BWW Review: Karen Rodriguez Shines in Vortex Rep's THE WAY SHE SPOKE: A DOCU-MYTHOLOGIA by Isaac Gomez
My wife and I took a quiet half hour stroll around a neighborhood block tonight. After viewing THE WAY SHE SPOKE: A DOCU-MYTHOLOGIA last night, this small commonplace act was accompanied by a melancholy kind of guilt. Written about the femicides in Ciudad Juarez by Isaac Gomez (a playwright and educator originally from the area who now lives in Chicago) THE WAY SHE SPOKE may not be intended to cause guilt over an innocuous experience such as taking a walk. But for the women living or traveling on the Juarez Mexico border, a stroll around a neighborhood exists of the profoundly real and constant threat of being kidnapped and murdered. At current count, Wikipedia shows 370 femicide deaths in Juarez since 1993. It's a profoundly real threat. And playwright Gomez, director Rudy Ramirez and the excellent Karen Rodriguez bring us an evening of theatre profoundly real as well.
In THE WAY SHE SPOKE: A DOCU-MYTHOLOGIA, a director has asked a lone actress to do a reading of his play; a play about his visit to the area where he was raised, where he interviews and documents the experiences and effects of Juarez's unsolved, excessively numerous femicides. As the first part of the play reveals, the actress has not read the play, so her experience of it will be as new as ours. We travel the journey with her, just as helpless as she is when she asks an unseen and mute director to explain himself and his motives about the play.
In this one hour and five minute piece, playwright Gomez gives us meta theatre that is simultaneously personal and indifferent. It leads anyone self aware to ponder their own level of ignorance or indifference to the terror and pain that faces Juarez and its women. The journalistic premise keeps us thankfully once removed from the inhumane and beastly treatment the victims are forced to endure. It is Rodriguez who must synthesize, bring the data to life, and tap into our feelings about the tragic information she's reading. Karen begins the reading with the kind of carefree attitude that we as an audience generally experience upon entering the theatre. The transformation she undergoes in the unfolding of a story she flippantly confesses she hasn't read is considerable. Joviality unfolds into curiosity, disbelief, seriousness, and eventually a sickening kind of helplessness. Rodriguez takes us with her; as she's just so charming we've got to follow her into the depths. She originated this role in its first iteration, and brings Gomez's script from black and white to color with seamless support from director Ramirez.
There is no set designer credited in the program but it would be deceptive to think a stark stage save some lumber to trip over, a ladder, a chair and small table, don't represent the kind of desolate experience that Rodriguez intended and the people of Ciudad Juarez are left with. Patrick Anthony's lighting design skillfully conveys the changing mood of Gomez's story without once being obtrusive. It's an excellent trick considering the play itself is set in an otherwise empty theatre where only work lights should be available at all. Ramirez otherwise gives his attention over to Rodriguez. And Rodriguez must be acknowledged for traveling every night so skillfully into the depths of such emotional desolation.
In the end though, have we been manipulated into this story? Has Rodriguez as a woman been manipulated by an unseen male director to tell a story he sits silently through? Who's story is this and who gets the right to tell this story anyway? Is this yet another display of masculinity that contributes to a culture that makes femicide possible? Perhaps. But for this reviewer, THE WAY SHE SPOKE is social activism disguised as a superior piece of theatre. It becomes an exercise in self reflection that leaves one to deeply consider one's place, privilege, ignorance, and willingness to change or affect change.
I'll leave you with Vortex Theatre's Artistic Director Bonnie Collum's thoughts on this play: "I truly need for you to come to the show this weekend. It is one of the most important works of theatre that I have ever seen. You have to be there this weekend for The Way She Spoke: A Docu-Mythologia. We need you in the audience."
Yes we do.
THE WAY SHE SPOKE: A DOCU-MYTHOLOGIA
by Isaac Gomez
directed by Rudy Ramirez
Jan. 11-20, Thu.-Sun., 8pm; Sat., 5pm,
2307 Manor Rd.
Tickets: 512/478-5282 or visit www.vortexrep.org.
Running Time: 65 minutes