Some people join the Occupy movement to rise up against a corrupt system. Tommy Nugent showed up with his picket sign to try and get the word “asshole” on national TV.
But we often end up staying for different reasons than we came, and Nugent’s comic monologue about his involvement with the Occupy Detroit movement — clownish at first, then curious and participatory — eloquently sheds light on how a national call to action behaves on the local level.
Assuming the role of the Reverend Nuge, a persona he brought to the Capital Fringe stage last year with the show Preacherman, Nugent finds himself drawn to the storm of communal outrage and excitement that burst open, in so many cities, into a spontaneous alternate America over these past months.
But Nugent is not a mere observer. Soon he’s camping out, shooting video for the movement’s media working group, and lending his voice to the Occupy Our Homes initiative against big-bank eviction. So to its great credit, OCCUPY This! also offers a quick but studied look at how the very American trait of looking down on the unfortunate can so easily transform into the equally American trait of banding together for something you believe in.
Nugent speaks rapidly and excitedly, perched forward on his stool. The show has a refreshingly stripped-down, open-mic vibe — no design or theatrics, just a storyteller sharing.
Much of the narrative about how he found his way into the thick of the movement deserves to be discovered during the ride, so I won’t spoil much here. But many themes and storylines leave us with a lot to ponder. The myriad ways that the Occupy population begins to blend with Detroit’s homeless population, for example, proves fascinating, as do his anecdotes about how people tenuously balance helping each other survive with maintaining enough self-protection to shield themselves from theft, harm, or humiliation.
Nugent also does mediations and seminars with young people around the country, blending a career of professional speaking with a life in theatre. It’s clear, from his work over the past 15 years, that he uses his head and his heart in equal measure. His keenly observant eye and journalistic impulse allow him to recede into “fly-over mode” at times, talking big politics and systemic issues. But his innate sense of charity and camaraderie carry him back into the trenches again and again, bringing rich details to light about the gritty, loving, fraught day-to-day at the encampment.
OCCUPY This! has its unkempt moments, and would rise to new levels with some continued sculpting. Nugent, perpetually revved up, guns the show like an exciting bar story, and certain sequences whip by without making full impact. Collaborating a bit with a fellow artist or director, perhaps, could aid in some minor untangling needed to let the show shine its fullest, ensuring that the most emotionally important moments of the story truly stick. But as is, with its moments of minor swerving, the show is still largely entertaining and provocative, and we stay with it the whole time.
Alongside the Reverend Nuge we meet professional storytellers, artists, campers, photographers, politicians, CEOs, war veterans, local heroes, and many more. They fight against unfair foreclosures, rigged elections, and corrupted legal systems. But eventually, as Nugent says it, “We went from fighting against to fighting for.” Who can’t appreciate that?
In joining up with a corps of Americans committed to befriending those in need of help, he becomes something much different than a solo performer. Nugent has grown a smart show here, full of humor and big ideas, but it’s a blossom with even deeper roots than we expected.
OCCUPY This! Tales of an Accidental Activist has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012 at Caos on F, 923 F St NW, Washington, DC
Details and tickets