After growing up in Jersey City, Crystal Nuchurch knows how to relate to the main character in the play “When All is Lost.” The story begins when a mother’s favorite teenage son is shot to death in a gang-like inner city shooting. Nuchurch plays the mother in a situation similar to real life events going on in Jersey City.
Although Nuchurch currently lives in Bayonne, she grew up in Jersey City. She attended PS 17 and St. Aloysius high school. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a post office worker.
Amidst a spate of shootings going on in Jersey City, particularly shootings of men in their twenties and teens, she is well aware of the dangers young men face, and how it must feel to lose someone to senseless violence.
The playwright Drica Armstrong is from the city of Elizabeth and also knows, since the play was inspired by a real-life situation. Her cousin was gunned down, and she based the play both on that murder and on her family’s reaction to the death.
“This play speaks to the failure of places like Jersey City to curb gun violence,” Armstrong said.
A tragedy made worse
Nuchurch said the play is about how a family deals with the loss of a loved one, and how the family is brought together as a result of the tragedy.
“We’re trying to reach the parents of teenagers in Jersey City and have them come see the play,” Nuchurch said. “The idea is to get beyond the blame game.”
The chief lesson is that parents need to pay closer attention to what their children are doing.
“Kids today do not fair fight. They don’t stand up with their fists. They have guns.” – Crystal Nuchurch
In this play, the mother has two sons, one of whom is her favorite. Nuchurch said she could relate because she has two daughters, and though she does not intentionally favor one, she probably does, and so brings this experience to the play.
“My parents raised me at a time when we had to be in by the time the street lights came on,” Nuchurch said. “Kids have more freedom today, stay out to all times, and this gives them more opportunity for things to happen.”
Armstrong said the play is about teenagers who are dying very young from senseless violence, or from just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the play, the kid is hanging out and suddenly something happens, a case of mistaken identity, just like real life.
Gang violence is often about retribution. People released from jail come back onto the street looking to take revenge on someone. Often, as in the play, innocent people are killed.
“Kids today do not fair fight,” Nuchurch said. “They don’t stand up with their fists. They have guns. They come into a store and shoot.”
The shooting starts the play and the rest is about how the family deals with it.
“There is a lot of blaming,” Armstrong said. “But don’t look at others, look at yourselves. None of them want to take ownership.”
Nuchurch said she’s been developing the main character since first reading the script last December. The toughest part, she said, was coming to terms with how the character realizes what she didn’t do.
“She still loves her ex-husband, the father of her son, and has not gotten over the fact that her ex married someone else,” Nuchurch said.
The blame game
Armstrong said the play reenacts much of what she saw in her cousin’s family after his murder last summer.
“Everybody was blaming everybody else, but not looking at themselves,” she said. “Until people stop blaming each other, they can’t get down to the truth. Perhaps they should have stopped him from hanging out. Maybe there were things they could have one better.”
She said the victim was a good person, but flawed in that he got caught up on a violent culture.
“The play deals in some of the old way, old habits, and the folly of having access to guns,” Armstrong said.
With the ever-increasing gun violence in Jersey City, Armstrong said she still wants to perform the play here. Producers of the play really wanted to have it debut at Art House near Journal Square. But a broken water pipe flooded out the office, gallery, and performance space, so thje producers scrambled to find an alternative place.
They eventually relocated for a one-night performance at the Roy Arias Stage II on 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
The New York City performance in some ways will test the audience reaction.
Armstrong said the play is a work in progress and can be expanded to tell the stories of other characters in the play.
But she noted this is not a completely down play. There are some lighter moments.
“I believe in having some comic relief,” she said.
The show runs just under one hour, but can be expanded, depending on audience feedback.
“There is room for expanding character stories,” Armstrong said.
The show is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at the Roy Arias Stage II, 777 8th Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered on line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/2497426.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.