Past is Present

The teens of Cry Havoc Theater Company school us with a sobering lesson in the devised work A History of Everything at the Margo Jones Theatre.

“I am more frightened of an infinite human race than I am of an infinite universe.” — an actor in the cast of The History of Everything, in a post-show talk-back

Dallas — For 14 days Cry Havoc Theater Company artistic director Mara Richards Bim worked with seven female and six male actors from seven high schools. They created and rehearsed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The result was the 70-minute play, A History of Everything, currently playing at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.

Walking into the Margo Jones space feels like entering a rehearsal space. To the left is an assortment of props, seemingly endless, that have been methodically assembled and organized by Korey Parker. Scrawled butcher block paper scrolls across the walls, present but not particularly noticeable, certainly not legible. The floor is covered with a map of the world that is covered with raised clues of a sort to what will transpire. Lori Honeycutt (technical director) has designed a set that both confirms the what and inserts question marks about the how.

Actors, costumed by Dusty Reasons in black, enter the darkened space to the opening of Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra (which most people identify as the soundtrack to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey). From that point forward the history of human civilization is told in retrograde, with some pop culture included. Words banned in Iran-Cuba-United States … Jerusalem vs. Tel Aviv … transplanted uterus … Boko Haram … Flint water … the death of Prince … Arab spring … Too Big to Fail … Katrina … 9/11 ... Google ... Rwanda … Dolly the sheep … the Migrant Mother … Treblinka … Delacroix’ La Liberté … Stonehenge … Lascaux … singularity. These are just a few of the historical markers these teens included.

They bring to this project an awareness of what is happening in the world, and a vibrant curiosity about events that have led to this moment in time. They made lists of historical events that were important enough to highlight, writing them down on the paper that now scrolls the walls. A shift in tone happens when they arrive at World War II, using the Charlie Chaplin film The Geat Dictator to great effect.

Understandably, 13 people generated too many events to fit into the time constraints of a play. The directors reserved fact-checking rights and guided the decision-making process to determine which events would make the final cut.

What is at once fascinating and sobering about what the teens included is that their list punches us with what worries them, with what they think is important. For anyone of the opinion that today’s youth are oblivious to events surrounding them, this play suggests something completely different.

Every member of the cast—Mary Bandy, Andrew Beeson, Lillie Davidson, Angie Hogue, Regina Juarez, Lucky Lawhorn II, Keyshawn Lefall, Madison Meadows, Jordan Mercado, Ashley Neece, Jamaya Parker, Sheldrick Pearl, and Fabian Rodriguez—is wonderful. They represent Seagoville High, Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, W.T. White High, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Skyline High, and Arlington’s Lamar High. Their pride in their creation is palpable; they exude confidence and sincerity of purpose. The director has sculpted an order and method that is unexpected and interesting, with moments that are clever but not superfluous.

During the post-show talkback at the Sunday matinee, the students were asked about their takeaway from the experience. They expressed surprise upon discovering how much history is omitted in schools. As Google-era children, they do not think they should have to rely upon the Internet for their lessons in history, and would like to see the issues within our system of education remedied.

A History of Everything is an alarm bell not for the teens, but for adults, reminding us of one inescapable truth: the children are watching, and listening.