Review: “Shared Space” is a poignant reflection of the ‘60s

Play displays the humanity and diversity among us all

Review: “Shared Space” is a poignant reflection of the ‘60s

The cast of "Shared Space"

American University’s Department of Performing Arts debuted “Shared Space” on Oct. 3 through 6, presenting a bittersweet reflection on the 1960s centered around a diverse cast of characters. It brought representation for people of color that would not normally have been seen in a play about the 60s.

The play takes place in 1968, starring 14 college students in an off-campus house. Each of the students’ lives that the play delves into gave the audience a glimpse of the culture that thrived during the ’60s, including, but certainly not limited to, race, the Vietnam War, love, sex, drugs and feminism. 

The play follows the 14 characters through their own individual struggles. Most of the characters were introduced without their names, and instead the audience heard stream of consciousness monologues about their hopes, dreams and lives. Most of them want to escape the lives that they had been boxed into – their college, their lack of freedom, etc.

The characters ranged from the spunky Janice (Ileana Blustein) to the gentle Nina (Nicole Vaughan-Rodriguez), each one of them representing a specific facet of the ‘60s. For example, Janice represents the love of being radical, and Nina represents the families that were forced to wait and be positive while their husbands and brothers were off at war in Vietnam. The audience follows these characters through small snapshots of their lives together, but the show gives an in-depth look at the cultural climate of the 1960s in a way we could never experience just from history books.

The show displayed a unique set of the play’s time period, with posters reading “Make Art Not War” and a peace sign tapestry hanging over patterned couches. The characters sat on the couches as they told each of their unique stories. The mixture of both bitterness and humor allowed the audience to connect with the struggles of the characters. 

The title, “Shared Space,” becomes particularly significant after the characters stand together in unity, and the lights go down on the final scene. Walking away from the show, the name lingered in the audience’s mind. The play captures how similar our country is to the characters’ tiny house filled with diverse personalities and experiences. The touching piece shows that we all inhabit a shared space, and it is everyone’s space to inhabit.

Caleen Jennings, the writer and director of the play, has enough experience in her back pocket to put any playwright to shame. She has published 11 plays, including “Classy Ass” (which has been published in five anthologies), received AU’s Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award in 2003 and has been a dedicated professor at AU for 30 years. With her outstanding collection of previous works, not to mention her two nominations for Helen Hayes Awards, it’s no surprise that this particular piece was so well-written and excellently directed. As Caleen’s last show at AU, “Shared Space” was the best possible way to end on a high note.

“Shared Space” is worth every bit of praise. The play’s amazing cast, stellar script, fantastic directing and moving message made for an unforgettable experience. 

gbarry@theeagleonline.com

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