The idea of using theater to educate people is not new. The Greeks were doing it way back when, using the great amphitheater at Epidaurus to teach the populace that murder and mayhem would not be condoned, and that abuse, thanks to the ever-watchful chorus and gods, would always be punished.
Today, we rely on the courts. Yet the power of silence—to keep victims in thrall and witnesses from testifying —continues to hold sway. And nowhere is that power more visible than in the area of domestic violence and the sexual abuse of the most vulnerable among us.
Because many of the victims of domestic violence today are Latinos, GALA Hispanic Theatre has now taken on the role of a deus ex machina—the god, in Greek theater, who descends from above to set everything right—by mounting a staged reading that allows the victims of abuse to speak out, and thus expose the terrible violence to which they have been subjected.
Called Callado Conmigo (Silenced Within Me), the dramatic piece, which was presented at two performances in early June, was performed in Spanish by a cast of brightly-clad, barefoot women who were all survivors of domestic abuse.
Each told fragments of the others’ stories, allowing them to laugh at the beatings and threats that all, in one way or another, had endured. Like the audience, the performers learned by listening.
The closest they came to weeping was in a chorus, “Sola, sola, sola,” where they cried out, lamenting the loneliness and the threat of deportation that made them such easy prey in the US.
Joining the cast on stage were the author and director. Elia Arce, and the singer-composer, Maria Isolina. (Arce is originally from Costa Rica and now a citizen of the US, while Isolina is a native of Honduras.)
Both women, who are well-known theater professionals, kept the stories moving, interjecting voice and guitar—and occasionally dance—to the otherwise static presentation.
Arce, who had previously worked with GALA on a play about HIV positive women, is a veteran of experimental theater. The script for Silenced Within Me was based on a series of interviews she conducted at Mary’s Center, a healthcare facility that provides help for survivors of domestic violence in the DC-Maryland area. All the writing and rehearsals were done in a two-week period just before the opening.
“These women are incredibly brave,” said Rebecca Medrano, who co-founded GALA with her husband, Hugo, the theater’s producer and artistic director, some 42 years ago. “They all took enormous risks in daring to tell their stories in public.”
According to the Medranos, Silenced Within Me was created to educate the Latino public about the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence within the community.
Now that its brief theatrical run is completed, GALA plans to move the production into the legal clinics and community centers where victims gather, so that those who need help will learn that they must not remain silent.
GALA deserves a big round of applause for mounting this presentation. It will certainly go a long way toward raising awareness–both within and outside the Latino community–that this kind of criminal behavior cannot be condoned.
Running time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.