The performance by formerly homeless people at the Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly at Glenelg Country School Friday was disturbingly provocative not only because of its content.
"Voices from the Streets," a cast of adults and children, shared raw, uncensored glimpses of life they have led and seen as homeless people in shelters and on the streets of Washington. But they played in front of picture windows and a backdrop of forests and colonial homes.
The actors wore T-shirts with a "Voices from the Streets" logo infront and the words, "Is anyone minding the children?" on the back. The sixth- to 12th-grade students wore the latest chic in coats and ties, sweaters and skirts.
The 10-act, hour-long performance began gently. Two tenors, singing a cappella, shared "Keep smiling, keep shining, know you can always count on me," "There's a place for us," and "I believe the children are the future."
The program ended with two teen-age girls performing a rap song about a drug-related shooting death outside a shelter.
In between came increasingly frank and brutal narrations of life among the urban poor, telling of rape, sodomy, murder and suicide.
There was the story of the "simple black dress in the closet of every poor black woman" -- "worn when an 8-year-old child is violated, a 15-year-old is talking of suicide, a teen-age mother is trying to care for her three babies."
There was the story of Ella, the social worker who says " 'I love you baby, I love you' 600 times a day to the most endangered children in the world" andwishes she was a godmother with a magic wand.
"How long can the children resist when the drug peddler comes and says,'The good stuff you see on TV, you can have it all,' " she asked.
And then she toldof herself, "battered, abused, raped, sent into the streets running for my life," until told "I love you, I believe in you."
"You can't say 'I love you' too often," Ella said.
There was the story of shootings -- Jackie and Robin dead, killed by their father because he believed they would be "better off living with God than in the shelter." And baby Merelene, killed by a random bullet in a gunfight outside the shelter.
"How many suffering children does it take to make acrisis or national disaster?" a narrator asked. "Why does everythinghave to be so hard?" one child actor asked another. "I don't know," the other responded. "That's the way it is, I guess."
After each skit, after each story, students who appeared to be paying rapt attention, offered genuine, enthusiastic applause.
But when told at 2:05p.m. that they were dismissed, they rushed off hurriedly -- many to expensive German-made cars. "Let's go to the mall. You going to the mall?" one student asked some friends.
Several others spoke about the program they had just seen.
"It was informative," Nicky said, "although I know everything that was going on. It was nice. The kids were pretty good."
"Basically, I already understood it very well," said Mike. "It was interesting."
"It's a different perspective of life," Elizabeth said.
"I thought it was excellent," Roxanne said."It's good to have a different perspective of life. I am glad they were motivated to do that."
Karen Simon, who has been directing theVoices ensemble for three years, said she doubted cast members know they were playing to such an affluent audience."
"Even if they did, it wouldn't matter," she said. "If just one person is influenced orsensitized, then it's worth it."