The Monument: A Response by Peter Kingstone

World Stage Embassy members have been contributing writing to Time and Space about the programming in the 2010/2011 World Stage series at Harbourfront Centre. For the final show in the season, Embassy member Peter Kingstone made a video blog instead of a written post. Here's his response to Rwandan company Isoko Theatre's production of The Monument, written by Colleen Wagner and directed by Jen Capraru.


Jordan Tannahill said...

In the Q&A, the company members of ISOKO Theatre spoke of 'The Monument's' startling parallels to their own lives. This is (sadly) a testament to the timeless and universal nature of Wagner's piece. In their hands, it becomes a living text. It is not merely a theoretical dramatic scenario performed by actors in a theatre but rather the transmutation of the lived experience of the performers. After a harrowing hour, we are left with a potent final image: a woman caught with one foot in the past and one foot stepping towards forgiveness.

Dan Daley said...

I found the Monument to be a powerful experience, purely for the quality of the action and the emotions conveyed by the performers. I wish I had seen the show a second time and ignored the subtitles all together. The experience wouldn’t be any less engaging without the translation. Besides it was damn annoying to try and watch that screen which often went out of sync with the performance.

It’s important to be specific when talking about the subject matter of this work. It’s not about Africa, it’s about Rwanda. I’ve encountered this issue in several discussions where this play is inaccurately connected with an “African problem”. Rwanda’s political situation is very unique, yet also vastly universal in contrast to similar instances of genocide, ethnic cleansing and war in other countries over the past century. With specificity comes universality which I think is working here in this piece. It is timeless, allowing audiences to connect with it in many different ways through their own eyes.

This play brings something distant and foreign to us, as North Americans, and focuses it upon two humans trying to understand/not understand each other. What is right and wrong when we are in war? Does anything seem morally wrong when so much terror surrounds us? I would imagine rape and murder might seem insignificant next to the horrors seen on the battle field. I felt sympathy for this young solider, likely coerced into picking up a rifle before he ever knew what becoming a teenager meant (or what does it mean to a place like Rwanda, knowing that “teenager” is often a 1st world concept). The status of women in this society is so appalling that it doesn’t seem surprising that this solider, among many others, treated them like animals. What is one more body when thousands are murdered in a day?

But through my white liberal eyes I know that any death is not okay (because I’m morally sharp as an arrow of course) and so I also condemned this young solider. I felt sympathy for the women, acting as shadows of each other and of the many who died before them. Their pain and loss was palpable.

I share a similar sentiment to Peter’s comment regarding the experience of emotion in theatre. Should we watch actors experience intense emotions or might some of this be placed upon the shoulders of the audience? I think this is more about trying to reach a shared experience. We go to theatre to see actors convey a wide range of emotions and we want to go on the journey with them. In this production I’m not sure if enough room was allowed for the audience to grasp the intensity of the tragedies being described. The stakes were set up and taken down very quickly. Without seeing it again I’m not sure I can pinpoint the arc of the dramatic action. Was it when she began laying out the women’s bodies?

I feel horrible talking about this play in such cold terms like dramatic action and structure. It’s the subject matter that prevents me from being overtly critical I think. What’s that about? It’s not just this play, I’m sure we can all list off many others we felt were untouchable because of their content. I’d hate to become a writer of comedies in our times, I would become a depressed alcoholic from the heaps of criticism I’d face… because comedy is so not relevant right?!

Unknown said...

The depth of the material and the connection the actors had to it made this a piece hard to watch and even harder to be critical of. I completely agree with you Dan, when you talk about a piece seeming "untouchable" because of it's content and treatment. And I think there is something to that. Is it possible for the actors' connection to the story and the amazing gift of humanity they offer with it, be enough to transcend the missing pieces of the work?

For me, it was hard to connect with the actors. Their emotional struggle was so deep and so internalized that I felt as though I had hit a wall of emotion with no way through. I even noticed myself wanting to inch my chair back from the front row, to separate myself from the action.

For me the emotional connection came with the post show Q+A. Getting to hear first hand the experiences of struggle and emotion from the actors was powerful. I'm left still in awe of the entire experience and glad that I had the chance to witness and experience the language, the depth, the beauty and the darkness of it.