‘Word Becomes Flesh’ by the Living Word Project

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First performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph in 2003, Word Becomes Flesh took the Main Stage in the Redfern Arts Centre, Keene State College, New Hampshire early October 2013. The performance combines elements of dance, hip-hop, live music and spoken-word poetry. It gives an insight into the world of pregnancy from the point of view of a young black man.

The play was devised from the Joseph’s own experiences; getting his girlfriend pregnant, his absent father, and simply existing as a black man in America. Redone with five performers, they deliver the majority of the show by performing letters to the unborn son. It conveys true anger and frustration at the historical atrocities and myriad of injustices stacked against the black male before he is even born. Joseph evokes in his audience the anger he feels at this, as well as the sad empathy he feels for his unborn son.

He is by no means overly proud. Looking at himself critically he also admits the flaws in his character, admitting to contemplating leaving, as his father did to him, and even his darkest thoughts involving the mother losing the child.

While the theme may seem over-specific to be appreciated by a wide audience, it tackles a number of issues particular to a wide range of people. They discuss in detail how the pregnancy came about, the relationships they have with the women involved, relationships with their own fathers, and the world they expect their sons to inherit. The play also touches on abortion, domestic violence, slavery, infidelity and also the father-daughter relationship. Common fears are related such as “Will I make a good parent? How can I change to lead a better example? Will my child make the same mistakes I did?”

At 80-minutes the performance is an impressive show of strength and stamina on the actor-dancer-poets’ parts, but is never boring or tedious. The almost empty stage lent itself greatly to the atmospheres and ideas being conveyed. As only chairs are ever brought on, nothing detracted from the back lighting of the wall. Scenes were set mostly by the live-music playing at the time, which ran through a range of genres to suitably set each scene.

The performance, funny but mature, was very well received by everyone in attendance. It could heard cropping up in casual discussion on campus for days following, which think says a lot.

‘Happy Days’

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‘Happy Days’ gives us a brief insight into the life of Winnie, a middle-aged woman. She is [at minimum] buried up to her waist in earth and almost single-handedly entertains us and herself for the course of the entire play. Her husband Willie who we do not see properly during the first act, appears only briefly in full view during the second act. Winnie regales us with tales she is reminded of by things in her handbag.

During the second act though she is buried up to her neck and can no longer access her bag. She still continues talking, in hope that Willie is still listening for she never did “learn to talk alone”.

To take on Beckett play is no mean feat. With their intricate directions that are insistantly followed it may be tedious and difficult for a company, in this case the Godot Company, London, to give the play its own stamp. For enduring that alone a certain level of respect must be held. For the woman, too, who talks almost non-stop for the duration, I must say I was impressed.

Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the auditorium I was somewhat disappointed. The pile of earth Winnie is buried in looked more like a crater on the stage and reminded me of some class of moon-scape. I didn’t think it was true to the first lines of the play stating “Expanse of scorched grass rising centre to low mound.” As it was the only piece of scenery on stage, I felt like more attention could have been paid to its construction.

All the other bells and whistles appeared to be present. It seemed truer to the script in terms of lights and sound which accompanied the start and end of the acts. A loud whoosh runs through the auditorium as the lights go up. Winnie’s bell to get up, and go to sleep, rings at an uncomfortably loud level (as written).

Holding none of the intensity of ‘Endgame’, or the mystery of ‘Waiting for Godot’ I think this production must appeal more to avid Beckett readers than the usual theatre-goer.

‘A Tender Thing’

So, last Saturday I traveled up to Dublin to see ‘A Tender Thing’ in the Project Arts Centre. It was a matinée and the light atmosphere entering the theatre did not in the least bit prepare me for what I would watch.

After walking into the already crowded auditorium we took our seats in the second row and sat in awe momentarily gazing at the spotless set, decorated in shades of Royal Blue, perfectly depicting a tastefully laid-out bedroom with a door leading out on my left, and a bathroom to my right. A double bed, chair, dressing table and wardrobe sat on stage.

