Tag Archives: Violence Against Women

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

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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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CONVINCING ME THAT NOTHING IS A FLUKE

Hanging out in New York City after putting in approximately six hours into the day job goes a little something like this for me: catch the afternoon cinema show of Suffragette at Times Square; text conversations with friend who is still at her day job to coordinate meeting spot for seeing theatre show, Allegiance, a few hours later; and, find familiar spot to wait it out.

I’m becoming convinced that nothing is a fluke and I happened to see the movie Suffragette and the Broadway musical Allegiance on the same day and so I’m going to tie my thoughts and experiences of the two different mediums and shows together now. I won’t be able to separate my experience of them completely since I saw them on the same day and the mind works like that – linking images and thoughts together finding patterns or stark contrasts as it goes along.

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King's horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King’s horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

Chronologically my experience started with a female-led cast of Suffragette recounting the path of women receiving the right to vote in the United Kingdom. The film was extremely well cast and it was very moving – being a woman myself and knowing that I was watching an account of historical figures who actually did fight for me to be able to exercise the right to vote, to hold property, to demand equal pay etc. It really says something that, for stories about women, it is very difficult to separate female relationships with their friends/family/coworkers/employers, and the motivations and actions that changed history. It might suggest that depicting women’s ability to carry their relationships has a lot to do with their capacity to infiltrate daily motivations and actions with what they fight for. It demonstrates that how women are forced to fight for their needs is an ability that proves much more difficult if society prescribes an unequal dynamic and voice in the home, the workplace and in political arenas.

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As for the history of how women suffragettes fought for equal rights – the movie reiterates that it was a fight that escalated into violence and self-sacrifice that is quite frightening (consequences of asking for an equal place in society resulted in police beatings, jail time, hunger strikes, loss of friends lives, breakdown of families etc.). These consequences were often inflicted on extremely over-worked human beings too. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine what the world would look like if this level of conflict and scrutiny of the law had not occurred. The history puts into perspective that the past legislative discrimination still lingers on systemically and the leveling out of equal rights for men and women, and human beings in general, is necessary to pay attention to today! Prescribing equal rights in print requires an ongoing effort to infiltrate the effect of past discrimination into the every day lives of people. In effect it seems there is actually less violence and discrimination in the home, the workplace and in political arenas. (I’m all for that – less violence in all its forms – world peace yeah).

The film does indicate how women born or married into more privilege or class (Ramola Garai’s character) had a different level of safety and protection in fighting for equal rights than say… the protagonist ‘laundress’ (Carey Mulligan) of very low class and education. The only other craving for me in this film (being of mixed Algonquin, Scottish, Irish, Welsh ancestry) was to see some color – the experience of women of color who would have experienced a double discrimination of sorts (not being able to be ‘human’ due to being a woman and a non-Caucasian person). It could have been interesting to juxtapose that discrimination with the experiences of suffragettes who were Caucasian. Mind you – I saw myself and people I know in all of these characters in Suffragette regardless of their race or class – and that I appreciated and applauded the filmmaker and cast for. I’ve also recently studied a character, Joyce – a low-status laundress, in Carol Churchill’s Top Girls for a scene study class in the summer – so I couldn’t help heavily empathize with Carey Mulligan’s character learning to participate in society despite the severe limitations on her ability to do so.

Hmmmmmm…. so I went from that movie to watching the experience of Japanese-Americans that were incarcerated and placed in concentration camps on American soil during World War II. At my lovely day job… I’d actually greeted the famed George Takei in New York… which had caused me to Google him (LOL) and find out about this musical Allegiance in which he mainly plays, Ojiichan, a grandfather. I’m SO GLAD I DID!

