Talkbacks and workshops are included with the hot-button Capital Fringe Festival plays “It’s What We Do: A Play About the Occupation” and “Think Before You Holla.” Roger Catlin and Cassandra Miller have the reviews.
“’It’s What We Do’: A Play About the Occupation”
First staged at Capital Fringe two years ago, Pamela Nice’s “ ‘It’s What We Do’: A Play About the Occupation” was based on the stark, disillusioned voices of Israeli soldiers charged with the dehumanizing and often brutal jobs at checkpoints of the West Bank and Gaza. The narratives were distilled from interviews collected in the 2012 book “Our Harsh Logic” by Breaking the Silence, An Israeli nongovernmental organization.
Since then, Nice visited checkpoints and spoke with former soldiers, both Israelis and Palestinians, to further enhance the work. The result has been in high demand at Fringe this year, selling out its first two performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. But not much seems to have changed on the ground, as the occupation reaches its 50th year.
The play is based on questions from Dior Ashley Brown, who sits in the audience as the Voice. More a debriefing than an interrogation, it allows three soldiers, played by Caroline Lucas, Zeke Alton and Matthew Gibeson, to describe what they’ve experienced. Thinking they were providing security for the Israelis, one says she learned quickly their job was to disrupt the daily lives of the Palestinians who depend on the checkpoints to get to jobs or homes.
Sometimes the barriers are arbitrarily closed, other times there is a requirement for extra paperwork, or sudden declarations that items from shopping trips can’t be brought in. In one scene, they are to provide cover as settlers throw rocks at Palestinians.
Adding depth and humanity are a quintet depicting families on both sides — Jamal Najjab, Kaelie James and Matt R. Stover among them. Especially effective are the youngest ones, Kashvi and Ojasvi Ramani.
Talkbacks are added at most showtimes to further discuss the situation, but the performance alone of “It’s What We Do” succeeds in getting its urgent message across.
— Roger Catlin
90 minutes. July 21 and 23. Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE.
“Think Before You Holla”
Street harassment is one of those issues women kind of just deal with by politely smiling in response to unsolicited “compliments,” holding keys between their knuckles while walking home, and other survival tactics. “Think Before You Holla” expertly validates the experiences of those who have felt threatened while occupying public space and, without being preachy, addresses harassment as a legitimate problem. It is both artistically beautiful and powerful.
A talented and confident five-woman ensemble embodies different perspectives throughout the 60-minute show — women and girls who are harassed, male aggressors, conflicted bystanders, news reporters enumerating violence from such interactions and more. Jennean Farmer, Chelsea Harrison, Victoria Myrthil, Christina Neubrand and Jehan O. Young also morph into a Greek chorus, repeating phrases like “This is my body” to drive home the idea that women in public spaces are not public property.
New York-based director and creator Taylor Reynolds incorporates a thoughtful, engaging balance of different storytelling techniques that range from interpretive dance and monologues to breaking the fourth wall with nonthreatening “raise your hand if” questions. (“Raise your hand if you know the difference between a sincere ‘good morning’ and a threatening one.”)
There are many deeply affecting scenes in the show, including one in which a woman describes being harassed while the male harasser simultaneously defends his actions. The scene builds to a crescendo that powerfully strikes at the deep sense of violation such behavior elicits.
It should be noted that the performance may be triggering for survivors of sexual violence. While the show does not directly address how to solve the problem, “Think Before You Holla” — the second production of the first season from D.C.’s Ally Theatre Company — has partnered with Defend Yourself to offer free self-defense and bystander response workshops between Sunday performances.
60 minutes. July 21, 22, 23, Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, Md.
IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.
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