A review and commentary on The Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1
by Bronlynn Thurman
photos courtesy of New World Performance Lab
Everyone knows that the veins of Akron originally flowed with rubber. It was both our bread and our butter. It fed, clothed and kept us mobile. Its history runs deep, and with the death of an age we struggle to find a new way to define ourselves.
We are now “The City of Invention,” a city that knows how to build from the pieces and parts left to it. Yet, as the years tick by and our love of community continues to flourish, we forget to examine and criticize the past that led us here.
“The Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1” is the brainchild of Colombian actor and director Jairo Cuesta. Through a one-man play, he tells the story of a man from the Uitoto Tribe found in the upper Amazon area. Over the course of an hour we are led through his life, the meeting of the white man and the destruction of the tribe.
Cuesta is a stellar actor who captivates his audience with his vivid storytelling. The setting of the play spills out towards the audience allowing us to immerse ourselves in the experience. The language, song and dance wraps around you while the world outside drops away. This is his story, and it deserves to be heard.
We all know the time of the rubber barons was two-fold. The industry was booming, but pollution was rampant. People were worked to the bone, and the segregation along economic lines was very real. There’s more to the story. It’s time to think beyond our city to where this line started, and that was the goal of the New World Performance Lab.
In an attempt to engage the community, NWPL had a talkback which allowed the audience to ask questions and further learn about our history. We discussed the difficulties surrounding portraying minority groups accurately. Cuesta and the director James Slowiak got the chance to travel to the Amazon to meet with the Uitoto people of the Tacana. They presented a piece of the play to them and in addition to the approval to tell their story, they were also given tips on how to make it more real.
There was also a discussion about how this type of history is not taught in schools and that the voices of the people negatively affected were not heard. By creating this play, we are now able to put a face to the people who were so viciously decimated for the sake of furthering our economy.
Akron is in a rebirth period with a new focus on community love and redefining ourselves, we should not hide from our past. Instead of it absorbing the blame and feeling bad, we should be turn a critical eye to it and figure out how to fix the issues that are present in our lives. As Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
As an elf, Bronlynn is intrigued by the history of the humans. She uses plays to address the lack of connection felt by traditional history retelling. Follow her at @_bront_ on IG and Twitter.