Category Archive: Backstage

A message to our community

Dear Friend,

We hope that you, like us, have been hunkering down and staying in as much as possible during this Coronavirus outbreak. What an incredibly difficult time we are living through. What has become clear in this crisis is how interconnected we truly are.

The health and safety of our patrons, staff and the community at large is a top priority. In compliance with social distancing directives from the state, city and county we have made the difficult decisions to:

-Postpone the remainder of our 2019-20 season until Fall 2020
-Cancel our April 24 gala and raise $75,000 virtually

While we can’t gather in person to carry out our life-enriching programs, we will continue to pursue our important mission and serve the Portland community. 

HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Please consider supporting Profile Theatre with a donation at profiletheatre.org/support

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER
Local arts organizations like Profile Theatre are unable to carry out programs that benefit thousands of individuals each year. This is resulting in lost revenue and loss of work for many artists, theatre technicians and administrators. Your gift will make our ongoing community engagement work & future mainstage programming possible. 

OUR GOAL
To keep our operations running in the absence of our planned programming, we need to raise $75,000 by April 24.

PROGRESS TO GOAL
Thanks to our generous sponsors and donors, as of today, March 23, we are at $38,972 or 52% towards our $75,000 goal. Please join us in our efforts and BE A LIGHT for Profile Theatre.

WHAT WILL PROFILE DO?
We are doubling down on our engagement efforts through digital platforms and ramping up our connectivity to the easily-isolated members of our Community Profile program: members of the LGBTQ+ community and People Living With HIV. Get creative with us as we bring our work to you through online arts programming until we can be together again.

LET’S CONNECT
Stay tuned for fun ways to engage with our community through digital platforms to ease isolation in this trying time. Our team is working remotely but we want to hear from you! profiletheatre.org/contact-us

So much needs your attention right now in this urgent time. Art cannot literally save a life. But art helps us make meaning out of life. And art connects us to our deepest selves and to one another, easing isolation and creating a much-needed sense of community. In this way, art can be a lifeline to so many.

Help us continue to bring you the arts and community programming you value by making a gift today. We promise to use our creativity to continue serving our city however we can in this extraordinary time.

With warmest regards
Josh Hecht, Artistic Director
Profile Theatre

5 REASONS TO SEE INDECENT

#1 – THE STORY IS MOVING
Indecent will make you laugh, cry and maybe even dance!
Paula Vogel’s Tony Nominated play will add breadth to your perspective on the world and depth to your compassion.

#2 – THE CAST DAZZLES
Director, Josh Hecht encourages actors to “fall in love with each other” and that is exactly what has happened with this cast of 10. Witness their individual strengths and group chemistry on stage!

#3 – NOT A PLAIN JANE PLAY
Indecent is a multi-faceted play spanning half a century on two continents. The virtuosic ensemble cast expertly layers dozens of characters and the set transforms before our eyes in unexpected ways.

#4 – INCREDIBLE STAGING
When two theatre companies combine forces, amazing things like Indecent happen. From the first rehearsal to opening night the creative process has been a collaborative journey with mastermind designers! 

“The star of ART and Profile’s production is the stagecraft. At any moment, you could take a picture that would be both gorgeous and expressive.”

Broadway World

#5 – MESMERIZING MUSIC AND DANCE
The three piece klezmer band led by Christina Crowder provides the dynamic beating heart of the play while choreography by Adin Walker adds complementary layers of emotion, intimacy and fun!

WHAT ARE CRITICS SAYING?

“Sublime! Staggering in its scope!” -Bennett Campbell Ferguson, Willamette Week
Read the review: bit.ly/indecentreview

“At times, I was so engrossed with imagery director Josh Hecht created that I failed to notice that the entire stage had transformed until all of a sudden the light hit it in a new way. -Krista Garver, Broadway World
Read the review: bit.ly/indecentreview2

“The Portland production, beautifully directed by Profile’s artistic director Josh Hecht, benefits from especially resonant design choices.” -Darleen Orteaga, The Portland Observer
Read the review: bit.ly/indecentreview3

AUDIENCE REMARKS

“If people miss this, it’s a huge loss to their soul!” 

