Our Genocides and “Combat Paper” speak out for peace.
Along with playing host to all of the fun and fabulous festivals occurring this past weekend (hopefully you managed to make it out to at least one), San Francisco also played host to a more sobering event—the sixteenth play in a cycle of seventeen on the topic of genocide. Penned by Eric Ehn, all seventeen are being prepared and presented in various corners of the country before coming together at La MaMa in New York in November for a complete run entitled "Soulographie: Our Genocides." Last May, the tenth play in the cycle, “Cordelia,” a Noh-inflected reimagining of King Lear was presented by Theatre of Yugen, and this weekend “Dogsbody”, directed by Rebecca Novick, turned the Mission Street headquarters for Intersection of the Arts into a Ugandan battlefield.
Humming and singing, the three-person cast enters the room, clad respectively in the garb of a jungle soldier, the mismatched scraps of a peasant child, a flowing white garment and incongruous leggings.
We meet Scovia (Rami Margron), kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army, first as a kitchen slave, second as a spoil of war, with all the violent implications that entails. Over the course of the play we see the tape rewound to the moment when Scovia’s life is changed for the worse—hiding in a schoolyard tree where she is found first by bees, then by the LRA. In a dreamlike, non-linear narrative, Scovia recounts her traumas with expressionistic text and expressive dance (choreographed by Erica Chong Shuch), while a menacing Reggie D. White and sympathetic Catherine Castellanos flank her on either side, unshakable traces of an endless nightmare.
Drained and devastated, Margron finally describes the moment she is forced to kill her own father, flour falling from her fingers to the stage as she speaks, like handfuls of graveyard dust. In the second half of the play, set in a futuristic, war-torn Texas, this same dust will be thrown over her body by White during a described act of violence, turning her, appropriately, into a funereal witness to her own destruction. In this segment, White as “Dogface” and Margron as “Nipple” navigate the chaotic battlegrounds of Texas, the days of arrows, the death of human compassion. Although not every Ehn-penned message is completely clear, the ultimate implication is: in the brutal arena of war, there is no place for love.
There might be a space for redemption, however, and at Southern Exposure this idea is being explored with a series of interactive paper-making workshops through September 29. Spinning old uniforms into new paper, artist Drew Cameron crafts the materials of war into a civilian statement of catharsis. Himself a former soldier, Cameron’s Combat Paper workshops have been presented on both coasts, geared particularly towards veterans and their families, but embracing participation from all. Just the act of cutting up and pulping a set of fatigues can be an emotional liberation of sorts, and the resultant paper perfectly embodies the idea of a blank slate with the potential to become an expression of peace.