- Written and performed by Kathleen Gonzales
- Directed by Patrick Crowley
- Produced by the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint
- Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Sounds of breaking waves and a projected image of surf washing on shore place us in a paradise of calm. A faint echo of voodoo drums sets us up for the cultural question: ‘What is your name? Not just the first but your last.’ For a starter, it’s a natural question, right? Wrong. It’s terrifying for the Haitian character, born Marie-Therese Pierre, made glowingly real by actress Kathleen Gonzales in a hypnotic one-woman performance which fills the stage with her impersonations of Marie-Therese and seventeen other fictional people.
One-woman shows are demanding. and soon after her entrance, Gonzales proves her gift as a chameleon-like storyteller. She’s an empathetic playwright as well, basing The Bridge of Bodies on personal experiences growing up in Haiti, known for its kidnappings, assassinations and revolutions under the Duvalier dictatorships and Aristide, and interviews with Haitian ex-patriots. By telling us the story of one individual, the playwright makes us care about a people. Not just immigrants but anyone transplanted from anywhere. When Marie, an American college student, troubled by bad dreams, tells her therapist, “I have to go back,” we want to take the journey of self-reconstruction with her.
Marie’s journey is personal, allegorical and universal. She is imprisoned by time. She has a one-week semester break to visit Haiti to find out who she is. All she knows about her native country skims the surface, as the colorfully decorated buses do. “The crime rate is high; employment low….Same as the states on a lower scale.” Beyond that, her memory fails, except when she reads about the genocide of the Arawak Indians from smallpox and by the colonial invaders.
As directed by Patrick Crowley, the story unfolds like a fairy tale, as Marie visits Haiti, an exotic land of enchanted trees and ritual cleansing in deep, blue pools. We are led logically through her declaration of independence from her mother’s fears, who, also with a sealed-off past, warned Marie-Therese Pierre to never say her full name even in a present-day, American grocery store. “Don’t speak. The walls have ears.” How frightening is that?
Crowley achieves a directorial highpoint when we are surrounded by Gonzales’ voice as she winds her way down a tortuous jungle path to a castle, made concrete by onstage screen projections, where Marie’s childhood memories of daily atrocities are buried in the Cave of Memories. Here, Marie has to work through her self-delusions until she comes to realize she’s a living witness who must tell her story.
In no way does Gonzales pull back from the harsh realities. Nor does she drown us in blood as the title The Bridge of Bodies may imply. The bridge seems to suggest the importance of connecting between generations. Gonzales depicts Haitians such as Marie’s aunt Tati Toy, or Papa, an honest man who lived under a corrupt regime, as amazingly helpful, gentle people.
One flaw: I’m not quite sure how helpful Gonzales’ shadow pantomimes behind two diaphanous curtains are; they seem more confusing than clarifying. But an abrupt transition from story telling back to the therapist’s office works beautifully. Gonzales does it with a twitch in facial expression, a change of voice, from defensive mannerism to assertive. It’s a great moment that produces laughter at how shallow, emotionally-uninvolved and intellectual the psychotherapist sounds. .
And that’s Gonzales’ secret. She draws us in and lets us laugh at the tragic irony still lived through every day in Haiti. Gonzales leave us an upbeat message: the more of us who can live to tell our survival stories, the safer we all will be. The Bridge of Bodies is a trip well worth taking.
- Running Time: 1:20 minutes with no intermission.
- When: Thursdays – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. to June 15, 2008.
- Where: The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.
- Tickets: $20 general admission, $10 for studens with ID, payable by cash or credit card. Group discounts available.
- A portion of the profits from Bridge of Bodies will benefit The Eyes of Haiti, a non-profit dedicated to teaching peace and self-sustainability to the under-privileged youth of Haiti.