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Rory, an executioner from Texas, takes an unexcused leave and finds himself alone, as a puppet, in Central America on a delirious and wayward path to repair his broken morality. Instead, he continues to come undone as he encounters the impossible vastness of his recovery that link him to events in Central America and his own past. Architecture is a puppet intensive play.
Burnt Umber bridges Tulsa, Rwanda and Bosnia. Jack, a reoccurring character in Ehn’s Soulographie play cycle, reappears, remarried. He teaches Genocide Studies at Tulsa Junior College – his academic specialization is genocide denial. His research is supported by the “international community,” in particular by powers invested in exculpating their complicity; Jack is a professional denier. Jack’s second wife, Connie, is in the National Guard, serving in Srebrenica, coming to new consciousness about events there. Their children, Erena and Lulu, struggle with compulsive disorders and autism, and are left to fend for themselves. They seek comfort in a grandmother whose Alzheimer’s proves dangerously destructive. Lulu, radically neglected, is seriously hurt in a car accident. Burnt Umber looks at how moral carelessness and lack of empathy provide genocidal ideology with requisite permissions.
A Noh version of King Lear, the play strips the language of the play down to Cordelia and the fool – looking at notions of the warrior and revenge from the perspective of the disenfranchised.
Cordelia is as a phantom, a being whose body has died but who is caught on a low plane of existence. Most phantoms in Noh cling to the memory of their incarnate life and this brings them back to the scene of their most intense misery. Perhaps in the kingdom of death, she will be reminded of what in life she so passionately and wisely knew and can find the meaning of life and in fact, be.
Black Wall Street is thriving in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1921. As a Memorial Day parade marches through downtown Tulsa, an African American shoe shiner, Dick Rowland, trips and falls against a white female elevator operator, Sarah Page. Rumors of rape and an arrest ensue. Dick is branded as “Diamond Dick” and the white owned newspaper calls for a lynching. White mobs are confronted by African American veterans of WW I, and a conflagration begins. Shots are fired, white mobs attack and burn Black Wall Street as preparations of prom night, school plays are performed and movies are shown at The Dreamland Theatre. Forty eight hours of rampage ensue with aerial attacks and machine guns, the body count is up to 300 dead when the National Guard is called in to restore order. As the once thriving area of segregated Tulsa lies in ruin and ashes, African Americans are rounded up into internment camps. Dick Rowland is released from jail and meets Sarah years later in Kansas City. They drink coffee. The Tulsa Race Riots are buried in history in unmarked graves like many of the victims.
Every story is a knife. Everyone is a witness.
Ehn takes us deep into a meditation on war through the eyes of child soldiers as they grow up. Set in Uganda and in an imaginary future war in Texas, Dogsbody asks us to undertake a “revolution of the heart” and reach for understanding and healing.
Fourth Central America play; features Rory another character who will recur (an analogue of Jack’s).
· Rory works for Corrections as an executioner
· Rory is Married to Lynn; Lynn is a Prison Chef
· Lynn and Rory have a daughter, Xela; heavy metal fan
· Xela won’t eat Lynn’s food. She moves out of the house and works in a Subway Sandwich shop; spies on her parents by means of magic subway. Anorexia; she suffers brain damage, and moves back home. Rory moves out, though stays in touch.
· Rory executes a mass killer.
· The mass killer is a rogue cop who gathered a private army in C.A.
· The private army works in the interests of a mineral company that wants squatters removed from its land.
· The private army kills the squatters and torches the village.
· When Rory was a boy, he accidentally caused the death by fire of a man and his two children. Rory was never caught.
· Rory takes an unexcused leave from work; visits the destroyed village.
Drunk Still Drinking is the second in the Rwanda series, dovetailing with Tulsa. Lelu decides to leave Oklahoma go to Europe to buy a par of shoes; a lark. She takes her friend Sola along for company, but soon falls in love with a romantic singer; Lelu leaves her friend to follow him on tour through Europe. But it turns out Mazout (the singer) is a political fugitive – he is wanted for singing songs instrumental in inciting genocide. She wanders in poverty, and gains new insight into the connectedness of the world (an epiphany shared with the American nun, Teresa, inMaria Kizito). She labors to regain her right mind (reconciling with Sola), risking asmuch as hopefulness in a time where sentiment can be a calamitous guide.
