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Volume 77, Number 13 | Aug. 29- Sep.04, 2007

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, Living Theater members and their audience bonded at the end of last Thursday’s performance at Union Square. Below, Living Theater member Giorgia Zago “shot” a “prisoner” representing an immigrant.

Anarchists stage a memorial for Sacco and Vanzetti

By Jefferson Siegel

Last Thursday, Aug. 23, was the 80th anniversary of the deaths by electrocution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants who were followers of the anarchist movement. After their executions, hundreds of thousands of people rallied at Union Square in protest.

The Living Theater, itself a 60-year-old institution founded as an alternative to commercial theater, held a rally in Union Square last Thursday to commemorate the two anarchists’ deaths and cast a critical eye on the current assault on civil liberties.

At the stroke of 6 p.m., more than a dozen theater members fanned out across the south plaza, each proclaiming in a plaintive voice, “I’m not allowed to travel without a passport.” After several repetitions, their declaration took on the tone of a scream. The late-afternoon crowd relaxing in the sun and commuters passing through the park were at first unsure what to make of this display.

After a moment of silence, the players took up another chant, “I don’t know how to stop the killing.” Their tone again rose in intensity until each stood screaming the phrase.

The players then paired off, with one person holding his hands behind his back as though handcuffed and being led away. In a scene resembling an iconic image from the Vietnam War, theater members then re-enacted the actions of a South Vietnamese general holding a gun to the head of a Viet Cong prisoner and executing him.

Over and over, the “shooters” held two fingers up to the head of their “prisoners” and, over and over in slow motion, the “prisoners’” heads snapped as, mouth agape in a silent scream, they fell slowly to the ground.

After the horror of these symbolic executions set in, the players walked among the gathering crowd, silently touching arms and making gestures resembling pleas for understanding.

The 10-minute performance ended with the players and many who had stopped to watch gathering in a large circle, arms around each other, emitting a one-note hum in the spirit of unity.

Hanon Reznikov, a director of the Living Theater, said the rally and commemoration were organized by New York’s anarchist community.
Judith Molina, 81, a founder of the Living Theater, participated in the performance. The inspiration for the Living Theater and its unique performances, she said, was to recognize, “the suffering of the people, doing it through the arts.”

Giorgia Zago came to the U.S. from Italy six months ago and recently joined the Living Theater. Europeans are simply more politically aware and active than Americans, she said.

“It’s a huge reality in Europe because they’re so involved with social issues,” she explained.

Currently, the Living Theater, at 21 Clinton St. between Houston and Stanton Sts., is staging an updated version of “The Brig,” by Kenneth H. Brown, a veteran who survived incarceration in a U.S. Marine Corps brig during the 1950s. The play is a chilling portrait of the brutality of military prisons. Performances are held Wednesdays through Sundays.

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