The Art Of Politically Engaged Art
The Ubuntu Theater Project is the most politically engaged theater company in the Bay Area, but if you like your theater to come with answers then Ubuntu will thwart you at every turn. Their latest, the world premiere of Lisa Ramirez’s Down Here Below is a rousing re-imagining of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths from which it takes both spiritual and aesthetic inspiration. An unsentimental and sharp depiction of the closing of an Oakland homeless encampment (imagine Snow Park at Lakeside and Harrison), Ramirez’s play — with a cast of twenty and running just 65-minutes — is both epic and swift.
Like her earlier To The Bone, which Ubuntu produced in 2017, Ramirez shows a great talent for taking the carcass of the socially engaged play and reanimating it with real artistic feeling and ideas. In an age where the rhetoric of our artists have become as threadbare as our politicians, it’s a relief to experience a political play that believes in the demands of art and the strange contours of actual experience.