Everyman Jack of You is an overture to the series. Jack, a recurring character, abandons his first wife, leaving his Oklahoma home for a drunken spree in Vegas. He travels against the backdrop of the NATO bombings in Bosnia, conflated with theTulsa race riot of 1921. His increasingly dissolute efforts at mindless release never succeed in drowning out the complexity of the political world (pushed into his consciousness by various avatars of Julia Caesar/Caesar’s Palace), or in rendering him innocence of his place in context with historical events. Clair, his wife, increasingly politicized, breaks free.
Living with trauma is explored through the tangential story of a distressed couple in the Hudson Valley (Jack, in his third marriage), who struggle in their relationship after the accidental death of their son. How forgiveness is worked out in the home; if we negotiate a bad domestic peace for the sake of inert deadlock (where authentic expression is repressed, where growth is shut down), how do we move forward in the struggle for historical and cultural reconciliation? What are possibilities in the territory between coexistence and reconciliation?
As the second Tulsa play, Heavenly Shades explores the riots from a survivor’s point of view – life in a traumatized imagination. L’ash is 14 at the time of the riots; she loses nine brothers and sisters, along with her parents. She escapes to Minnesota, and lives a long life… or thinks she does. She is pursued by the ghost of the man who killed her father; how violence continues to happen in the body and mind after the overt actions cease; how suffering is transmitted generationally.
The last Central American play, Hidebound is a thematic overview of the colonial mentality – a fable of the conquest of the indigenous population by the Spanish and the Americans – conquest embodied in a conquistador, storming the landscape.Hidebound is a puppet play.
First Rwanda play. It looks at a particular, true case, from a perpetrator’s point of view. Two nuns are convicted of complicity in the deaths of 7,000 refugees who sought asylum at their convent. The spiritual biography of a genocidaire, the young nun Maria Kizito, as mediated by a young American nun who attends her trial.
Together with Cordelia, Shape is the third in the Tulsa series; also a fable on genocidal ideology at large. The life and travails of vaudevillian fairies (winged, anomalous), exploited for their historical songs and dances, used by the dominant culture, and abandoned at times of great need. Based loosely on the biographies of African American vaudevillians Billy and Cordelia MacClain, who at one point took part in a vast spectacle staged in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th Century. Black America put 500 black performers in a camp in Brooklyn, where they reenacted the joys of plantation life.
Star recounts the hallucinatory visions of Crescent (a jazz singer working at a TulsaStarbucks who appears first in the play Heavenly Shades) as she enacts a generalized revenge against white men in response to her mother’s suffering. Insidious cultural and economic appropriations—smooth jazz and Salvadorian/Guatemalan/Rwandan coffee beans—permeate an atmosphere flitting with caffeine fairies, poisoned dogs, and the vague foreboding of consequence. Star is a puppet piece.
Thistle centers on the testimony of a survivor, Rufina Amaya. Over the course of three days in December 1981, the army of El Salvador killed everyone they could in Rufina’s village, El Mozote. Rufina escaped but witnessed the massacre. From her hiding place, a single apple tree, she watched as her neighbors and family, including her husband and four youngest children—aged 9, 5, 3, and 8 months—were killed. She crawled to safety through cactus plants that tore her dress and skin apart.
Third in the Central American series Una Corroña is a saint play, commemorating the assassination of Oscar Romero and other church figures in El Salvador, actions viewed as iconic of genocidal ideology. The meditative piece centers on an extended prayer to Saint Rose of Lima.
The first in the Central American series, Yermedea relates to poverty in El Salvador currently, and over the course of colonial history; the entanglement of the US and other colonial forces. The play braids Medea and Yerma into one narrative, in solidarity with the silenced. Medea kills her children, Yerma can’t have them; they both consider the violence against children perpetrated by the government, who force poor women to have hysterectomies against their will. Yermedea is a puppet intensive play.