By David Walters
In a wartime cement bunker by the sea, with packed sand floors, the slit of a window and door openings covered by opaque plastic sheets, sits a desk with a telephone and a manual typewriter manned by a frustrated older woman, a mother (played by Hend Ayoub). Having lost her husband and son to the war, she is fraught and anxious because the young soldier (Joe Joseph), on the other side of a translucent sheet of plastic hanging in the space between them, is traumatized and twisted inside, internally contorted with emotions he is not able to let go of or express. He is overwhelmed but his PTSD makes him silent and unable to “breach the silence within.”
The war is over in this middle eastern country and its heroes are coming back to a home different from the one they left. The current totalitarian regime, in order to protect its citizenry from traumatized soldiers, is requiring that each returning serviceman pass through an emotional gauntlet of nine kinds of sound: verbal acknowledgment, several forms of laughter, allegiance, and the capability to verbally express their feelings, or at least make an attempt. If they are unable to and remain silent, they will be given the proverbial pink slip (red card) and killed.
“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world,” wrote Paul Goodman (the Gestalt co-founder) and went on to define nine ways in which we humans keep silent. Playwright Abhishek Majumdar incorporates those many silences as required sounds into his examination of motherland, trauma, and identity making his play an overflowing plate of ideas. The stronger, or main course of the evening, is motherhood.
9 Kinds of Silence is a monologue (with a bit of dialogue at the end) about the emptiness of nationalism and being a mother in constant emotional pain. One that “live(s) the war thrice over,” enduring the deep personal loss that women suffer when men go off to war, suffer again when they are gone, and suffer thrice when they return. This suffering is the driving force of both characters in their discovery of who each other is and where life has left them, at this precipice of a moment between going forward or falling back.
This is an incredibly difficult play for any actor to pull off, as silence is not empty space. Silence in its many forms is an elaborate symphony played with a full orchestra to an audience of deaf people. It is no easy task to master both the notes and their spaces and have them both ring out just as true when you’re the only instrument.
“In my village, I learnt to sing. and my teacher, may he be blessed, a pious man, said god lives between the notes.” What makes this play intriguing is that god space between, the quiet in its many forms juxtaposed with the noise of intention that resounds so poignantly in its playing.
PlayCo’s world premiere production of 9 Kinds of Silence, written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar, at the Second Floor Theater at 122CC (150 First Avenue, New York, NY 10009). PlayCo strives to bring the world’s theater to American audiences.
Featuring: Hend Ayoub and Joe Joseph
Set and Costume Design by Jian Jung, Lighting Design by Emma Deane and Original Music and Sound Design by M. Florian Staab
Running time is approximately 80 minutes.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.