“Outstanding” “Phenomenal” “Moving”

“Direction was brilliant!”

“This is the best show we have seen in Portland

“So powerful.” “Heart-breaking”

“The level of performance was unbelievable.”

“The talent in this show is overwhelming”

“Complicated, beautiful piece”

“I really loved the set and staging”

“The movement in this piece flowed like a river”

INDECENT DIRECTOR’S NOTE

At its heart, INDECENT is about the power of telling our own stories and the transformative dignity of having those stories seen and valued

Josh Hecht, Director

When we started conceiving this production of INDECENT, I was about to go into rehearsals for THE BALTIMORE WALTZ, an early work by Paula Vogel written in the months just after her brother Carl died of AIDS and in which she imagines the trip to Europe she never got to take with him. It is a comedic work nonetheless suffused with loss, and the familiar ache that lies beneath our favorite memories of loved ones gone. No one quite marries humor and sadness like Paula Vogel. It is a hallmark of her work.

One of the pleasures of being the Artistic Director of Profile Theatre is our unique ability to get to know intimately an artist’s body of work and to start to draw connections between those works. Like putting on the glasses of a dear friend or family member and seeing the world through their eyes. When I had lunch with Paula over the summer, I mentioned the similarities I had noticed between THE BALTIMORE WALTZ and INDECENT, from its adventurous form to the stunning final moment that dreams into being a healing embrace from the beyond. She smiled at me and said, “They’re book-ends. No one’s noticed that before.”

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ begins and ends in Carl Vogel’s hospital room, and though in between Vogel’s play takes us on a journey across continents and time, in one sense we never really leave the hospital in which it begins. As we started working, set designer Peter Ksander and I began to wonder what would happen if the dusty attic in which INDECENT begins never wholly leaves us either.

INDECENT is told through the eyes of a theatre troupe who have performed Scholem Asch’s THE GOD OF VENGEANCE for years in Jewish communities throughout Europe and in America. So moved are they by Asch’s story of love found in this obscenity of a world, that even during the horrors of the holocaust, they gather in secret in a cramped attic in the Warsaw ghetto to perform this play every week.

Our need to tell our own stories is one of the most ancient needs we have. Recently, a board member of ours went to France, where he visited the caves in which Neanderthals painted images of their lived experience 64,000 years ago. Before humankind had fully emerged as a distinct species, the urge towards creative expression was strong. And though we may not have had stages like Lincoln Hall and large producing organizations like Artists Rep or Profile, there has always been someone who stood up and told a story to someone else who listened. For it’s not just the telling that is important. It’s the witnessing. It’s the confirmation that comes from speaking our truths and having someone else say, “Yes, that’s me, too. Yes, I recognize that. We may be different, but in this way we are the same.” It’s why, in ancient Greece, the entire city-state would gather on the eve of battle to watch plays together, to listen and be seen, and to have their place in the universe, their belonging, confirmed.

This is why it’s so important to present a diversity of stories and lives on the stage. Because this need to tell our own stories, to have them witnessed and valued, and to feel our place in this world is an essential need. And if we believe that the theatre can be, in the words of Anna Deavere Smith, a convening ground, a place where communities come together to practice seeing ourselves in each other’s stories, a place to exchange ideas and expand our souls, then we must make space in our theaters for many to be seen and known. It is one of the ways we fold many threads into the American tapestry we live in.

At its heart, INDECENT is about the power of telling our own stories and the transformative dignity of having those stories seen and valued — a feeling so strong, this troupe will risk everything for it, even their very lives. The attic in which their fate was sealed is, for me, a reminder of how delicate our lives and culture are. 75 years ago, more than a third of the world’s Jewish population were destroyed. What if we were not here to witness this story, told by ghosts in an attic whose whereabouts have been long-forgotten? Very few write stories in Yiddish anymore, as Paula writes in INDECENT. And yet, these stories are an essential desiderata, rising from the ashes to claim their space in the world night after night, asking us to witness, to take them into our hearts, and to be transformed. 

