Monday, February 25, 2008

Miss Evers' Boys

Outrage is easy.

Such things as the Tuskegee Study on the Symptoms of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Males are one of those things that appear to be cut-and-dried wrong. In fact, it's disingenuous to say "appear to be." It was wrong, pure and simple. It was a breach of medical ethics, a breach of humanity, and a breach of civil rights. It's the sort of travesty that makes us hang our heads in shame.

Where Miss Evers' Boys, performed last weekend and this weekend at Riverwalk Theatre, succeeds is that it provides the outrage while making the perpetrators sympathetic. While the play is fascinating on many levels, I was especially drawn to the idea that the successful portrayal of the subjectivity of the situation underlined the ethical absolutes.

The central character, Nurse Eunice Evers (based on the real life character Nurse Eunice Rivers), played with passion and subtlety by Monica Sanders, explains why she did what she did. It's a compelling story and we come to understand that things were not as simple as they appear from our modern eyes. There were reasons she did what she did--there were shades of gray.

However, playwright David Feldshuh doesn't let her off the hook. For all that we come to a greater understanding and empathy of Evers, what she did was still wrong.

It's been popular for many years now to claim that there are no absolutes, that there is no black and white; that everything is gray. Miss Evers' Boys makes a compelling argument that while there are plenty of shadows and shading that lead us to make the choices that we do, there are still things which are right and things which are wrong. If we were in Miss Evers's shoes, we might make the same choices that she did--but our complicity doesn't justify those choices or make them somehow right. Rather, it identifies that we share human failings and weaknesses and need each other to overcome them. And we need good theater that keeps us from getting too complacent or self-justifying.

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