'Camel'. A thoughtful play for the 4/20 season.

The New Natives and FRIGID New York present a new play about love, loss, and marijuana

Camel is a timely play to review in this, the 4/20 season. It follows small-time pot dealer Gus (Anthony Severance) and his psychotropic quest to reclaim the memory of a high-school fling. Subject of said fling, Louie (Jillian Geurts), has recently died and begun appearing in his dreams. He sells to his main regular Eddy (Joel Brady) in order to finance buying pot from fellow dealer Ezme (Karen Johal). She sells him an expensive experimental brand called 'Camel' that supposedly allows the user to relive memories. Through this he delves in to the murky realms of his psyche. Gus tries to recapture, and then pick apart, his time with Louie, but will he ultimately find the solace he is looking for?

This play, by relatively new playwright Charly Clive (Previous works include the well-received On Prosperity, and Britney), is at once a memory play and an immediate dystopian-nostalgia piece. Its concerns are hard to pin down neatly. It is not a play about the tragedy of the burnout or the horrors of drug-abuse, though it touches on the subject every now and again. It is a play about the small American town and its inhabitants, but you would never call that its thesis. In its simplest, it is a fascinating slice-of-life, looking at loss and the relationship of the millennial generation to drugs. Interestingly, the play neither condemns nor condones drug use. The character of Gus is probably using unwisely, however we clearly see him having the spiritual experience he craves. His problem is not drugs, per se, but his longing for a feeling or place that does not exist, and perhaps could never have existed. This feeling of not knowing is what drives him forward trying to capture the unknowable, and wreaks havoc on his emotional stability.

Photo: Katelyn Rose Landis

Anthony Severance is the MVP of this production. He is onstage for practically the whole show, and his character's decline is masterful to watch. By the time he gets feverish the audience is ready to watch him be so, and they are prepared to tune in to whatever borderline insanity he might churn out. Karen Johal is, like her character, an expert in throwing back whatever is thrown at her. Absolutely necessary when dealing with Gus. Joel Brady is a wonderfully lovable small town nobody, and is faultless in his simplicity. Jillian Geurts is a marvelous memory, and, if anything, the only crime she commits is not being on stage more often. Director Michael Bradshaw Flynn has made excellent use of his cast.

Where the play falls into trouble is length and pacing. The first act feels unnecessarily padded. So much is said about the characters that feels redundant, or has already been shown elsewhere, and it stalls the plot, preventing us from getting to the meat of play sooner. In contrast, the play's climax and denouement all seem to happen at once. This is interesting stylistically, but prevents the play from drawing a palpable conclusion, or leaving the audience with a distinct emotion to go home with. Camel toes the line with regard to conventional structure. It never becomes overly problematic, but it is occasionally distracting to an audience member.

The New Natives and FRIGID New York have put together something special here. The cast are strong, the writing is funny, the direction is excellent, and the final product an edible delight. Clive's voice as a playwright is one that will likely be heard often in the coming years. You would be wise to start listening now. Catch Camel while you still can.

Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.