The Word Begins: A Rush of Images on War, Love, Race, Relationships
Sometimes life comes at you as fast as a battering ram breaking down the door that has shielded your little piggy toes from the big bad wolf and more. On October 7, 2007, the Dresser attended a performance of The Word Begins, a spoken word poetry play written and performed by Steve Connell and Sekou (Tha Misfit) and directed by Robert Egan at Signature Theatre of Arlington, Virginia.
Photo by Scott Suchman
Dealing with war, race relations, religion, sexuality, and love, this non-linear drama performed by two actors—one white and one black—un-gated a flood of images for the Dresser.
THE WORD BEGINS: GOD, THE BUS DRIVER
For example, the performers weave in and out of various character roles. In one scene, Connell plays God. God, now driving a Greyhound bus, is a rejected author—the Bible isn’t selling so well on the street.
The Dresser’s Recent Life Dramas: Rescued Race Dogs
The Dresser, escaping for a couple of days from her new urban digs which are horrendously noisy given a major renovation project in front of her apartment house involving jackhammers, traveled to Rehoboth Beach, Maryland, where rescued greyhounds were being paraded in the thousands.
Photo by Karren L. Alenier
The Dresser, who will now and forever see a Greyhound bus and instantly think about the Rehoboth greyhound convention and the possibility that the bus driver could be God, imagines that the owners of these retired race dogs, which are serenely quiet, need all the support they can get from other more experienced greyhound owners. Why? For starters, these rescue owners participate in a deus ex machina operation that gives them a dog that sees every door as a starting gate and once the barrier opens, the dog races away at 45 miles per hour not knowing, in the world outside a racetrack, that vehicular traffic is something that will kill them.
THE WORD BEGINS: SHARKS IN THE CARPET
What kills plays a big role in The Word Begins. The writer-actors are dealing with a non-sequential time line of killing fields: the Nazi Holocaust that exterminated Anne Frank, the current war in Iraq killing and maiming young Americans soldiers and Iraqis of all ages—solders and civilians alike, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre by the mentally unbalanced young man who came from South Korean to America at age eight, the Martin-Luther-King/John-F-Kennedy assassinations, the Ku Klux Klan lynchings of southern blacks, the anti-gay hate-crime murder of student Matthew Shepard. How killing and danger are framed comes by way of Connell assuming his boyhood identity when he believed in Superman and Santa Claus. “Watch out for the sharks in the carpet,” he warns Sekou.
Photo by Scott Suchman
What works really well in delivering this blitz of information is the use of nine video screens that are easy to see at one glance from any seat in Signature’s ARK Theatre. Director Robert Egan has enlisted the impressively credentialed Michael Clark as the projection designer. Clark, who has worked with Broadway, Off-Broadway, Washington National Opera, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre, and numerous Signature Theatre shows, knows how to pace and repeat his projections. In fact the other artistic designers— Myung Hee Cho (set and costumes), Chris Lee (lighting), and Adam Phalen (sound)—have all made their contributions using the same measured strategy that supports the performers without overwhelming the performance.
The Dresser’s Recent Life Dramas: Getting Back Your Arm
Currently as part of her ongoing research on the American writer Jane Auer Bowles, the Dresser is reading the apocalyptic novel Journey to the End of Night, written by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. (On a transatlantic ship, Céline discovered the teenage Jane Bowles intently reading his novel just after it was published in 1934.) Like The Word Begins, Journey to the End of Night is an in-your-face exposé that steps on a lot of toes about man’s inhumanity to man related to the subject of war (Journey begins with World War I), love, religion, politics, and race. One line that really sticks in the head of the Dresser is: “In all this solid blackness, which you felt would never give you back your arm, if you stuck it out in front of your face, … was … that the desire to kill was lurking within it, vast and multiform.”
The gloom is thick in Céline’s semi-autobiographic novel, but there is also something giddily comic about how Céline presents it. And yes, Céline is the white medical doctor-author labeled an anti-Semite who also used the N word frequently in Journey to the End of Night. However, the Dresser thinks Céline speaks the language of our teenage Goths and that Journey to the End of Night should be read by anyone showing any inclination for volunteering for military service. The book makes the reader think, while she or he is entertained or affronted. Same for The Word Begins.
THE WORD BEGINS: TALK SHOW WITH LICK NASTY
Although The Word Begins does not actively campaign against youth joining the military, it lobs rotten eggs at our politicians, equating George Bush to Osama bin Laden, calling both terrorists. In a set of kitchen sink maneuvers that include talk, minstrel, and boxing shows, the poets explore stereotypes that feed sexism and racism. Connell and Sekou explore denigration of women with two obnoxious talk show characters, one called Lick Nasty who sees women’s “boobies” as crystal balls (this is where Nasty sees his future). A Shit-Happens memorial for blacks leads into the question of how do we get rid of anger and hate.