American playwright Rick Cluchey’s dark drama “The Cage” opens this Friday at the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre. The play centers around the lives of prisoners as they struggle for dominance over one another.
The play has only ever been produced through the San Quentin Drama Workshop, but the playwright has given permission for the play to be produced by graduate student Gavin Pickering.
The show brings an avant-garde approach to the staging. The back of the theater space is opened up and the audience is placed on the ground level. This makes the space much more intimate and brings the action closer to the audience. There are also security monitors in place to make the audience more involved in the action.
Pickering describes the space as being “as confining as possible.” He says it portrays “how interactions are forced upon each other just because they’re so close to one another.
“The play is perfect for college students because it is about rebellion against authority,” he said.
He went on to explain that each of the actors has brought their own expertise to the production and that the process has been very collaborative. Two of the actors are in the intermedia department and some of their artwork may be incorporated into the play.
Pickering explained that each inmate has different ways of dealing with their imprisonment. The play questions the effectiveness of the modern penal system and the psychological consequences of prison conditions.
The director said his strong interest in these psychological effects and drama therapy are what spurred him to choose this piece.
“This play can make a person think about the human condition,” Pickering said.
The play was written so an audience member can look past prejudices against prisoners and be forced to view them as they are — regular human beings.
The play was written in the ’60s and was performed to sold out audiences on Broadway. Pickering said the playwright is a former prisoner himself and brings a gritty “realism” to the dialogue. The play contains strong language, violence and sexual content and is for mature audiences only.
While this is Cluchey’s only major work, he has had several other plays workshopped through the San Quentin Drama Project. The play was also adapted into the film “Weeds,” starring Nick Nolte.
“I don’t think there is currently enough theater that challenges that status quo and pushes us outside our comfort zones,” Pickering said. “This show definitely does just that. I don’t like plays where people leave feeling full of love and happiness as much as plays that make the audience leave in silence, really thinking about what they just experienced. I hope for that to happen after people see this show.”
While the original production was performed inside a prison, the Pavilion — which has been given exclusive rights for the performance — has been transformed into a similar setting for the performance.
The show runs April 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and April 29 at 1 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.