We know there is poverty in Rhode Island. Poverty is everywhere. We know there is homelessness in Rhode Island. Homelessness is everywhere. Both poverty and homelessness are complex social and economic issues with no easy solutions.
But The Rhode Island Community Food Bank, The Trinity Repertory Company, artist Bob Jaffe and writer David Eliet have brought a separate, yet related, issue to light in But for the Grace….Voices of Hunger in Rhode Island. But for the Grace…. is a brilliant, simple, well-acted and significant original work. But it’s the problem that it highlights that really hits you when you think about it.
The statistics are staggering. So many people are actually going hungry in the United States – a land of plenty. In Rhode Island, one out three people served by the food bank is a child under 18. 34% of food recipients must choose between paying for food and medicine or medical care. Over 60% served are women. The recipients are not derelicts looking for an easy out. Increasingly they are families – the working poor.
This is not in the Deep South, not in Appalachia, but right here in Rhode Island. Perhaps the most heart-breaking statistic is that this problem is fixable. That’s what Bob Jaffe and Andrew Schiff, Executive Director of the RI Food Bank presented to the audience in a chat after the performance.
The venue of the Pell-Chaffee, Citizen’s Bank Theater was perfect. Except for some minor audio issues, the stark, plain, but austere and somehow spiritual space worked well with its high domed ceiling. Lighting changes, props, small costume pieces and a tremendous amount of talent helped Bob Jaffee portray a dozen or so characters – convincingly - on stage. His characters represented the real people that were interviewed in the process of creating this theater piece. Old, young, men, women and children are hungry. Our cost of living, including necessary medical care has become so cost prohibitive that more and more are going without.
Another review I read of But for the Grace… gave a few sentences of praise to the production and then largely described, without much emotion, the parade of characters. I think the Rhode Island Food Bank, the work of Bob Jaffe and those in need, deserve a little more emphasis on the purpose of this production and how close any of us (as the title intimates) are at any time to be thrown by circumstance into a cycle of need, guilt and hunger.
Many of the hungry in Rhode Island are elderly. We are all headed for old age soon enough. Will we be prepared? Will there be family around to assist us if needed? Will our savings be drained by an unexpected accident or lingering illness?
This production does give the audience plenty of food for thought. Bob Jaffe’s statement keeps ringing in my ears. “This is fixable. This is a problem we can solve”. I resolve to be part of the solution. Whose child will you let go to bed hungry tonight?
To find out more about the Rhode Island food bank and to see what you can do to help visit the website www.rifoodbank.org.
But for the Grace… will be taken on the road soon and performed at schools, community centers and other neighborhood venues to being the message out to the citizenry. If you did not get a chance to see it at the Pell-Chaffe Center, be sure to get to see one of the on the road performances. And take a few well-fed friends.