Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ten Months: Connecting with Wilmington’s Voices

Under siege and starving for change: that’s how our city is portrayed in Anna Marie Cammarato’s Ten Months, The Wilmington Voices Project, at the Delaware Theatre Company. The bare, white scaffolding onstage—intended to represent ongoing urban development—underscores the empty, gritty feeling of many Wilmington streets. Projected family snapshots, videos and archival photographs from the Historical Society of Delaware created a rich, striking sense of people and place. Wilmington is “a city with a broken heart,” as one character suggests. Cammarato, who conceived and directed this powerful production writes, “I cannot think of a better forum than our theatre to show everyone that there is poetry, pain, sorrow and true beauty in our everyday thoughts, conversations and dreams.”

The docudrama takes us through the heyday of Market Street with its upscale department stores and lively crowds, to the riots of 1968 and subsequent national guard occupation (lending to the title “10 Months”), the days of “white flight” and to the present—when shootings and violence are a stark reality, juxtaposed with the serenity of newly rebuilt neighborhoods. Using interviews, poetry and material from the Facebook page Tired of All the Killings in Wilmington :(. Cammarato creates a riveting, multi-faceted drama. Adding to the rich tapestry of the evening was the Delaware Historical Society’s lobby exhibit Full Circle: A History of Change on Market Street, which featured photographs of the street from over the years.

Three actors, Ben Cherry, Taïfa Harris and Erin Moon, each play several roles: teenage, middle-aged and older “voices” of different races, genders and backgrounds. The actors are moving and convincing as they glide effortlessly into the different personas. The two white Middle Voices have names, yet the African-American is simply “Woman,” perhaps suggesting both the facelessness and universality of her story: she stands each day on a city street, holding a poster of her murdered son, asking passersby to look at his picture and think about the meaning of his life and death. Her words become a theme, a stark reminder of the city’s brutal, senseless violence that weaves through the play, as she repeats her story like a chant.

After the show, I had the pleasure of speaking to Taïfa Harris, NYC-based actress. Her excitement about the production and her experience of Wilmington was contagious, and she encouraged us to return for the second act of the show, which includes an informal discussion with some of the people interviewed for the project. Though one audience member I spoke to felt the show perpetuated the misconception of Wilmington being an uninhabitable city, I found the production to be honest, poignant and, yes, full of hope.

See http://www.delawaretheatre.org/.

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