(Re)Acts: Where Do We Go From Here?
by John Stoltenberg
“We certainly didn’t prepare ourselves for this,” said Forum Theatre Artistic Director Michael Dove Monday night at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre. He was addressing a packed house of folks who had come for an evening of short, timely theater pieces in Forum’s (Re)Acts series, which has included such hashtag-able topics as #Orlando and Forced From Home #RefugeeCrisis. Tonight’s topic was to be the 2016 presidential election and was titled, when planned back in August, Where Do We Go From Here?, no hashtag.
When Dove asked the audience “How are you all feeling?,” the dispirited responses called out included “fearful” and “angry.” (In my own mind, which I did not speak, I had retitled the event #WeAreSoFucked.)
As recently as a month ago, a promotional email from Forum hardly hinted at what would be the mood of the room on this night.
Whether November 8th leaves you joyously uplifted or packing your bags for Canada, we know you’re going to need a place to process your post-election emotions….
No matter what happens on election day, in the aftermath of this brutal and polarizing election, we all have more questions than answers. In six short works, our playwrights will ask how we got here, what could have been, and where we go from here.
Within a few days since the election, Dove and the assembled creative teams put together a program such as had never been envisioned but now had an emotional urgency probably without political precedent in the memories of those were there.
The performances, shown in the photographs below, took place in front of the set for Open Circle Theater’s production of The Who’s Tommy. (Because I had seen and enjoyed that show just days before, I got an earworm soon as I walked in with the lyrics “Donny, can you hear me?”)
The Five Stages of Trump Grief
Written by: Alexandra Petri
Performed by: (Re)Acts Cast
Starting out funny might not seem an obvious choice, but that’s what Forum did. The sharp-edged text, written by Washington Post opinion writer Alexandra Petri and published November 11, was a jokey/dead-serious takeoff on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. (It can be read online.) Not having come expecting to laugh, the audience seemed disarmed, relaxed, and opened to what was to follow.
Excerpt from Let It Flow!
Written and Performed by Caroline Stefanie Clay
Caroline Clay has been working for a few years on a one-woman show about Florynce Kennedy (1916 – 2000), the legendary radical feminist activist, lawyer, lecturer, and civil-rights advocate. Kennedy was badass and brilliant. “You cannot live a risk-free life,” Clay quoted her, dressed in Kennedy’s trademark leather vest and BULLSHIT-imprinted shirt. I knew Kennedy briefly in life, and I recognized in Clay’s exuberantly performed excerpt a spot-on homage to a woman who broke paths that still need breaking. If anything got clear Monday night, it was that Florynce Kennedy must not be forgotten and Caroline Clay’s Let It Flow! must have a full production.
Llevame al Rio (Take Me to the River)
Written and Performed by Alina Collins-Maldonado and Sharalys Silva
The water poured into a bowl from a pitcher in this beautiful, poetic vignette becomes a metaphor for the grief of a mother in a folk tale weeping for her latinx children, and for her daughters who in a racist and sexist world are regarded as whores. Gradually the water means the river along a border where a bully would build a wall.
Don’t Worry, Little Girls and What Trump’s Victory Tells Boys Everywhere
Written by Alexandra Petri
Performed by Sara Dabney Tisdale and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Two hot-off-the-presses texts by Petri were spliced together and intercut to convey the message that the election sends to children. Trying very hard to cheer and uplift, Sara Dabney Tisdale read from “Don’t Worry, Little Girls” (published November 8, available online). Contrapuntally and triumphantly, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh read from “What Trump’s Victory Tells Boys Everywhere” (November 9, available online). The effect was chilling.
Led by Nora Achrati
Nora Achrati conducted an audience-participation segment based on a set of cards intended to help kids feel better about themselves when they’re feeling down, with messages like “hug yourself,” “make a funny face,” and “have a snack.” This silly-semiserious relief was much welcomed by the audience, who got into it (along with the goldfish crackers Achrati passed around).
If it will feed nothing else, It will feed their revenge
Written by Jenna Duncan
Performed by Ahmad Kamal
A class act, an artful and smart monologue based loosely on speeches about tolerance and forbearance from Merchant of Venice.
Developed and Performed by Kathy Gordon
A moving silent movement piece that evoked the beating heart and agony of not having a voice.
Why I Woke Up Ready to Fight:
Written by: Jacqueline Lawton
Performed by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Alina Collins-Maldonado, Sharalys Silva, Sara Dabney Tisdale, Sarah Corey;, Norah Achrati, Ahmad Kamal
A choral exhortation to start now to reclaim this damaged country.
A post-show discussion led by gifted facilitator Jordana Fraider confirmed and affirmed Forum Theatre’s achievement in assembling this evening on short notice: It really had become an occasion “to process post-election emotions” and, as Michael Dove put it in his opening remarks, “an opportunity to double down” in activist resistance.
Running Time: About one hour 30 minutes, with no intermission (plus facilitated discussion afterward).