Through November 30th of this year, The Barrow Street Theater plays host to the storytelling of Billy Hayes as he recounts his early life in Riding the Midnight Express. The presentation runs about 70 minutes with a 20 minute Q & A following.
Starting from the time that he left college until just after his escape from a Turkish Prison, Hayes relates the experiences and discoveries he finds along the way. Hayes talks about the decisions he makes that cause his incarceration, mainly his experience smuggling Hashish out of Istanbul. He shows us the levels of inhumanity our souls can bare before beginning to corrupt. Hayes relates the pain as he had to turn his head while others were beaten, lest he make his own enemies. Talking about his friend who dies in Germany while trying to earn money to help him escape prison, Hayes is stricken with the guilt of this loss. While trying to form a plan to escape, Hayes spends time in a prison for the insane with the hope that it will be easier to make his breakout. Instead, he finds his own sanity begin to slip. With less than 2 months until his freedom, Hayes stoically delivers the real story of his court sentencing of 30 years more in jail. Not fraught with the anger portrayed in the film by the same title, he shows us a peace and forgiveness hard to imagine in our own everyday lives. Finally making his way to the island of Imrali, he delivers himself out of his imprisonment in an epic trip across the sea and land all the way to Greece.
Hayes is a natural weaver of tales. His life and journey are extraordinary, and he delivers them as such. Hayes relates his story with almost a Socratic objectivity and insight, while still remaining emotionally true and vulnerable at times. With no more tools than his voice, a stool and a bottle of water, Hayes keeps the audience interested to the end. Though the aid of sound or lighting to better effect the audience would have made Hayes’s job easier, he prevailed through sheer personality.
A truly marvelous tale, Riding the Midnight Express is an enlightening evening for anyone who is willing to take a moment and use another’s trials to aid in their own self-discovery.
Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Carol Rosegg