Not About Nightingales

I love drama, in the theater that is. I love that moment as the lights glide to dark signaling a change of reality. A pal tipped me off to something at The Red Barn Theater. A play with a crazy name by a friend of a friend. VANYA and SONIA and MASHA and SPIKE, by Christopher Durang. Anywhere but Key West that wouldn’t inspire me to leave the house. But off I went and bought my ticket and slid into a cushy seat in the dollhouse perfect venue. Typical of Key West everything was sheer perfection and the cast earned a resounding standing ovation.

A local theater group known as Key West Fringe Theater sets up all over town according to the needs of their production. For example, last week they put on Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance and the setting was, of all things, not only at the Custom House Museum but in the gallery with the Tennessee Williams exhibition. This wonderful Albee production in the gorgeous Custom House Museum, and under the gaze of Tennessee Williams provided a viable working fusion for intense joy. Another standing ovation.

Last night I paid a visit to the ladies in jail. Soon the classroom was bubbling with brilliant fun and we all had a very good laugh, a necessary laughter that changed the atmosphere, equalizing us. Until a guard came along and barked, “We’re having a ‘shake-down’. Hope you didn’t have dinner plans.” And she slammed the heavy glass and iron door, stuck in a key and twisted it locked. As she walked away the room echoed from the slammed door.

We tried to return to our entertainment but strange thumps and cries and then prolonged even stranger silences tugged our curiosity and some ladies began to pop out of their seats and went to press against the glass wall to peer down into the hell pit. A guard was busy ransacking the cells, tossing their meager property all across the cement floor, until she spotted the ladies. She bellowed threats and came charging up the metal stairs and called out those who had dared to observe. And then she marched them away.

This activity is called a ‘shake down’ and I found it profoundly disturbing. It’s all about rules, right or wrong, and the interpretation of these rules by the guards whose egos and personal issues come in all shapes. Many are perfectly professional, from the Director down to the intake dudes who are mere voices behind blacked out windows, always polite.

But not all, especially some of the guards you’ll find deep on the inside where no one might witness the disturbing frayed edges of their abuses.

I was reminded of Tennessee Williams’ play Not About Nightingales. The Monroe County Detention Center is not about nightingales.