This past Saturday, at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, I watched ‘Celebrated Silence’ – a play that dealt with the subject of groping, the trauma it unleashes on the person who is subjected to it and the complicit silence of society regarding this issue.
The story was conceived by Anisha Singh, a friend of mine, who was also one of the lead actors in the performance. The script was written by Prabir Das, who was the other lead actor. Music was provided by Amita Prakash and the play was directed by Daryl Harris.
‘Celebrated Silence’ depicts the journey of a woman named Anisha, who is on the verge of committing suicide, tormented by the instances of groping she has endured in her lifetime. We see a dark gloomy set on stage – stark in its bareness, save for the many nooses hanging – ominous and portent – a harbinger of pain, despair and inner turmoil. We see Anisha, in white clothes, contemplating putting the noose around her neck. We see Amita, dressed in all black, remaining still and lifeless, wheelchair bound. Seemingly playing the alter ego of Anisha, she remains mute except for intermittently bursting out into songs of despair, betrayal, loss and agony. What follows next are recurring encounters with the various men that violate or invalidate Anisha at various stages of her life.
The roles of the men in the play are all enacted by Prabir Das, who seems to adroitly change personas, much like the costumes that he changes. His bearing and demeanor, his voice and mannerisms undergo mesmerizing transformations. In addition to highlighting the acting prowess of this fine artist, this concept of having the same actor play these different roles also seems to drive home a metaphorical condemnation of a manhood that finds itself subjugated to the whims of its ‘organ’ and not functioning as an independent thinking humane being – as if the beast of manhood was the same, just manifested itself with different identities.
I was deeply touched by the powerful and emotional singing done by Amita Prakash. Set to the accompaniment of piano, the songs worked to universalize the journey of one girl/ woman and situate it in a broader historical context. She was apt as the torn, troubled yet strong and willful alter ego to Anisha.
Anisha Singh emphatically displayed the gamut of emotions in her role, ranging from the confusion and helplessness of a young girl to the anger and disappointment of a wife, the pleading innocence of a daughter and finally the frustration of trying to understand the mentality of her perpetrators.
Overall, it was an impressive performance by the cast of three members who carried the entire play on their shoulders. The mood was sombre, dark and intense with moments of sharp tension and conflict. The play succeeded in evoking empathy for Anisha’s journey and a sense of disgust at the violations committed by the various men. The audience which comprised of both men and women were provoked multiple times to break the silence surrounding this issue.We recognized by the end of the play that Anisha had reached the critical point of being able to dissociate her psyche and inner self from the acts of groping that had violated her.
In this process, we see the beginning of her recovery of self-agency and as an audience we are left wanting to see more of her journey forward. Maybe the depiction on stage of additional concrete steps taken by her towards overcoming this trauma could serve to further inspire and empower the audience whilst providing material for a second act or a sequel to the play.
In all, I commend All Shades Theater for bringing awareness to this important issue.