Conceived by Byron Au Wong and Aaron Jafferis, an unconventional musical theater project, (Be)Longing, connects the New Haven community through conversation about serious issues.
Creator Aaron Jafferis prompted the audience before the opening, categorizing the show as an open forum calling for group participation. The set was artistically minimal only using folding chairs, old-fashioned light bulbs strung at staggered heights, and a simple illuminating background.
(Be)Longing’s storyline was not a traditional fairytale, but was a continuous thread of familiar situations surrounding the idea of violence. Starting from a child’s accidental gunfire, the musical conversation among the cast sparked. Differing sides of the gun control argument were represented.
The tragedy opens different avenues of discussion for everyone affected. Religion, minority stereotypes, social labels, gender roles and expectations, police brutality, and social media effectiveness were all touched upon throughout the show.
With a cast of 30 teens and adults, each created a poignant presentation through rap, spoken word, beat boxing and choral music. The only instruments used were small, smooth stones which served as the symbol for the show. The ensemble would use the clacking of the rocks in front of their mouths to produce an echo that varied with the opening and closing.
Intermission, renamed as Act II, was transformed into the audience’s call to action. Options included Mobilization, Contemplation and Creation. This was the time to contact senators about community issues, talk to the in-house therapist or reflect on the content of the show through writing.
The most memorable part of the piece was the heated debate centered around the Sandy Hook Shooting compared to New Haven’s Shootings – two tragedies that hit close to home. The contrast between the suburban and urban communities while trying to make sense of the aftermath held an interesting, often overlooked, perspective.
Overall, (Be)Longing was more than a play. It was a resonating, community-oriented experience that highlighted a continuous fight for a more peaceful future. Presented at Long Wharf Theatre as part of New Haven’s Arts & Ideas Festival, (Be)Longing offers continued open forum discussions throughout the rest of the month.