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OyamO's perspective on human nature to be explored in 'Wisbom'

By Tehreem Sajjad, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 28, 2012

It’s 1968. The United States is at war with Vietnam. As always, there are those who oppose it. They lead the anti-war movement with high spirits, holding picket signs and letting their voices be heard in the streets.

This week, under the direction of Associate Professor Mbala Nkanga, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance presents Ann Arbor audiences with “Wisbom,” a play that captures the deeds of one of these anti-war activist groups. But, unlike most anti-war groups, this particular collection of individuals went further than most when attempting to make a statement about what they thought was right.

“It’s one thing to hold picket signs, but it’s quite another thing to drop bombs — or to try to drop bombs — especially when you’re not ready, especially when you’re all crazy,” said “Wisbom” playwright OyamO Gordon, a professor of theater and a writer-in-residence at the University.

Set during the ’60s on the campus of Wisconsin University, “Wisbom” shines light on an inexperienced anti-war group that accentuated its disapproval of the war by attempting to bombard facilities the group considered to be affiliated with the war movement. Though the group’s actions conveyed their strong criticism of the war, what the members of the group did also resulted in the killing of an innocent man. In that sense, “Wisbom” is a play that aims to find justification for the actions of one particular group of people, and in doing so, it questions humanity.

“Human beings are the strangest animals on earth — the strangest because we think we are the smartest, but no other animal pollutes like we do,” OyamO explained. “No other animal has created nuclear weapons and dropped them on each other; no other animals fight for religious reasons or political reasons — no other animal — just us.

“You should think about what you’re doing and that whatever it is you are going to do ends up being responsible,” OyamO continued. “You need to place things carefully because if you don’t, you end up with a tragedy — like the death of an innocent man.”

OyamO’s plays have appeared on stage across the country as well as internationally. Some of his works include “Famous Orpheus,” “Boundless Grace,” “The Resurrection of Lady Lester” and “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” He was commissioned by the Madison Repertory Company to produce “Wisbom” in 2003, and it premiered at the Madison Repertory’s Fall Festival of the Future in September 2004.

For OyamO, “Wisbom” serves to entertain a wide range of audiences: Those who find the ’60s enlightening, younger individuals who like to see action-filled plays and those who are looking to experience the America that was sunk in war a few decades back.

“What is a human being? I think it’s a question that we have to keep asking ourselves,” OyamO said. “What are we and what are we doing here?”