult to see the playwright backing either stance. At one point in the play, when Jim Blanke puts on a play meant to demonstrate the cruelties of slavery, he simultaneously bemoans the notion of using a play as political activism- claiming it is antithetical to the very purpose of activism as it allows the audience to standby and do nothing.


In today’s political climate we should indulge in art that can take us out of our circumstances, but we also need art that can also address them in such an entertaining and impartial way as, “The Low Road.” If you’re looking for a performance that will make you laugh and question your own political philosophies all within the same breath, look no further than The Public Theatre’s most recent production.


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