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The inspiration and guiding light of this production was “Gaman”, a Japanese word that captures a principle of “endurance and dignity”. In fights for equal rights it seems many people have returned to this principle in order to stay strong through the vulnerability that accompanies a lower, unequal status in society. The Japanese experience of discrimination is also inextricably linked to the ability to carry their families with them. Having just seen Suffragette I started to see Caucasian women have this quality as well – it’s just not called “Gaman” all the time. The “Gaman” thread in Allegiance was intricately and invisibly woven by Takei’s character… the eldest/ grandfather to his children and grandchildren leaving an essence of strength and humor hand-in-hand wherever he went. In the musical he actually gardens and places chimes on the doorstep and these simple daily activities of fertilizing the ground and listening to the sound of chimes are symbolic of his effect on his family and his lingering presence. The embodiment of “Gaman” was in this old man, soon to become an ‘ancestor’, and had lightly folded his way into his family’s minds and on the very ground they’ll walk long past the horrible experiences of the concentration camps. I know people like Ojiichan, some of my ancestors – and my Vietnamese godfather in particular – was like him too, and I won’t forget Takei’s performance and ‘guiding light’. I truly believe that kindness can live on despite all odds.

And hey – if I didn’t work my lovely day job I mightn’t have fluked out and ‘Googled’ him and been struck by this performance. I also might not have had the extra motivation to jet out of the day job to watch some female actresses I admire pave the way for really great female characters in cinema. So I’m now more convinced that nothing is a fluke.

Why-You-Should-Keep-Your-Day-Job-For-Now

(here’s to kindness… and world peace…) 

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When We Were Young And Unafraid

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I was inspired to write about an ensemble of actors, Cherry Jones, Morgan Saylor, Zoe Kazan, Patch Darragh and Cherise Boothe because I watched them bring a play to life about a subject that matters – Violence Against Women. Tonight I saw When We Were Young And Unafraid, written by Sarah Treem and directed by Pam MacKinnon at the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City Center Stage I. The play takes place at an underground women’s shelter, disguised as a Bed & Breakfast, run by Agnes (Cherry Jones) as she raises her teenage daughter Penny (Morgan Saylor).

I was mainly astounded to notice that when actors do the work to find the universals in their characters I am able to see a part of myself in all of them regardless of the their personality or phase of life.

Penny is a teenage girl learning how to balance her desire for education and her desire for love… something I have definitely been through! It was a pleasure to witness Saylor confidently open up the play by displaying intelligence and humor in her discussions about school and boys with her not-so-conventional mother. The humor found in the mother-daughter banter released me from any suspicion that their Bed & Breakfast was also a refuge for women seeking shelter from violence.

Agnes is a strong willed ex-nurse who shelters battered women and hides a broken heart. Empathy is easily felt for a woman who is so seemingly put together and yet is in such need of care and attention after years of putting everyone else’s needs first. As an actor myself, it was a great learning experience for me to witness Emmy and two-time Tony award winner Cherry Jones handle very emotionally charged material with strength, love and guarded vulnerability while expertly maintaining a grounded voice and presence.

Mary Anne is a young women fleeing a violent marriage and struggling to find strength even though the world finds her to seem very weak. In Kazan’s portrayal of a very vulnerable Mary Anne it was a relief to find humor and a strong will to grow. In finding the lightness of her character, Kazan still played the severe truth of her painful parting from a childhood sweat heart turned abusive while suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Mary Anne represents the reason why I sense this play was written – an insight into the beauty of the human will to survive despite the dual nature of humanity towards both destruction and development. As a female Mary Anne allowed me to reflect on the importance of using my voice and to surround myself with healthy and supportive friends, family and community.

Speaking of community, the other characters in the play deserve a mention. Hannah (Cherise Boothe) is a college student sorting through a feminist revolution with humor and a strong voice while performing odd jobs around the Bed & Breakfast. Boothe’s use of the space/stage was very impressive and made her seem to represent the West Coast ocean breeze sweeping in through doors and windows to provide news and much needed love. In appreciation of regularity and of men… there was Paul (Patch Darragh) a sappy, wondering song writer who discovers that he just wants to lead a simple life and to have someone to share it with. His character’s ordinariness provided comic relief from the extraordinariness and turmoil of the female relationships leading the play.

I would recommend that people see this play because it is not just entertaining, but it is also an important play. It reminded me that many women suffer from violence and that “everyone deserves a chance” to build herself up again.

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