Sunday, March 22, 2009

Workshopping Terroristka

We are deep into the Caucus mountains this week as we workshop the new play Terroristka by Rebecca Bella. We began rehearsals on Sunday in my drafty dining room of the old Berkeley house I live in. 6 actors, 1 playwright and me all squeezed around a table with scripts, and sliced bread with cheese, almonds, dried cherries, a bit of green to munch on (thanks Rebecca!). We put the coffee on and hunkered down to the work.

I chatted at the group for the first thirty minutes or so. Talking about what the process would be like this week (very fast!), how the play is structured (primary action barrels forward to the crucial moment with Zarema in front of the cafe, with secondary action always commenting/contexutalizing from that post-bomb future), what kind of play it is (poetic drama/expressionism - Lorca, Brecht, A. Kennedy!), and what that means for the way the world works (we are in Jailbird's interior world, she is recreating the events, the future and its verdict always looming over the present action).

Rebecca then spoke a little about the language. It's in verse, but its rhythms are so very American, informed by her own American-ness. We don't need to be too precious. I add in that these people use lots of metaphors and images, they are always speaking in code, and always know what the referent is. Lean into the language and have a rip-roaring good time.

And with that, we read the play. Danny, Pamela, Kyla, Carla, Garth, and Judy chomped into it, and the 90 minutes flew by. Who knew! It's a funny play too! Very serious, but these people need to laugh too.

We took a wee break - more coffee, a smoke, some pow-wows in the kitchen and the backyard porch. It's freezing. We turn on the heat.

We come back, and I show them a slide show of pictures from Chechnya, and the devastation wreaked on Grozny in the last 15 years. It's mind-blowing. It looks like something out of WWII. We can't believe this happend in the recent past. Here are some of the pictures we looked at:

We also took a look at a couple of YouTube videos with haunting pictures of the country, the people, and the material consequences of the two Chechen wars:

All very sobering. The cast has so much to contribute, their own relationship to these pictures, questions that I never thought of. We have a curious group of people assembled, and I am glad for it.

I showed the picture of Zarema. The Russians put their accused behind bars, not just in the prison, but in the courtroom too. That's where Zarema is.

This is the picture that started it all for Rebecca. Zarema's eyes leap out at us. Alternately a plaintive plea, a hollow stare, an open threat.

This week will be an education for us all and will light the way for where we want to go during our next phase.

As the cast filtered out of the house as the sun began to set, Rebecca and I were excited, anticipatory and exhausted. It was a good first day.

Can't wait to dig in tomorrow and learn more about this story.

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