Thursday, October 29, 2009

As Real As It Gets: "Speaking Without Tongues"

"The women and girls who live this story do not want to be seen. They tell their stories in dim light, in rooms with tightly closed doors; they glance at windows to be sure there is no opening. They do not want to remember. They do not want to speak. No matter. What is not spoken is still heard." --

Follow this link to see the slideshow at full size.

Our Town.

That was my first thought as I eased into the front row of Reynolds Theater at Duke University on a rainy Tuesday evening and got my first look at the stage that would house production of And the sparse staging does recall Thornton Wilder's landmark study in Americana, but that's about as far as the similarity goes. George and Emily do not live happily ever after here. Because in this town, George is a hideous memory that still haunts and terrifies Emily even after she has escaped him.

Weaving together the metaphorical Russian fairy tale of The Armless Maiden with the gritty, real-life stories of the players on stage isn't merely a play. It is a testimony. Told in snippets taken from each player's personal life, the pieces fall together so easily that it could all have been one tale. And in fact, it is one tale. One that is repeated every nine seconds in the US alone.

What was presented on the Reynolds stage was not a work of fiction. The stories told by the players were their own, told in their own words, their own voices, their own expressions and their own tears. Horror is heaped up on horror until even I was sure that they must be making it up. Then I realized that I only wished they were making it up. Because the stories played out in the dark of the stage are the same ones I read every week on . But with the added component of being able to see the face and hear the voice that is telling the story. This? This is as real as it gets.

What has always confounded me personally is that however different the stories may be in the details, at their core they are all one story. The formula is as tested and true as any script, only the actors and the locations change. And I can't help but wonder if the pattern is so very predictable, why is this still a problem?

Maybe this is Our Town after all.

If you have the opportunity to see in the future, see it. If you've seen it already, see it again. It carries a message that cannot be told -- or heard -- often enough, even by those who know it already.

If you'd like more information on this and other Hidden Voices Projects, visit .

For details on Speaking Without Tongues in particular, visit .

And if you'd like to see additional photos by other people (who are actually associated with the project) from last year's production and behind the scenes, visit . (Note: At last check the link to the participants' portraits was broken, but because I'm so very clever I was able to figure out that it should be: .)

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Maggie, Dammit said...

Wow. That must have been incredibly powerful. These images are beautiful. Well done, my friend.

Mama Zen said...

An absolutely beautifully done post, Mojo!

snowelf said...

I'm with Maggie--immensely powerful indeed. I am so done with that part of my life that I never want to go back to get into details, but I'm glad that these women find therapy in expression in this way.


Daryl said...

Your photos compliment perfectly your review/recap of your experience at the play

Jannie Funster said...

It sounds like they would help others who had gone through such horrors.

brave women.

Great photos too, good lighting.

Mojo said...

@Jannie: I can only take credit for the shooting. The lighting was handled by Cecilia Durbin ( And I agree, she did an excellent job. For which I'm grateful, because shooting during the performance I was pretty well stuck with whatever lighting there was. so I'm glad it was good!

SandyCarlson said...

You are an incredible spokesman for this issue. And your images are as compelling as--well, I don't know. But these images put me very close to this experience. Yeah. There is a way that the heart can nod in silent agreement with a whole experience. My heard does this as I take in this post.

magiceye said...

brilliant work!

Janeen said...

Thanks for the comments. I know several of these women personally and am so proud of them for putting these horrible truths out there. People need to hear it.