Unsettled or enthralled by “Occupy Wall Street,” and other similar demonstrations throughout the nation–and world—Americans haven’t had much time to make sense of the announcement, last week, that our country’s fourth concurrent conflict has begun in central Africa. Whether the timing of the deployment was chosen because minds were elsewhere remains to be analyzed: President Obama has told us only about a hundred troops, whose abilities will be used for self-defense, would be utilized—but, as a spokesman explained to the BBC, our “forces are prepared to stay as long as necessary to enable regional security forces to carry on independently.” It’s a disheartening pronouncement because we have heard it before—supposed short wars stretch on for years, fought by American soldiers who may not think the fighting is worth it, not that they have much recourse (only one-in-three vets feel the current wars are necessary, yet almost 5,000 men and women in uniform have died in Iraq and Afghanistan alone). The atrocities of the LRA (Lord Resistance Army) across Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic—found also in Darfur–are probably little known to most Americans, although they’ve been going on for approximately twenty years. Foreign policy experts might point out that Uganda has helped in our efforts in Somalia against militants, with ties to al-Qaida, and are worthy of our support. To many Americans, however, the situation in central Africa does not threaten our national security and, like Tibet for example, must be left on its own. Aid for anyone, any country, comes at an enormous price to U.S. taxpayers—especially now–who do not see themselves as police for the world, a world court—or, after Iraq and Afghanistan—interventionists who can do much good to improve circumstances, in any event. (Recall also that America has a trillion dollar debt for the third year in a row—and that Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the nation approximately a trillion dollars, as well, not to mention the trillion dollars used to bail out Wall Street.)
Therefore, it may seem surprising that a small show with puppets and a likable young cast, We in Silence Hear a Whisper by Jon Kern, at The Theater at the 14th Street Y (www.redferntheatre.org -–it only runs until October 23) should provide any insight into national affairs (even if we’re looking away from them at the moment). The play is set in Sudan (Darfur), and concerns the attempts of a young girl (Keona Welch) to bury her brother. A man on a horse (Stephen Conrad Moore) follows her, attempting to kill her (gun shots are fired repeatedly during the production, and I would not recommend it for children). Caught between magic and reality; myth and surrealism, We in Silence Hear a Whisper can’t find a tone to accommodate the very real horrors where, since March 2003, the Darfur People’s Association of New York reminds us: more than 500,000 Darfuri civilians have been killed; at least 8,000 women and girls have been raped; 3,400 villages have been destroyed; 4 million people have moved to internally displaced person (IDP) camps, with 300,000 people forced to cross borders to camps in Chad. Maybe no play could withstand such a weight. Nevertheless, interestingly, it alerts us to the importance of China’s involvement in the region: that country sees oil in this area. Maybe we do, too. Iraq, Libya, now central Africa.
Say what you want to about We in Silence Hear a Whisper, but it was a show that was here and informing at a pivotal moment when others were treating such material as not much more than that for a slow news cycle.
In the coming days, in the shadow of “Occupy Wall Street,” America’s new war will emerge in the shadows (as we’re hearing renewed discussion of aggression in Iran). We may have become so inured to military intervention that it just doesn’t matter if the U.S. is involved in another conflict—we may feel it does enough good to justify the expense and American lives, despite our deficit and the fact that some believe the anti-war movement in this country vanished after Obama’s election. For those who will ask why, given the history, this conflict had to be started when the country’s attention was obviously elsewhere, when there was little in the way of a buildup and a discussion of options, when we already know that we always stay longer than we expect and have more casualties than we project; we have to wonder when we’ll begin to see American lives as real—and not puppets.
© 2011 by Bob Shuman
Photograph: (L-R): Keona Welch, Devere Rogers; Credit: courtesy of The Red Fern Theatre Company
Publicist: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity
The Red Fern Theatre Company pairs each of its productions with a philanthropy whose work relates to the social themes of the play. A portion of the ticket sales from each play is donated to the designated philanthropy, and they educate their audiences on their mission and activities. By associating each production with a philanthropic organization, they are able to respond directly to the people affected by the issues addressed in the play. Since their inception, they’ve produced 10 revivals, 1 World Premiere, 1 New York Premiere and two evenings of commissioned short plays. They’re excited to call the newly renovated Theater at the 14th Street Y their home for the entire year.
