How does one process unspeakable pain in losing a loved one to violence? Sanguine expressions of “thoughts and prayers” have no place in The Powers That Be, a hard rocking contemplation on the anguish that predators and killers leave behind. Deborah Randall has tackled the unthinkable, capturing and fully expressing the pain and misery of those struggling every single day to heal and move forward through stifling flashbacks. Randall’s powerful production puts words, movement, screams and shouts to honor the memories of loved ones mercilessly snatched away, brutalized and silenced.
Randall’s ideas started taking shape through her reflections on her dear sister-friend and beloved actress Tricia McCauley who was brutalized and murdered Christmas Day three years ago.
Grief-stricken with constant thoughts, hearing her chummy messages, her soothing voice, Randall started taking these ruminations and imagined Tricia with a legion of others on the other side of a thin veil—the reason we can still hear their haunting voices so present inside our heads. Goddess archetypes gave voice to the silenced, powerful women who persist, scream, shout, renounce the evil and will be heard!
Randall was also struck by how society nurtures and rewards perpetrators in what should be safe places – schools, gyms, doctor’s offices, churches, in some cases not even tucked away but in full view. What? How, she asks, in this age of digital reasoning,do people still opt for satanic leaders with cult followings and proven misogynists, and even elect them to lead the free world?
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Randall (Anu, Mother Earth) jams on her bass guitar and opens her heart and tremendous capacity to share her grief and sorrow. She even represents the horror of being sadistically bound and gagged, front and center at the top of the show. With strength and sheer will, she demonstrates the only way to secure her freedom is to renounce the hideous tenets of toxic male-dominated power culture. One by one, she rebukes messages that keep women doubled-bounded, noting that, perhaps for self-survival, some women even enable and assist the perpetrators.
An ensemble of women beautifully captures the sentiments of the language and songs (by Randall and Alan Scott.) Jasmine Brooks is captivating as Amina (Warrior/ruler). She opens the show with a gutsy glare and gorgeous contralto voice feeling the “Weight of the World” on her shoulders, grieving over her baby girl senselessly gunned down, and bringing women into the fold with “Sing to me Sisters.”
When one of the newcomers to the goddess fold, Eire, Goddess of the Land (Camryn Shegogue) admits that her most comforting and familiar musical is “Fiddler on the Roof,” the ladies soon riff on the famous tune with lyrics about “Permission” (from Tradition, get it?”) Yes, there’s fun and humor interspersed along the show’s grieving way.
The talented Amy Rhodes, who also handled the set and lights, floated along in a sheer white caftan offering wisdom, warmth and wit as Benten (eloquence, wisdom, art). In counterpoint to Randall’s rage belting “Spiraling Down” Benten gently nudges all to “Spiral Up.”
Rikki Howie as Inari (death, kinship, ghosts, fertility and love) nails ‘Little Girl” with its menacing warnings about monstrous men. Myrrh Cauthen as Anansi (spiderwoman-Fear, Storytelling and Connection) struts her stuff with reflections on the spread-eagled sexualized scene that some say clinched Halle Berry’s Best Actress Academy Award for “Monster’s Ball’ with a this-is-how-they-see-us, reality. Then of course, ‘there be monsters among us’ walking and stalking to their hearts content.
The show calls out the names of some of the fallen, honoring them solemnly with candles along the edges of the stage as representatives of so many nameless faceless others.
Randall’s piercing lyrics work beautifully with the catchy melodies and memorable songs by her husband Alan Scott, an impressive collaboration. Neil McFadden’s sound design kept the joint rocking highlighting a furious pulsating bass that softened and blended for tender moments.
The Powers That Be – A Rock Opera closes December 15, 2019. Details and tickets
Still, it’s a lot and some sections are cringeworthy, dealing with excruciating pain with tough messages and language, a searing raw work in progress. Randall is obviously working through her grief and loss exacerbated by her own ongoing PTSD recovery from trauma that Tricia was helping her through their 23 years of friendship.
As a brand new performance piece, the show somewhat holds together enough to be entertaining. Along its development, though, the creators will need to come to grips with its intention, intended audience and purpose for it to get wings and fly. For example, just when thematic issues seemed to be drawing to a close, a last song on Jeffery Epstein left the audience dangling and baffled – why was it there? Is it over? Why end on that message? What did it all mean?
All in all, Randall’s basic premise is perfectly stated and with time the piece will grow into a more realized production. Malicious predators and perpetrators seem to win by silencing voices, wreaking havoc. What if women could reclaim their voices, she asks, their agency, their expressions. —“What if every silenced voice could step up and he heard? One by one. What if women embraced the diverse sounds of their own voices?” That answers the questions for me — yes, “The Powers That Be” is noteworthy, has value, is captivating, exuberant and uncomfortable, but healing.
The Powers That Be – A Rock Opera Words by Deborah Randall; Music by Alan Scott; Director— Deborah Randall; Cast: Jasmine Brooks, Myrrh Cauthen, Deborah Randall, Amy Rhodes, Camryn Shegogue, Rikki Howie . Set and Lights— Amy Rhodes; Costumes and props –Deborah Randall; Movement Advisor–Carol Hess; Sound Designer— Neil McFadden; Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.
Deborah L Randall says
Thanks so much for this coverage. Debbie is an incredible woman and I’m so grateful to have her covering my work over all of these years. I just wanted to clarify a few things. To answer a couple of the questions she’s posed here for the sake of clarity of our audience and your readers. Because, I’m sure she’s not the only one confused.
The target audience is the survivor.
This play is a response to rape culture.
Here’s some really important info from the UN. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/11/compilation-ways-you-can-stand-against-rape-culture?fbclid=IwAR1jQqGL3vOtyGrMdDi3iQN-jGukNY8COyFGITadhm3sSb7yjTNoP0I7wa0
I thank you for giving a space for women to speak here. I know that in my own process it has been challenging to heal from trauma because the world is so filled with femicide and hatred of women. Rape culture is the norm on our stages I fear. I think this atmosphere starts to make all of us who have had to recover from the violence feel disposable and useless. Invisible and gagged to be sure. It is difficult to recover from rape when a rapist is your President.
The play ends with a celebration. The death of a pedophile. He’s only one in a sea of countless others though. And, I can’t change that in the writing. I know as a het woman I’m supposed to be resolved and dignified. But, I’m neither. I’m fucking furious. And that’s the truth.
I have had women approach me to tell me that by sharing my story they are healing. Some have even discussed their suicidal thoughts and I have been able to respond with how I dealt with my own and to share life saving resources. One woman, not ready to share her story of rape, promised to be at the show because she was sure it would help her.
As an artist, this is what I have to share. It has saved lives and it has healed. And, I understand that might be awkward and uncomfortable for the percentage of people not recovering from acts of violence in the rape culture. I just don’t care. If the world were not so violent toward women, it might be another play. But, i can only write what’s in my heart and soul. Then share it with as many people as possible with hopes of healing and laughter all around.
I’m so glad to hear people laugh. Permission is about showing up and staging what is not supposed to be said and somehow no longer fearing the looming wrath. I mean, if When He Slapped Me It Felt Like A Kiss in Carousel, why can’t I dream about the ease of life I would eperience If I Had A Man’s Dick? That’s the Permission I was trained to take and I make no apologies for it. I revel in it. This play has been so much more than I ever could have expected it to be.
Thanks for coverage.