Friday, February 23, 2018

Russ' “America is Hard to See”: A Play on "Innocent Nymphets"



I read Collins-Hughes’ intriguiing review of “America is Hard to See” in the New York Times. Consequently, I saw the play at the Here arts space. Collins-Hughes summarizes the “piece of documentary theater” that she describes as “smart and troubling”:

“A group of ex-cons in a therapy session introduce themselves, outlining the crimes that landed them in prison.”
“A bearded guy, Thomas, says he fondled his step-granddaughter for a year and a half before he was stopped. Chris, a fresh-faced 22-year-old, says his girlfriend turned out to be 14. And Chad, a handsome [gay] man with haunted eyes, a soft drawl and an aw-shucks charm, says he used to be a teacher. He would rather not go into details, but he molested one of his students.”

Travis Russ, the playwright and director, relates in the programme: “Every character in this play is based on a real person. The script is based on interview transcripts and archival research documents.”

Russ conducted the interviews at the Miracle Village Ministries. The Florida institution’s website states: “Our staff has years of experience providing help and hope to registered sex offenders who have served their time and would like to rejoin society.”

There were several issues that I noted as I watched the performance:

1. Both of the heterosexual affairs were consensual but, as usual, only the men went to jail. For example, Thomas’ 12-year-old step-granddaughter initiated the affair by sitting on his lap in a bath robe before she put her hand on his penis, but she didn’t go to jail as well.

And Chris passed a polygraph test stating that he didn’t know that his girlfriend was 14-years-old. She lied about her age, but she didn’t go to jail and have to undergo years of counseling at Miracle Village Ministries.

2. Ironically, Miracle Village Ministries’ mission is to prevent ephebophiles from having relationships with nymphets, but nympholepsy is condoned in the three major religions. For instance, per the documentary Are All Men Pedophiles? (2013), Mary was 12 or 15-years-old when she gave birth to Jesus and Muhammed (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the prophet of Islam, married Aisha when she was 6-years-old but consummated the marriage when she was 9. One would think that the Miracle Village Ministries’ mission would be to prevent pre-marital sex.

3. Lastly, Thomas and Chris didn’t have trouble getting into relationships despite their humbling pasts. For example, as Collins-Hughes related: “Pastor Patti introduces her college-student daughter (Gareth Tidball) to Chris, and they fall in love.” 

That reminded me of Academy Award nominated film director Roman Polanski who shared in his autobiography: “Many women seem irresistibly attracted by notoriety, and many – especially since the Los Angeles affair – are eager to meet me.” The "Los Angeles affair" is in reference to when 44-year-old Polanski gave drugs to thirteen-year-old Samantha Geimer before he raped and sodomized her.