Category Archives: ending violence against women

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

crucible

 

I went to see a play about those women… namely the ones that were burned at the stake and/or hung on poles (called witches or sorceresses). Being a pre-Harry-Potter-era play that means that witches and sorcery were associated with the devil (every gradation of evil was bad) in a society where power was held largely in the hands of Christian settlers and land title owners. Any other pre-existing ideologies and people that might challenge the prevailing norms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were considered lower and incompatible to solving community conflict. Women were not the only sufferers of this community condemnation; yet women were prima facie targets.

 

The play is called THE CRUCIBLE and a very endearing ensemble is bringing Arthur Miller’s challenging work to life over at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th. It is being directed by Ivo Van Hove. The set alternates between an eery, charcoal and chalky inspired mix of classroom materials and images that bring up imaginings of institutionalized detention. The alternating rooms are the simple Proctor house and a town hall converted into a trial center. The simple and minimal sets, combined with economical music & sound design that included children and women’s singing in the background, were fitting and aided my imagining of the conflicts in the play.

 

The play’s conflict centers around accusations of a teenage girl, Abigail (the talented Saoirse Ronan), who claims that certain people in her community are targeting her and others with supernatural powers. The conflict unfolds because Abigail’s younger female cousin, Betty, falls ill from their participation in a group of women dancing and an attempt to cast love spells in the woods. In the uncovering of these activities and accusations, most of the community is put to trial, the adultery of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) with Abigail is found out, and many women are destroyed due to a chain of accusations budding from Abigail’s strong defences.

 

Mainly I’ve got to say this play is thought-provoking. I suppose what this play really does is entreats an audience’s mind towards looking at how a group of women started to be called the negative connotation of ‘witch(es)’; and what series of human (as opposed to supernatural) actions, words, ideologies and accountabilities (or lack thereof) grounded and were interpreted towards a community’s condemnation of women. It also examines what people and systems this community implemented in an attempt to resolve conflict. Being an American play rooted in the struggles of early American settlers the characters and conflict bear relevance today.

 

It becomes pretty clear as the play moves forward that it is not the supernatural that causes the chain of man-made penalties that ensue. A most interesting character for me is actually the, however unlikeable, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who is tasked with getting facts straight in the midst of the community members’ personal ties to each other and accusations towards each other. He asks questions that bring together the common facts of each of the community members’ stories to try to figure out what is a truth and what is not, what accusations are made out of fear of peril and what accusations are founded by criminal action. His character is like a flashlight peering through the spaces in the crowd and begging: where is there room to understand how confusion began and what is the root of it?

 

The root of the confusion turns out to be the adultery of an otherwise humble farmer, John Proctor, and a teenage girl, Abigail, who tells him that she’s in love with him. In a society where adultery is cause for jail-time and even death their lust destroys John’s opinion of himself and Abigail’s ability to trust the people who have condemned her for the feelings she understands to be true and restricted. One of the women Abigail condemns turns out to be Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), John’s wife, and by the end of the play we are made to feel the love and guilt John possesses over the pain his wife is in.

 

The self-inflicted torture John partakes in the face of his forced confession are puzzling. He feels he has already given away his soul and chooses not to publicly tarnish his name. As heart wrenching as his human struggle is to watch (and in that same dilemma with a family at stake I’m not sure what I’d do in his shoes)… it is puzzling because his struggle happens to be in contrast to 39 women in the play who have just publicly perished for supernatural actions they did not commit. It is a given fact that women have often kept their souls and given away their names with no questions asked and no opportunity for rebuttal. I’m sure Miller set this conundrum up on purpose.

 

Like I said, the play is thought-provoking. In the end this play always makes me disturbed and I feel bad for the whole town! I feel it’s a good play to look at though – and the thoughts and feelings it provokes are relevant although complex. Where the individual and community interests intersect can be a dangerous issue – yet we must struggle with this interface every day. In the case of The Crucible the individual/community interface, we learn, is an immensely dangerous issue when there is nothing to prevent individual accusations from causing women (and people in general) to be not just prima facie targets, but convicted ones. In fact an invisible and unexplainable harm can (and did historically) cause women to unjustly and disproportionately perish.