VISION 2020: CHRISTOPHER ACEBO

By David Bates of Oregon ArtsWatch

The longtime OSF designer and arts leader says extending equity to under-represented groups provides a way forward for everyone

As is true of many of our Vision 2020 participants, Christopher Acebo wears many hats. Until leaving recently to pursue freelance opportunities, he was associate artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. In 14 seasons there, his work included virtually every aspect of play production, from season planning and casting to design; he also participated in strategic planning and creative team selections.

He worked on more than 30 productions at OSF, including Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which also played on Broadway and won the 2014 Tony Award for best play. His work has also been in theaters in Portland and around the country. Beginning Jan. 16, he’ll be directing Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at Profile Theatre in Portland.

At OSF, Acebo initiated and curated the Latinx Play Project, which developed and presented new plays and provided a forum for artists, producers, and audiences to discuss and advance Latinx theatre. He was also a founding member of the Latinx Theatre Commons and in 2013 was presented with the LTC Award for Outstanding Advocacy for Latinx Voices in the New American Theater.

Christopher Acebo filled a variety of roles during 14 seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Our collective responsibility as an audience/viewer/listener,” he says, “is to enter every artistic experience with deep curiosity and empathy.”

For seven seasons, he was an ensemble member of the nationally acclaimed Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. He also has taught at Cal State University in Los Angeles and the University of California-San Diego. Along with his OSF duties in Oregon, Acebo is the immediate former chairman of the Oregon Arts Commission and a former board member of Theatre Communications Group.

How would you describe the general state of artistic and cultural life in Oregon?

I have both optimism and pessimism when it comes to the arts in Oregon. The optimism comes from the work I’ve been experiencing. The quality, breadth, and social activism is flourishing, and artists in the state have become powerful beacons creating extraordinary work and calling out injustice in various forms — from theaters that are pushing the boundaries of the stories they’re telling to art venues investing in shows by artists that have not had a platform to express themselves to a broader audience. Arts organizations are looking at their operations and delving into more equitable representation.

But there’s a flip side?

The pessimism comes in the support and/or lack of value that we sometimes give artists and organizations. I’ve become skeptical of the nonprofit structure in the arts in that it can rely too heavily on the wealthy class and that can affect artistic risk and progress. Arts organizations then have to twist their missions and staffs to be able to get support from a variety of funding sources — including foundations, government/public and patrons — to do their vital work. That amounts to a lot of input and output and it’s a taxing situation. I’m not trying to blame good people and intentions, but it’s an old system that sometimes grinds against progress.

Tell us a bit about your work on the Oregon Arts Commission over the past year. And what’s on the agenda for the coming year? What are the opportunities and challenges?

The evolution of my time on the commission has been a very rewarding experience. In the first few years when I joined, we were able to travel to various parts of the state and meet with rural artists, arts leaders, and advocates. Those commissioner meetings and art salons provided more rural connections and support outside the metro area. Unfortunately, those outreach efforts have scaled back due to budget cuts and those interactions between commissioners and artists now have to be virtual.

The good news is that within the commissioner body, we have representation from coastal, central, eastern, and southern Oregon. We’ve also simplified our application process and requirements and offer support and feedback to help artists and small organizations and not overburden their operations. We are entering a strategic planning process that will take in our new spending reality but will continue to advocate for artists, organizations, and education.

One of the most rewarding parts of my tenure as chair was the Art Summit in 2017 that brought together a bright spectrum of our creative community. We also reinstated the Governor’s Arts Awards and made room for conversations and interaction with artists and allies. And I got to meet and interview one of my personal heroes, Tony Kushner!

On the whole, though, I have to say the epiphany for me in the last few years has been my understanding of the artistic contributions of Native communities. The visual expression, storytelling culture, and community-building through art-making is breathtaking in its capacity to hold truth, anger, beauty, and laughter together and is very inspiring.

Christopher Acebo designed the costumes and haunting sets for OSF’s 2017 production of “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.” Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

You have a background as a theater artist and also as a teacher, so I’m curious how those experiences have been useful to you in advisory/administrative type work — the commission, the Theatre Communications Group, etc.

