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We’re immediately thrown into a scene of disaster, danger, and violence. The people of Jonestown scream in the background and Jim Jones, leader of the People’s Temple and founder of Jonestown, shouts into a megaphone. His raspy voice fades out as we pick apart individual voices through the chaos. Before we learn anything more, though, the noise quiets and we’re rushed several months back in time.
Here, we’re introduced to Rassoul and Henry. The quiet of this new scene is a stark contrast to the noise and chaos of before. A clock ticks softly behind them as Henry interviews Rassoul for a position with the People’s Temple, a church organized by Jim Jones. Rassoul, caretaker for his terminally ill father, wishes for a new direction in life and hopes the People’s Temple can help. Henry listens to his woes patiently. As they converse, we learn the charism of this church: you can be whoever you want to be, and you can have whatever you want if you only ask.
Love in the Time of Jonestown, written by New Coordinates ensemble member Omer Abbas Salem, tells a grim story of the good intentions of a religious organization-turned-evil. The People’s Temple does indeed give Rassoul a new direction in life. After the death of his father Rassoul donates his inheritance to the church and becomes a full member. With this new money, Jonestown can be developed, and Jim Jones’ followers can live in one place. Under the guise of inclusion and love, this new town is built, but the façade around the church begins to fall.
New Coordinates Effortlessly Seams Together Love in the Time of Jonestown
This audio play moves us backward and forward in time, giving newcomers to this history, like this reviewer, insight into how the town of Jonestown was developed and how it became one of the most infamous cult episodes in US history. In one scene, we overhear a conversation between Rassoul and Henry as they sit on a park bench in San Francisco, deliberating how to love family fully, even when they’re ill. Rassoul, reflecting on this struggle to care for an ill family member, enters into prayer with Henry. Around them, we hear city traffic and the scuff of shoes on cement.
In another scene, we jump several months behind and hear a conversation between Jim Jones and Henry. Here, in hushed excitement, we can almost hear the greed pouring from Jim Jones’s mouth at the mention of Rassoul’s heavy inheritance. With this inheritance, Jonestown, and Jim Jones’s power, can be built up.
Throughout the play, to involve us even more in this story, we hear snippets of Jim Jones’ speeches to the congregation and quick slivers of urgent news reports about the dangers of the People’s Temple. It’s not until later in this audio play that those of us who didn’t live through that history begin to believe those news reports. In such a layered story, each conversation we hear and every piece of dialogue has a place in this play, bringing us to see what’s really happing behind the scenes. Structured strategically, scenes thread together. As stakes are raised and dangers unfold in the town of Jonestown, the newcomers hearing the story for the first time will likely be thinking, “Maybe the People’s Temple isn’t what it seems…”
Love in the Time of Jonestown is suited for anyone interested in an audio play with a well-developed and heightened plot. It is especially recommended to those who have never heard the Jonestown story or lived through the time of the mass suicide for which it is most known.
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Tina El Gamal
Omer Abbas Salem
Written by: Omer Abbas Salem
Directed by: Sophiyaa Nayar
Associate Director: Nadya Naumaan
Dramaturg: Catherine Miller
Production Stage Manager: Devonte E. Washington
Sound Design and Original Music: Eric Backus
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the New Coordinates website.
Images courtesy of the New Coordinates
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.
About the Author: Annabelle Harsch
Annabelle has perpetual graphite smears on her hands from stories she wrote. She’s written about secrets and regret, but her favorite things to write about are love and dragons, good or bad. When Annabelle isn’t reading and writing, she’s usually hiking or buying plants and books.