 

The strength of this production lies in the actors playing the love with each other. The decisions and accusations they make are difficult because we get a sense of familiarity off the top with all the members and generations of the small community so that when they find themselves in a confusing and fearful disarray – there is a sense of misaligned duties and choices that are heightened to war-like status against their own people. We understand their motivations are rooted in keeping loved ones from harm. The play is unnerving and hair-raising in it’s turning of ‘love thy neighbor’ on its head.

 

Apart from the production, the Walter Kerr Theatre has a really beautiful roof!

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, Margaret Hamilton, 1939

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KEEPING WHAT WE LOVE ALIVE

 

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I AM MORE THAN INSPIRED… I AM PROUD!

 

It happened because I went to see an Off-Off-Broadway show that my classmates and friends staged last night!

 

Dolores is a one-act play shedding light on sisterhood and struggles with domestic violence. The play was written by Edward Allan Baker – whom I happened to meet last night- as I was helping out at the box office at The Playroom Theatre. (Yeah… so that was cool…)

 

Most importantly the play was raising awareness about domestic violence and violence against women. The beautiful and talented ladies Paulina Cossio (in my drama school grad year!) and Luisa Muhr (Artistic Director of the Fengari Ensemble co-producing this play) worked with director Kathleen McNenny to bring forth this story of sibling love and strive for healthy lives despite unimaginable, violent and cyclical circumstances.

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I learn by going where I have to go. – Theodore Roethke

 

I’ve shared this quote in a Thank You card that I once gave to the dialect coach of this play, Julia Lenardon, who was also one of my voice and speech teachers in drama school. I like it because it embodies what she instilled in me when learning about a dialect (she informed me that in this play the ladies are from Rhode Island). By taking the time to get very specific and learn how to speak and sound the way that another person speaks it can often give an actor insight into how to look through the eyes of that character.

 

I was reminded of the Roethke’s quote because I witnessed my friendly friends embody and transform into two characters (dialect and all) that have suffered and/or witnessed violent crimes. In doing so I began to be introduced to Dolores (Cossio), a woman currently compelled into retaliation and self-defense after years of domestic violence, and her sister Sandra (Muhr), who grew up watching Dolores enter abusive relationships and has journeyed into a marriage of her own that she finds comfortable and safe. These two contrasting personalities and experiences highlighted a journey from childhood until this very crucial point in their lives where Dolores has decided she can’t take the abuse anymore.

 

The play inadvertently helps the audience understand better what abusive and/or violent cycles of behaviour look like, how they disguise themselves into domestic life and relationships from an early age, and (if the cycles are not addressed or broken) how they will unfortunately resurface in adult relationships again and again.

 

We try to keep what we love alive. We do it by our daily living and by our work. My need to learn about other people’s lives through books and plays has been a need to make life more vivid as I am living it. Not to let the days go by unnumbered or without meaning. And the longer I have lived the more I have counted on the life force of work to keep me alive. – Marian Seldes.

 

I like, and was reminded of, this Seldes quote because as actors and theatre makers and participants we get to do exactly that – keep what we love alive. We can do it by learning about other people’s lives; women like Sandra and Dolores who can shed light on breaking cycles of violence. In doing so, even if we don’t share the extreme experiences of the characters by transforming into them we can recognize that some people do. We can recognize that these lives and these issues matter. We can work together to do what we love to do (embody other people) and it’s inevitable that we will touch other souls that way. Maybe even contribute to ending cycles of violence!

 

Our work, if we give ourselves over to it and support each other’s efforts, can keep stories alive! A tradition even older than Shakespeare himself! In following this tradition, and in focusing on doing our work well… it will in turn keep us alive in our love of working. I saw my friends do this last night – and they’ll do it again for the last two performances on Wednesday night. Oh and I’ll be in the box office helping out… I wonder who else will show up? Hehe

 

Tickets and information about DOLORES, the Fengari Ensemble and/or how to donate to SHEARED (an organization raising awareness about domestic violence): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dolores-fengari-ensemble#/ 


 “…[t]he most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself— or will use military violence against another country— is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy: it’s violence against females. It normalizes all other violence.” – Gloria Steinem, My Life On The Road

(photo courtesy of Rob Douthat)

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