I realize I stand in a very interesting intersection. Starting my career as a working artist, delving into higher education, then being part of the leadership of the largest arts organization in Oregon, participating on the advocacy level with the commission and now, since leaving OSF, moving back into life as a freelance artist and creative individual. Living and working at this intersection in Oregon for the past 14 years has had a profound impact. My sense is that Oregon is a place of invention and that a person can make an impact and shift the landscape. I think that out of necessity, artists are required to be hybrid individuals, and therefore we get to interact with a wide range of people, and that informs our work. There is an extraordinary creative community that connects art to life and makes our state more livable, more active, and more thoughtful as a result.

Given the advocacy award you received a few years ago from Latinx Theatre Commons, I’m wondering if you could weigh in on equity in Oregon. OSF has done some extraordinary and visible work in this regard, but what about the rest of Oregon? What are you seeing?

For me, the most important work that I’ve been able to do in the last decade is about advocacy and giving opportunity to artists that I deeply believe in and who may not have had a clear path to the “castle.” It’s very simple: If you control the gate to the castle, you decide who can get in. In my time in Oregon, I have seen the leadership in our state shift in remarkable ways and it’s thrilling. But what’s thrilling for some can cause deep fear and resentment in others. Creating a system of equity then becomes a powerful way forward for our entire community. That system has to be in place in order for the work to have integrity. If the art doesn’t reflect the community, then it struggles to find its meaning and loses its impact because you just don’t trust it; it only holds historic value, not progressive value. 

When I first came to OSF, we started programming more Latinx-based plays, because they were both my story and the stories of a growing population in the state, and we felt it was critical for that voice to be heard (among other stories by marginalized communities). A few seasons later, the artistic office got a comment card that said, “Why all the Spanish in plays? Are the Mexicans running this place now?” And of course, the answer is “Yes!” There is now an American-Mexican in the artistic office shaping the choices being made of what the audience will see.

At OSF, there continues to be a vocal group of audience members that want to keep things the way they were. For people that have been over-represented in the arts that might feel like erasure. But we have to make room for the stories of under-represented people so we can get a deeper sense of the challenges and triumphs that are part of our larger community. I still have that unsigned comment card as a reminder that the stories we choose to tell are a powerful force and can have a profound influence.

Christopher Acebo designed the costumes and haunting sets for OSF’s 2017 production of “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.” Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The United States is obviously in a period of political and social turbulence, and regardless of the outcome of any election, it is likely to be exacerbated by ecological problems related to climate change and industrialization. How do you see those issues resonating and finding expression among artists? What is the responsibility of an artist in such times?

The sole responsibility of the artist is to reflect what they see. We have to nurture the seers amongst us, because they can show us who we are and what we may become, and that can be exhilarating and also scary. Our collective responsibility as an audience/viewer/listener is to enter every artistic experience with deep curiosity and empathy. My belief is that when both these things happen (the artist shows and the viewer sees), the conversation that emerges gives us a way forward together, especially in troubling times.

What are your goals and expectations for 2020 in the arts, professionally and personally?

I am excited about 2020 and diving back into my work as a freelance artist and advocate. I turned 50 this year and it’s been an exhilarating year of change. I’m looking at shifting my art-making to include more directing, designing outside of the theater, and exploring mission-driven filmmaking. I’m also expanding my own creative consulting practice to help organizations connect the dots between art, culture, and community to deepen their impact.

If you could make one thing happen in the artistic/cultural world in 2020, what would it be?

I would love Oregon to become the first state in the nation that provides every student an opportunity to have five arts experiences before they graduate high school. I have a plan!


Click here for the full article

THE ARTISTS OF SWEAT BY LYNN NOTTAGE, DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER ACEBO

UP NEXT at Profile Theatre is a “humane, heartbreaking and magnificent play” about a group of working class friends in Reading, PA. Profile is proud to present the Portland premiere of Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. January 16-February 2 at Imago Theatre.