Before it started my theatre companions filled me in on it a bit; written by Ben Power, it’s based on Romeo and Juliet, as if they hadn’t died at the end. It has two rather famous actors; Owen Roe playing Romeo and Olwen Fouéré playing Juliet.

I should mention, I have never cried at a play before (and I do not cry very often as is). Nothing could have prepared me for the way I  would sob uncontrollably during that play.

Romeo comes on stage: “Give me the light”. The lights come up for the first time of many in a visually stunning way.

The play opens with explaining, if a bit cryptically, what is to come. Juliet is bound to die, by her own [husband’s] hand, after falling fatally ill. It starts rightly with them proclaiming love for each other. Early on Juliet reveals she’s quite sick. After this scene a few sniffs and subtle wiping of eyes could be observed. Later on when Juliet fails to slide off the bed and suffers incontinence, Romeo finds her on the floor crying and shouting “I sicken love!”. I completely broke down and would have left, if I hadn’t had about a dozen people blocking my exit.

I was glad I stayed though. It had some very striking moments you rarely see on stage, which brought to it a very real and raw beauty. I was also slightly wowed by the mechanics of the stage, including the slide away bed and secret hidden entrances.

After a wondrous dance piece at the end I left the auditorium a feeling a bit shook but also uplifted.

‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’

With an immaculate set and a mildly humorous story-line, the Acorn players’ production of ‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’ kept me entertained, for its first hour or so

The story by Jimmy Keary starts off with Gabriel, who lives with his mother, discussing a woman he finds attractive in his theatre group; Hazel. A long-time friend of the family’s, Chrissie, tries to ask him out, but he’s already on the verge of entanglement with Hazel.  He later finds out Hazel has plans to make him her third husband and sell his farm. With the help of Chrissie, Gabriel manages to brush her off, and the play ends on a positive note; after two and a half hours.

Upon entering the auditorium of Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, I was instantly struck by the detail of the set. The furniture, colours and perfectly-adorned walls screamed new-style old-fashioned Ireland. Some classic Irish music played as people seated themselves to create a complimentary atmosphere, and the play got off to a good start with two older women, Gabriel’s mother and aunt, having a hilarious back-and-forth commentary; again, very Irish and very believable.

However, by the time the interval came, an hour into the play, very little had happened worth noting (aside from Gabriel’s aunt’s commenting that he might be “one of those lesbians”). As the second “half” seemed to drag by (almost a half hour longer than the first part) I found myself melting into my seat listening to long winded conversations. Though with the THT’s unusual combination of college students and older audiences, I’ll admit that the humour of it all appealed greater to the other half than it did to me. While the dialogue aroused raucous laughter from some people, it evoked nothing but the occasional snort of derision from me.

Overall, not my cup of tea. But in a time when stage design is often kept quite minimalistic, it was nice to see such a detailed set. And while a bit lengthy and tedious, the play no doubt appealed to its own target audience greatly, which is something to be commended.

‘Beyond Therapy’

It’s not often you see something where the script itself, the acting, and all things technical are so absurd you question how anyone could conceivably allow it on stage.

‘Beyond Therapy’, was exactly that. Brought to you by Orion’s Belt Theatre, it played in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, the 15th and 16th of January.

It’s hard to tell if the story could have been any more believable if the acting hadn’t be quite so farcical. I doubt any more serious of a company would have used a play about two people in therapy, one of which is living with his boyfriend while have his therapist suggests writing personal ads seeking women, the other having her therapist constantly make passes at her.

Featured in the studio I guessed it was more of an amateur production so I led myself to believe that the awkward beginnings would be accounted for by nerves. However, every overstated acting tool was used; attempting to self-groom while waiting, purposefully rearranging, the overly pronounced differences in stances and styles of walking. It also took me quite some time to realise that the play must have been set in America, and that accent was what all the actors were attempting. As none of them, with the exception of the Southern Bell, could maintain it for the duration I found it very distracting through out.

Once again, making allowances for the fact that it was an amteur production, I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of the set. But something other than the rather particular purple-cushioned seats of the studio itself would have made a big difference.

The whole experience was akin to that of watching a parade of contrasting acting styles and techniques. Interesting no doubt, but not what you’d ever think to put together.