For this production, the RFTC has chosen to partner with SaveDarfur (www.SaveDarfur.org).
Unity Statement for SaveDarfur:
We stand together and unite our voices to raise public awareness and mobilize a massive response to the atrocities in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
Responding to a rebellion in 2003, the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and its allied militia, known as the Janjaweed, launched a campaign of destruction against the civilian population of ethnic groups identified with the rebels. They wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, stole livestock and systematically murdered, tortured and raped civilians. The Sudanese government’s genocidal, scorched earth campaign has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives through direct violence, disease and starvation, and continues to destabilize the region. Millions have fled their homes and live in dangerous camps in Darfur, and hundreds of thousands are refugees in neighboring Chad. Violence continues today. Ultimately, the fate of the Darfuri people depends on establishing a lasting and just peace in all of Sudan and in the region.
We are committed to the goals that the Save Darfur Coalition advocates for, including:
Ending the violence against civilians;
Facilitating adequate and unhindered humanitarian aid;
Establishing conditions for the safe and voluntary return of displaced people to their homes;
Promoting the long-term sustainable development of Darfur; and
Holding the perpetrators accountable.
We call on the United States, other governments, the United Nations and regional organizations to focus their efforts on ending this crisis. The situation in Darfur is very complex and constantly changing; more detailed information is available at http://www.SaveDarfur.org/pages/learn.
Jon Kern’s full-length works include Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them, Do Not Disturb: a hotel experience and Telefonesis: The Art of Mental Murder. His short plays have been performed at Ensemble Studio Theater, The Brick, The Flea and in the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival. He’s a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the Civilians R&D Group, The Old Vic New Voices Network, and Ars Nova Play Group, and an alumnus of EST/Youngblood. Kern received a 2010-2011 Van Lier Fellowship in Playwriting from New Dramatists and a 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Commission and he was a 2010 Heideman Award finalist.
MELANIE MOYER WILLIAMS:
Melanie Moyer Williams, a cum laude graduate of Duke University, is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of The Red Fern Theatre Company. Her directing credits for the company include the New York Premiere of Shirley Lauro’s All Through Night, the World Premiere of A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Trauma, Miss Evers’ Boys from +30NYC and The Exonerated, among others. Her other directing credits include the World Premiere of Henry Kissinger (FringeNYC), That Is The Question in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival (named one of the Best in the Festival) and A Tribute To Andrew Lloyd Webber with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of El Salvador in El Salvador with Wanderlust Theatre Company.
The cast includes Parker Leventer, Stephen Conrad Moore (The Civilians, Classical Theatre of Harlem), Matthew Park, Devere Rogers and Keona Welch (Colored People’s Time and Savanna Black & Blue with the Negro Ensemble Company), along with puppeteers Hansel Tan (The Ohmies, Will Sing with Ma-Yi Theatre Co., Future Anxiety at The Flea Theater), Marcy Agreen and Crystal Beth.
The creative and production team consists of Ken Hall (Red Fern Managing Director), Lori Singleton (Associate Producer), Kel Haney (Red Fern Artistic Producer), Amelia Mathews and Elizabeth Barrett Groth (Puppet Design), Katherine Akiko Day (Set Design), Marie Yokoyama (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Barrett Groth (Costume Design), Colin J. Whitely (Sound Design), Julie Foh (Accent Coach), Laura Luciano (Production Stage Manager) and Sara Lyons (Assistant Director).
The Red Fern Theatre Company continues to garner acclaim in the theatrical community. In October 2010, American Theatre Magazine named the group as “one to watch.” NYTheatre.com applauded the company, saying, “Red Fern Theatre Company is to be commended for their mission of fostering documentary performance[s].” Back Stage writes, “A Shot Away has its compelling moments, and it is surely an effective way to get the word out about a problem that affects thousands of soldiers annually.” Broadway World raves, “Gentrifusion not only provides a wonderfully multi-racial and talented cast, and a great evening of theatre, but each of the plays is paired with a philanthropy (all of which Red Fern has worked with before on previous projects). If you like provocative new urban theatre, this is not to be missed.”