Sweat is under the direction of former Oregon Shakespeare Festival Associate Artistic Director, Christopher Acebo. The production marks Acebo’s Portland directorial debut after 12 seasons designing over 30 productions during his tenure in Ashland

SWEAT has been in my consciousness for several years since prior to its premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As the Associate Artistic Director, I was one of the lucky people who read an early draft of the play and its impact was immediate.

C. Acebo
Christopher Acebo
photo by Jenny Graham

Christopher has decades of experience bringing plays to life. Recently, he worked as a designer on Portland productions La Ruta and Cuba Libre with Artists Repertory Theatre & Mojada for Portland Center Stage. 

He has this to say about his creative process:

I have had the great fortune to build a life and career in the creative community. For me, collaboration is the foundation of being a theater artist and that work enables and informs all areas of creativity and leadership. The process starts with dreaming, moves to facilitating discussion and clarifying intention, translating ideas to realities, articulating goals, building coalitions (and listening to better ideas!), adapting to unexpected challenges and finally revealing the collective vision. And always, even during the challenges, leaning into joy.

C. Acebo

The joy that he finds in collaboration and the creative process is evident. His vision for Sweat is one of grit and truth. He is thrilled to be working with such high-caliber actors, guiding them to tell the story with authenticity and honesty.

MEET THE BRILLIANT CAST

La’Tevin Alexander as Chris
Cycerli Ash as Cynthia
Bobby Bermea as Evan
Duffy Epstein as Stan
Linda Hayden as Tracey
Alissa Jessup as Jessie
Victor Mack as Brucie
Chris Ramirez as Oscar
Jim Vadala as Jason

(Cast pictured below from left to right, top to bottom)

Learn more and buy tickets at profiletheatre.org/sweat

Hear a preview of live music by Rob Smith for RUINED and MOTHER COURAGE

Meet the 11 powerhouse actors of color performing RUINED and MOTHER COURAGE

Quigley Provost-Landrum

Mama Nadi/Mother Courage

Quigley last appeared onstage in Portland as Chloe in PassinArt’s production of Hazardous Beauty. She has worked as an actor at many Portland theaters including Portland Repertory Theatre, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and at Profile Theatre as Anna inBurn This. She is a recipient of a Backstage West Garland award for outstanding performances in 1997 as well as a 2004 Drammy Award for her performance in the title role of Medea with Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon. She’s happy to be working again with Profile Theatre.

Bobby Bermea

Osembenga in RUINED
Lieutenant and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Bobby Bermea is a four-time Drammy award winning actor who has appeared in theatres from New York, NY to Honolulu, HI. In Portland, he has appeared at Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Cygnet Productions, Milagro, The Jewish Theatre Collaborative, Tygres Heart, and CoHo Productions. This production marks Bermea’s return to the Profile stage where he was previously seen in Master Harold and the Boys, My Children! My Africa! and Water by the Spoonful, as well as directing Blue Door and Fires in the Mirror. Bermea is the co-artistic director of the Beirut Wedding World Theatre Project, a proud member of Sojourn Theatre and a long-time member of Actors’ Equity Association. 

Andrea White

Josephine in RUINED
Kattrin and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Quigley last appeared onstage in Portland as Chloe in PassinArt’s production of Hazardous Beauty. She has worked as an actor at many Portland theaters including Portland Repertory Theatre, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and at Profile Theatre as Anna inBurn This. She is a recipient of a Backstage West Garland award for outstanding performances in 1997 as well as a 2004 Drammy Award for her performance in the title role of Medea with Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon. She’s happy to be working again with Profile Theatre.

Victor Mack

Christian in RUINED
General and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Victor Mack was last seen performing for Profile Theatre in Blue Door. Other local credits: How I Learned What I Learned, Jitney, Detroit, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Radio Golf and The Language Archive at Portland Playhouse; The Lion In Winter at NWCTC; Hamlet, Frankie and Johnny in The Claire De Lune at CoHo Productions., Uncle Vanya at PETE; Throwing Bones and One Day at Sojourn Theatre. Ithaka, Seven Guitars, Top Dog/Underdog, Superior Donuts, Motherfucker with the Hat at Artists Repertory Theatre. Offstage, Victor is a teaching artist for World Stage Theatre’s – August Wilson Monologue Competition and Coach/Actor with Playwrite Inc.

