Educating Ronnie @ Assembly George Square
It’s easy to be cynical about the gap year phenomenon, young people going off into the blue to ‘find’ themselves or help the less fortunate members of our global community. Joe Douglas was one of those gap year kids, travelling to Uganda at the age of 18 to visit his expatriate aunt. Although the time he spent there was relatively brief, the experience left an enduring impression on Douglas, and the links he forged with the place came to shape the next ten years of his life. Educating Ronnie is a one-man show, performed with heartfelt simplicity by Douglas himself. It tells the story of his relationship with Ronnie, a young Ugandan man, and his struggle, both financial and emotional, to help Ronnie make his way in the world.
Related with the aid of projections of Ronnie’s emails and texts to Joe, the only contact the pair had over the ten year period covered, the piece is an interesting take on the ‘western guilt’ phenomenon, baldly addressing Joe’s mixed feelings towards his role as Ronnie’s benefactor. Reflecting on his loss of religious faith and the gratification he gained from funnelling this displaced faith into another person, Douglas raises some interesting questions regarding the motivation behind charitable acts and the role humanism can play as a form of secular faith.
The conclusion of the work is ambiguous; was Ronnie cynically manipulating Joe, or did he genuinely regard him as a friend? There is the implication that both parties took from the exchange what they needed. Douglas leaves this question open, perhaps reserving judgment on an issue that can never be clear-cut.