Friday, September 30, 2005

When The Dam Breaks RA(18) is showing at The Arts House at The Old Parliament until tomorrow only. They really don't care whether you're 18 or not.

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The play, When The Dam Breaks, is a political and social commentary regarding the recent catastrophes that have shocked and shaken the world, focusing for the most part on the September 9/11 attacks, the Iraq war, and the Hurricane Katrina that affected New Orleans significantly. It questions the morality of man, the purity of religious convictions in modern times and its questionable influence on us, lamenting the mistakes the world has made and moaning the death of all who died groundlessly through those mistakes, hurling a rather harsh and critical magnifying glass on America, and in particular, George Bush’s leadership.

The play is created into structural form through the interweaving snippets of diverse little stories acted out one after another. The play made use of adaptations from William Shakespeare’s plays, such as Julius Caesar and King Lear, Greek mythologies, and song lyrics, such as Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone, to comment on why and what happened that made the dam- the dam of flooding troubles, break open to unleash a nightmare.

In between these stories, a single narrator emerged, to bring these stories into the context of modern world and draw lessons from them, as he sat on the stage amidst the ruins of a prehistoric warship. Eerie green spotlights spun with ferocity about him, and a dim yellow light fell on the black contours of his hunching body, throwing mysterious shadows everywhere. From his lips came the voices of many- the voice of the mass media, the voice of the Americans, the voice of New Orleans, the voice of the rest of the world who watched as the United States declared war on terrorism, and went about step by step with its’ plans, the voice of those who died in the first and second world wars, and the voice of pain, grief, aguish, cynicism, sadness and utter regret.

One of the things he said that had a crushing impact on me was when he asked for a moment of silence before he was to say out a poem that he had written for every person that died during the September 11 attacks. Following which, he asked for a day of silence, for the people who suffered from the Hurricane Rita, a week of silence, for the people who suffered from Hurricane Katrina, a month of silence, for the people who suffered from the Tsunami, a year of silence, for the people who suffered from SARS, ten years of silence, for the people who suffered from the Iraq war, twenty years of silence for the people who suffered from the September 9/11 attacks and the effects that would dominate the world, etc. He went on and on, raising his voice higher and higher, shouting bitterly at the top of his lungs, getting more and more furious and more and more passionate with each word that he enunciated with spite.

Finally, in a culmination of emotional rants, an unanticipated silence permeated the atmosphere. The unnerving and unforeseen silence lasted for a solid two minutes, giving time for the statements that the narrator had spoken to seep slowly and deeply into the very core of your mind. He whispered quietly with such moving sadness that we could be silent forever and ever, because a moment of silence is not enough and can never be enough, to respect the past devastations that have inundated the world.

One of the key moments of the play was when a single bright white spotlight fell upon a Jewish war prisoner, charged for the murders of a few German soldiers. Sitting on a hard chair with his hands handcuffed, he spoke of the absolute revulsion, and the wretchedness that besieged him, when he saw those few German soldiers chop off the arms of at least a hundred thousand Jewish children, “And those arms were there, all sitting in a pile. I didn’t know what to do! I wanted to pull my teeth out… I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” In a somber soliloquy, he wondered aloud how those German soldiers could even find it in themselves to commit such a merciless and sadistic act of brutality. “For these men,” said he, “were men like us. These men had families. These men had friends. These men had little children of their own!”

Like a blot from the blue, it drew upon him right there and then, that those people who held great tremendous power in their hands were those who, although in possession of a frail human heart, although in possession of a conscience, were able to force them all aside completely, and like mad machines without feelings or flaws, be able to use the intellectual mind to slaughter. “If we [the Jews] had ten men, just ten men, of such distinct difference, we would have won,” he concluded. For it is extremely difficult, and almost nearly impossible, to not feel a single nuance of sensation at all when murdering, no matter how right and just the reasons are, no matter how logical it all seems to be.

From the start of the play until the end of it, in the midst of the audiences (just the four of us out of a chamber that could have filled at least a hundered people), stood a solitary woman painting on a canvas, melting into the darkness, a fuzzy orange light bringing only the top half of her into vague visibility. One could never see properly what she was painting until the play ended. She painted abstractly and spontaneously on the surface of the canvas, allowing herself to draw inspiration from her reflections on the ideas and thoughts that spilt out during the process of the play. The painting, when done, became a symbol of expression on the catastrophes that have knocked us out in recent years.

The play ended with the repetition of the last words from the lyrics of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone, “Oh when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

Indeed, when will we ever learn?

When will we ever learn from our mistakes?

And where have all the flowers gone?

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