Radical Islam has invaded the United States. The streets are patrolled by “eggheads” (Arabs wearing white helmets), the major cities are devastated by bombings, and Americans are forced to remain inside—if they go outside, they risk being hanged (the women) or castrated (the men). Some form of Sharia Law runs the country. In other words, what will happen verbatim if Barack Obama gets another term. However, one character suspects that some “corporate entity” is behind the whole thing—in that case, what will happen verbatim if Mitt Romney is elected.
Ellen’s (Hani Furstenberg) apartment is littered with debris and bodies (the latter add “texture to the room”). Her vagina, her room, and her medicine cabinet are rented out for goods and services. A boy in the hallway is briefly confused for a wild dog before he is shot. The phrase “What I would kill for…” is no longer figurative. And Sir Ben Kingsley is dead. There is a little of Sarah Kane to Adam Rapp’s Through the Yellow Hour. Enough, anyway, that when a baby appears, my first reaction was, “Meat.” But Mr. Rapp does not have the same cynical worldview as his British predecessor. There is more hope. Ellen is a pediatric nurse and the baby is cared for.
Furthermore, unlike Kane’s best work, Rapp’s thematic landscape is muddled, or perhaps just unimaginative. Through the Yellow Hour is best when it remains obscure, when it doesn’t try to answer its own questions. In the beginning, when we only think some sort of religious jihad has caused this chaos, the play is darkly effective. Malcolm X said of Kennedy’s assassination, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” The same is hinted at, with less political vitriol, when Maude (Danielle Slavick), Ellen’s guest, asks her host, “When was the last time you went outside? We’re approaching a state of rubble. It’s starting to look like Chicago out there. Gaza.” There is also a nice, surreal moment, before one of the earlier blackouts, when the dead man on Ellen’s floor (Brian Mendes) silently turns his head to lock eyes with her.
Later, however, we are given more information. As if often the case, over-specificity drains these images of their power. Somewhere outside of New York, there is a heavily funded farm—owned by a “Mrs. Winship”—that is breeding strong, white children. Nonwhite boys work with the animals, while a woman named Claire (Joanne Tucker) and a doctor (Matthew Pilieci) travel around the country collecting “fertile females.” One of them is the baby, who Ellen trades for a tabula rasa boy from the farm, Darius (Vladimi Versailles). Darius and Ellen act as a counterpoint to the farm—a white woman nearing thirty, a Black boy of fourteen, whose sexual and emotional union defies whatever eugenics is being plotted by Mrs. Winship. What little that remains of Sarah Kane exits the stage when Ellen tells Darius, then makes him repeat after her, “The world is going to be a better place … Even in the dark of night, there is always a glimmer.” And the dead man recites a monologue, a letter from Ellen’s husband, Peter. Though Mr. Mendes has a sonorous voice, we could really be spared, “I’m not sure if knowing matters. If truth matters. I think it does.”
All of this, of course, reeks of political allegory, but what is the point? Is this a polemic for those who are undecided about ethnic cleansing? For people who are still waging the war against miscegenation? Perhaps it has something to say to Americans who unabashedly hate Arabs—something bare bones and uninspired—but what is the chance they will ever find their way into the audience? Through the Yellow Hour has all the baffling sincerity of a man screaming at Al Sharpton that separate is inherently unequal.