Probing and interpreting one’s past is a lifelong project for just about anyone unwilling to undertake the thankless labor of disowning it. Most of us are better off facing up to it, even the cringe-worthy bits. Loren Niemi and James Solomon Benn shoulder the task head-on, in vastly different ways, in their Fringe shows.
|Loren Niemi was deemed a “Bad Brother.”|
Niemi carries impressive professional laurels and academic credentials into his storytelling craft. The title of his Phoenix Underground show, “Bad Brother: Religion and Politics in ’69,” provides an immediate focus. The “brother” part has nothing to do with siblings, but Niemi’s membership in the Christian Brothers, a worldwide Catholic religious community, and his eventual dismissal from the order.
The clarity and suspense of his personal narrative, hitting upon some of the most vexed social and political issues of America in the Sixties, rivets the attention. Niemi is a master of the well-judged pause. He plays judiciously with different time levels and significant persons in this autobiographical account of a young man’s spiritual and political involvement, its fulcrum being the trial of “the Milwaukee 14” in 1969, the result of some of the Brothers’ destruction of draft-board files.
At the very end, he suggests parallels between activism in the 1960s and early ’70s and a couple of today’s raging issues. But he’s never heavy-handed about it. Like all good storytellers, he exhibits narrative craft at a high level and leaves it to the listener to apply the lessons. Not only those who are roughly Niemi’s contemporaries, as I am, will be fascinated by “Bad Brother.”