Danny Bryck's Phenomenal “No Room For Wishing” and the Critical Dilemma of Occupy as Entertainment

In the sad new book Fire In The Ashes, author Jonathan Kozol describes the shady side of Manhattan in the 1980s when, in ways not seen in decades, extravagant financial glut co-existed with abject poverty. Some of the most shameful slums were hidden in the massive midtown hotels that rotted years earlier; it was there that New York's poorest residents lived before being exiled to the squalor of the South Bronx. One of those dilapidated tenements, a 34th Street gutter known as the Martinique, was where Kozol met many of the characters whose lives he detailed in social justice classics like Amazing Grace.

Fire In The Ashes revisits the tragic juxtaposition between haves and have-nots in Gordon Gekko's Gotham. In 1987, wealth disparity was on spectacular display on Broadway, where Les Miserables opened to major acclaim. Kozol writes that as people flocked to drop money on the musical about misery, poor children from buildings like the Martinique took to plucking heartstrings, and panhandling outside of the theater. This practice came to an abrupt end, of course, when building owners and authorities cracked down on the paupers. Theatergoers could handle the dramatized hell in 19th century France, but actual homeless kids from 1987 were eyesores to be discarded like trash.

I thought about this unfortunate Big Apple irony at No Room For Wishing, a fantastic one man show by Boston actor Danny Bryck and director Megan Sandberg-Zakian. The play, which gets its last regional spin tonight (for now at least, though there's a New York performance later this month), is based entirely on interviews that Bryck conducted with Occupiers (and outside characters they interacted with, like Boston fire marshal Bart Shea). Their exact words are used, line for line, making for a realistic and kaleidoscopic reflection of reality at Dewey Square. Like Les Mis, the production allows actual disparate populations to vicariously reach audiences; whether people are merely entertained, or actually have their eyes opened to human suffering, is another story.

No Room For Wishing is honestly one of the realest, best-executed monologues I've ever seen. Like Occupy itself, the roller coaster of characters moved me to laugh and scream – often at the same time. With that said, the success of Bryck's production – it's been sold out night after night – is somewhat unsettling. Anecdotally, it seems that people are quicker to wax nostalgic about Occupy than they are to fight continuing injustice. It's kind of like grad students who hang around coffee shops trading action tactics, but ultimately sit on their asses more than they assess sit-ins. Or, in case you haven't caught the metaphor, it's like seeing Les Mis and ignoring destitution in Times Square.

Public apathy aside, it's obviously great that Bryck's play is popular. While conservatives and other haters pegged Occupiers as a monolithic herd of bourgeois bums – rich kids with smart phones rebelling against daddy – that simply isn't the case. Here, Bryck channels a diverse range of stories about what lured people to Dewey, thick Bay State accents and all. The impersonations are inspired, from that of Ali, a Gen-Kardashian co-ed drowning in debt, to Kwame, a 77-year-old black man who Bryck plays brilliantly, to Mufasa, who hates Hot Topic anarchists more than he hates fascists.

At heart, Wishing is more than just an oral history as told through select Occupiers. These tales could be from any corner of America – a homeless woman detailing the horrors of the shelter system; an unemployed disabled man; a mother in foreclosure with a special needs child; the son of a heroin addict; a prostitute whose cheekbone was recently shattered. On display is the full spectrum of society, from expressions of peace and love to the “fights, intoxication, and mental health issues” that Navy combat vet Doc speaks of. There are also snapshots of some douchebags like Mark, a self-described “moderate” and businessman passerby who feared that a “weird revolution” loomed.

Are more people watching plays and documentariesand reading books and taking classes – about Occupy than are still organizing in its name? I don't really know. But I do know that one of the movement's great achievements was its knack for making people uncomfortable, and to get up in the country's face. As the character Katie says, “We wouldn't have drugs and violence on site if that were not reflective of drugs and violence [in society].” She's right, and that's as much the case today as it was a year ago; in other words, shit is still fucked up and bullshit. And while Wishing vividly illustrates that struggle, I hope that everyone who checks it gets that Bryck's narratives not only represent real Occupy Boston people, but millions of others just like them.

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