Theaters

A Performance Troupe Takes on Immigration, Monsanto, and Standing Rock

As the dark night of winter approaches, Reverend Billy is issuing a call to creative arms.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir at Joe's Pub (photo by Kevin Ryan)
Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir at Joe’s Pub (photo by Kevin Ryan)

Just back from Standing Rock, Reverend Billy and his radical performance flock are gearing up to fight against the reign of the “Horror-Clown,” as a German paper recently dubbed Donald Trump. As the dark night of winter approaches, the Reverend is issuing a call to creative arms.

“At Standing Rock,” Billy says, “we were singing with the earth,” with the Lakota leading the way. Back home in NYC, Trump threatens to deluge us “with a tsunami made of garbage.” And in these tumultuous times, the Reverend urges activists to be “unpredictable.”

Running at Joe’s Pub for the next three Sunday afternoons, “Gather!” is a bit of a grab-bag, but there’s plenty of good stuff in it. Each upcoming show promises to spotlight a different crisis, from Standing Rock to GMOs. If this past weekend’s version is any indication, there’s lots more powerful material in store.

As the two dozen or so members of the Rev’s musical sidekicks the Stop Shopping Choir took the stage, their splashing array of psychedelic garb nearly overwhelmed the young dude at the table next to me. Yet despite the time travel to a very different era in East Village history, the “Age of Aquarius” vibe feels surprisingly contemporary.

What made this past weekend’s show even more viscerally current was its focus on the ongoing deportation crisis, which stands to grow even worse very soon. Midway through the show, veteran choir member Ravi Rigbir, who is also the organizer of the immigration reform organization New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, brought a family of immigrants to the stage.

As Rigbir described it, Myrna, an undocumented woman from Mexico, had faced deportation, which would have separated her from her adolescent daughters Michele and Heidi, who were born in the U.S. But the New Sanctuary Coalition helped the family prevail, keeping Myrna and her family intact.

“Our blood is the same,” Myrna told the audience, with Michele and Heidi clinging to her side. Rest assured that were no dry eyes in the house.

Savitri D, the show’s director and Billy’s longtime partner, explained that the struggle against deportations is “kind of like [making] a fire-plan for your apartment.” By which she means, “How are we going to protect ourselves and our loved ones?”

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir at Joe's Pub (photo by John Quilty)
Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir at Joe’s Pub (photo by John Quilty)

Keyboardist and musical director Nehemiah Luckett drives the show’s propulsive score. The choir features an array of talented performers, including Dragonfly, who leads a Do the Right Thing–style roll call — with names ranging from Eric Garner to Leonard Peltier — in “Get Home Safe.”

Dragonfly (aka Robin Laverne Wilson) ran as the Green Party candidate for Senate against Chuck Schumer in the November election. She pulled in just over 100,000 votes statewide, slightly more than Jill Stein. Asked on stage by Billy whether she would seek a recount, Dragonfly demurred.

Like trying to topple a Democratic Party kingpin, slaying the corporate behemoth that is Monsanto — which is about to merge with Bayer, a move Bernie Sanders has called a “marriage made in hell” — is just a bit quixotic. But the Reverend vows to continue fighting the good fight. In January, he’ll go to trial in Iowa, charged with trespassing for exiting the “free speech area” outside of a recent Monsanto corporate party held at the state capital in Des Moines.

Whether in the corn country of Iowa or on the gentrified streets of NYC, Reverend Billy views “monoculture” as the greatest threat to the survival of our species. For the next three Sundays, an inspired cross-section of humanity will gather at Joe’s Pub to receive that message.

Gather!” continues at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street) on Sundays through December 18.

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