What's it about?
Seeing You is a theatrical experience that immerses its audience in the brutal realities of a too-close-for-comfort community of citizens living in a 1940s Hoboken.
What I experienced?
While waiting in line outside the space, I exchange my ticket reservation for a small piece of paper:
It's from the "War Department" and it's asking me to write down what I think is the total number of acceptable casualties. This paper, I am told, will grant me entry into the building.
Shortly before I make my way inside, I grab a dog-tag from the table and hang it around my neck. Mine says:
I'LL FIND YOU
I immediately think of the song, I'll Be Seeing You:
I check my belongings (including my cell phone and purse) in the mandatory/complementary coat check. From this point on, I am only allowed to speak when spoken to. I cross the threshold of a curtained archway, stopping to exchange pleasantries with an old man, a congressman. We shake hands and make small talk, before the conversation shifts. He asks me where I am from. America, I answer, without even thinking. New York City. He continues to inquire about the countries my family is from. I tell him, Greece, Russia, and Germany. He pauses, and looks at me strangely, asking me how I would feel if two of the countries of my family's origin were at war with each other. I tell him I would feel conflicted and upset, and the situation obviously wouldn't be ideal. "War isn't ideal," he answers, without even blinking. He tells me about a Japanese-American school teacher who works in town, and mentions that she must be conflicted about the war. He asks me if he thinks he should keep an eye on her. I feel like I am being graded, but I hold my ground and answer no. He replies, "Well, maybe I should be keeping an eye on you," before halfheartedly laughing and inviting me to a town meeting later in the night.
I walk further into the space and spot a young, frightened-looking woman, by herself. She grabs my hand and pulls me over to a bench where we both sit down. She asks me if I am married. No, I tell her. She asks if I have a boyfriend? Also, no. She asks if I would like one. That's a yes. If I would like children. Eventually, yes. She tells me that she just found out she is carrying her husband's child. But she doesn't look happy, she looks terrified, because her husband is about to be shipped off to war, AGAIN, for the third time. She glances at me sadly, "I don't think you get lucky three times." She goes on to say that if her husband doesn't make it, she doesn't think she even wants the baby. "Does that make me a bad person?" she asks. No, I answer confidently.
The town meeting is called to a start. Soldiers crowd everybody in so my shoulders are touching the shoulders of the people to my right and left. The congressman stands on a table in the center of us, announcing that along with the new weapon developed to be used against Japan will inevitably come casualties, including Japanese civilian lives. He asks us to take out the ballots we were given earlier and write down the total number of acceptable casualties. Tiny pencils are passed around. I waste no time in writing down, "0," and handing in my ballot. I can't imagine that anyone would truly believe there is such thing as acceptable mass casualties. How can we be expected to weigh the value of American lives versus Japanese lives?
There's an air raid. Alarms are blaring and lights are flashing. It's difficult to think clearly in the chaos. We are moved like cattle to an area where we are made to stand with our hands atop our heads and our heads bent down. Everything about this is uncomfortable, the flashing lights, the noise, the proximity to so many people. I don't know how much more of this I can stand. I squeeze my eyes shut, but I can still see the pulsing spots of light. And just like that, it's over. It wasn't a real raid. It was just a drill.
I am in a jazz club, seated at a table next to a young American soldier. He flirts, the image of the stereotypical All-American. He appears smitten, and I am amused, until he asks me what number I wrote down. When I say "0," his eyes take on a hard glint. "Why?" he asks, pointedly. I try to articulate that I don't support mass casualties, especially those of civilians. He argues that I am unpatriotic, that it should be an eye for an eye. I counter back that two wrongs don't make a right. He excuses himself from my table.
I am drafted into war. It's my duty as an American, I am told. I can't take it seriously, because I can't envision a world, time, or place, where I would ever allow myself to fight in a war. But I am lined up, at attention, with my fellow soldiers, while we are judged by our superiors. We are expected to act like machines that obey on command. One soldier gets right in my space with a menacing look on his face, daring me to look away. It's impossible for me not to laugh. I could never make it as a soldier, even as a pretend solider. I pray he doesn't single me out. I don't think I would fare well if he talked to me.
There are two gay soldiers, clearly attracted to each other but left with no other choice but to hide their attraction. It sickens me to think how recent of a time this is in American history.
I am participating in a "blood drive" to aid the war effort. There are giant tubes of blood hanging down from the ceiling and nurses splattered in red.
I am one of the many in a crowd of people attending a big performance to support the war effort, complete with singing, a pregnant dancer, and a lady dressed as a bedazzled atomic bomb. Both the African American entertainer and the Japanese-American art teacher are featured on stage and treated like little more than racist caricatures, like enemies, subhuman. In a disturbing finale, the ballots from the town meeting are fired into the audience, showering us with the anonymous sheets of paper displaying other peoples' total numbers of acceptable Japanese casualties. I pick up a ballot from the floor, but I can't tell if I am looking at two widely-drawn zeros placed very close together or an infinity sign. I can only hope for the former.
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