The poet exists in fragments, living each moment through pieces of something larger. Poet and playwright Jason Yurcic weaves the fragments of a poetry stanza, a jail cell and a box filled with a dead father’s belongings into a story of hard-won reconciliation in his play Little Ghost.
Little Ghost is based on a well-traveled premise: A child, raised by a single but largely absent parent, finds comfort and security on the streets and is eventually saved from a life of violence and drugs through inner strength. In this case, the strength is anchored in literature, specifically poetry. The character of a young man, Emiliano (Angelo Jaramillo), propels the autobiographical story through various drug-related and violent scenarios until a poet appears.
The play begins with the sounds of sirens and a child weeping. Upstage, a mother comforts a child and we learn that Emiliano’s father has been killed. Downstage, the silhouette of a young man, Emiliano, appears in tandem with another figure, Little Freddy (Fredrick Lopez). It is Little Freddy who anoints the boy “Little Ghost” and introduces Emiliano to his new family.
It is at this point, early in the play, that Yurcic had a choice to make: Mount the weight of the story onto these two complicated characters, or rely on the oft-clichéd paradigm of salvation from street life to the triumph of a more stable existence. Interestingly, Little Ghost takes both approaches, but instead of benefiting from the strength of both story—no matter how predictable—and character development, the play idles on the cusp of grander ideas.
For example, during each performance there is a live poetry slam, during which members of the audience participate. Yurcic acts as the MC and reads the first poem each night. This element, which blurs the line between spectator and performer, opens the play to a new perspective with each performance. Rather than prescribe a singular experience, the play adapts a new identity. It’s a move where Yurcic, rather ingeniously, dramatically materializes the figurative ideas within the play with a literal act and is successful because the dialogue doesn’t become expository.
On the other hand, by vacillating between the poetic oratory and the staged performance, there is a glimpse of possibility, of a true multi-disciplinary experience, but because the story and the narrative are so committed in its forward movement—to tell the story of a person being saved from a life of crime—it limits rather than expands the experience.
Little Ghost concludes with a commentary on society that is, at best, bewildering. The play takes pains to unravel the story of Emiliano who, with the help of an ambiguous figure known only as “The Man” (local veteran actor Rudy “Froggy” Fernandez), siphons his rage into words, sentences and eventually poetry. In the concluding dialogue, the play upends Emiliano’s well-established inner conflicts and exports them to the exterior conflicts of a vastly over-demonized and vague idea of society.
One could argue that the struggles experienced by Emiliano are a product of societal ills, but it conflicts with his previously established behavior in the play, one that is notably his own. The result is disingenuous and adds to the sweeping conversation between the have and have-nots; the character doesn’t take accountability for his own actions.
Ultimately, the play is smart and intuitive, but lacks development. The elements for a powerful theatrical experience—such as the onstage chemistry between Jaramillo and Lopez—are there, but the story glosses over some enormous ideas, without providing the attention they deserve.
Written by Jason Yurcic and directed by W Nicholas Sabato. With Angelo Jaramillo, Fredrick Lopez and Rudy Fernandez
7 pm Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14; 2 pm Sunday, June 15, $15-$18
Armory for the Arts Theater, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, 984-1370