Written by John O’keefe
Directed by Erica Barnes
Stephanie Brown (Simone)
Amanda Lucas (Katherine)
Melanie Renae (Christine)
Photos of the production by Eric Bartholomew
Blank Line Collective presented the Chicago premiere of John O'keefe's "Disgrace" from Sept 24th to Oct 16th 2010, at Lacuna Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport .
Disgrace is one of John O’keefe’s renowned feminist plays written in 1980s when he was in the peak of his eminent theatrical time. Shimmer was a blast at that time, won many awards and his other plays were performed on the stages everywhere! It was 1990-91 when I had workshop with him as his student at the University of Iowa where I was still new to the country and the culture. After twenty years, I met him again in Chicago and saw Disgrace with him for the second time last October. Disgrace a lyrical play and complex in its nature is written with immense potentiality to explore and experimentation for staging.
Erica Barnes, the director, and assistant director Melissa Law, had discovered enormous possibilities to use a vast space to experiment with all the actualities to innovate a performance to be uniquely theatrical, highly physical and vastly exceptional. The place was a renovated brick exposed, used-to-be macaroni factory in a dark and almost remote area, where we could contemplate Chicago’s glittering night from several arched windows before entering the theatre. The environment created an atmosphere of familiarity and a feeling of intimacy with the space and the audience, unified with actors and all the theatrical elements.
Photo by Brad Warrenburg
In darkness, we waited behind a transparent plastic curtain for a few minutes, then we were directed to the center stage covered with canvas, cushions and few chairs around a poll. We sat in the center. It was a breath taking moment when the elevator stopped and we heard whispering captive voices as the flash lights gave us the sense of the space, the characters and the audience.
Understanding John O’keefe’s childhood upbringing as Catholic, the play uses many religious mentality and references of biblical myth. The three women were as if driven away from the Garden of Eden, but instead of being descended, they transcended into an unknown space of imagination with their Victorian garments and baskets for picnic in their hands; a scene which reminds us of Renoir’s paintings. The first scene designed dream like, magical and mysterious as if we read the first line of Bible with a new interpretation in a godless sphere: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” [Genesis, 1:1-3]
Although the stage/space was rectangular, we felt as if we were in an abstract galaxy, revolving around an axis, as the actors circling in an elliptical way like the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun. And the repeated use of absolute darkness and light, thunderstorm, rain and the sound of a heavy elevator going up and down and the whispering voices…
Three women Simone, Katherine, and Christine in their highest point of youth, sexual desires and potentiality for love, formed a bond of exiled sisters in an imaginary journey while fleeing from a prison cell or mental institutions, before they were taken to a gas chamber perhaps. They all committed crimes against a man called Francoise (Frank), the same man (or symbolically the same man) they loved. O’keefe in his play refers to the mythical story of the original sin and the fall of man, deconstructs its definition and concentrates on the execution of violence by some men towards women as the cause of their power demonstration and unconscious guilt. But women also committed crimes as a result of imposed violence.
Women’s passion for Francoise resonated in me a breathtaking allegorical play I saw long time ago in Iran; “Crime on Goat-Island ” by Ugo Betti, the Italian playwright as well as the movie “Passionate Summer” an adaptation of the same play. But unlike the “Crime on Goat-Island”, O’keefe makes it ambiguous to his audience whether Françoise (Frank) was shared by the three women or he is a symbolic figure of a man who seduces and then tortures women.
Three women in three different sequences tell their stories contained with passion, betrayal, violence, murder and pain, yet all deny their murder sometimes. Simone’s story explains the absurdist’s idea of human’s sorrowful, pointless and futile search for life.
“Simone I killed my baby
Christine You’re not supposed to kill your baby
Simone Why not?
Christine Because babies don’t do anything.
Simone Babies do everything. They’re smart. They’re so smart they can’t even talk. They make you goo and coo, they pop their eyes and drivel on their chins, they poop on their hands. They scream all nights. They scream all day. Because they hate this world. They hate the creatures from this world. Because they’re from another planet. And they yearn for their planet. They scream for their planet. They scream in hatred for the women, who stuffed them in their bellies and pulled them down into this dirty, pointed world, stuffed them in bags in their bellies and ran away with them into this dirty, pointed world.”
The notion of the myth, the erotic concept of the story and the modern interpretation of biblical perception helps the director to create scenes which brings to mind paintings such as “Bathers” by Renoir.
The marriage scene, the unification before falling from three windows, their vows for solidarity remains in mind as an interior uttered language which an innocent criminal would confess before purification, the end as the beginning of one’s life.
Christine I, the despised, the despicable, the desperate, the displaced, the disgraced…
Katherine We’re not that bad
Simone We are.
The production was a memorable performance by significant actors Stephanie Brown as Simone, Amanda Lucas as Katherine and Melanie Renae as Christine and the great talent Erica Barnes as director.
John O'keefe and I, Photo by Martyna Centeno