Don Kenneth Mason

Laurent in RUINED
Army Recruiter and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Previous Profile credits: Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Profile Theatre) and Blood Knot (Profile Theatre, Drammy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor). Recent credits include: Scarlet (Portland Playhouse), The Melody Lingers On (Clackamas Repertory Theatre), db (CoHo Productions), Dreamgirls (Portland Center Stage), Cats (Broadway Rose Theatre), Oklahoma! (Portland Center Stage). Proud Member of Actors’ Equity Association.

Julet Lindo

Sophie in RUINED
The One with the Eyepatch and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Julet Lindo is excited to be working with Profile Theatre! After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Performance from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Julet has worked with several theatres in Portland. Her recent works this year include portraying Carly in A Dark Sky Filled With Stars, Jo in The Legend of Georgia McBride, and Don Jon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When not acting, Julet tutors to the youth-at-risk at Rosa Parks Elementary, determined to help young children chase their dreams.

Tyharra Cozier

Salima in RUINED
Yvette Pottier and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Tyharra Cozier is very excited to be making her Profile Theatre debut in this staged reading of Ruined and Mother Courage! Tyharra is mostly known for her work with The August Wilson Red Door Project’s Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments, Cop Out and Evolve. Most recently, you might have seen her in Vanport Mosaic’s Soul’d. Tyharra will also appear on Hulu’s “Shrill” (Season 2) as Aminah, set to stream in January 2020. www.tyharracozier.com

Johnny Crawford

Fortune in RUINED
Swiss Cheese and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Johnny Crawford has been featured in a range of productions at The Oregon Children’s Theater. He has been acting since fourth grade, and continues to perform around Portland once or twice a year. You can find Johnny hosting “The Sunday Candy Radio Podcast” every week, available wherever you get your podcasts as well as all social media platforms. @itsmejohnnyc

Wolfie Beacham

Kisembe in RUINED
Eilif and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Wolfie is from Arlington, Texas. He currently lives and work locally in Portland. He graduated from Concordia University in Austin, Texas. Wolfie finished his professional acting training at the local conservatory here in town this past May. Wolfie has gained experience in voice acting, stage acting and film since then. Humble and Quiet, Wolfie cherishes the art of storytelling on any level, developing a true craftsmen love for it. “As long as I can, I will.” – Wolfie

D’Vonte Robinson

Simon in RUINED

D’Vonte was born and raised in Montgomery, AL. He graduated from Jefferson Davis High School Class of 2013. Soon after graduating he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps serving as an Administrative Specialist/Embarkation Specialist. After the end of his contract he relocated to Portland, OR. D’Vonte has acted in advertising for brands such as Xbox. He also has television experience: acting and assisting in shows such as “The Wonderland Murders” and “Trinkets.”

Doren Elias

Mr. Harari in RUINED
Chaplain and others in MOTHER COURAGE

Doren’s journey as an actor began in a small steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh. He began his career before the end of high school in a barn theatre production of Guys and Dolls. He attended the University of Texas and has lived on both coasts with plenty of B-movie credits to prove it. In San Diego, Doren was a company member of Lamb’s Players Theatre. Doren has spent time as an actor, artistic director, producer, writer, dancer, voice over artist and is currently with his wife, KB Mercer, the owner/artistic director of The Traveling Lantern Theatre Co.

Lynn Nottage on RUINED

Six years ago, I traveled to East Africa to interview Congolese women fleeing the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I was fueled by my desire to tell the story of war, but through the eyes of women, who as we know rarely start conflicts, but inevitably find themselves right smack in the middle of them. I was interested in giving voice and audience to African women living in the shadows of war.

The circumstances in the DRC are complicated; there is a slow simmering armed conflict that continues to be fought on several fronts, even though the war officially ended in 2002. You have one war being fought for natural resources between militias funded by the government and industry; you have the remnants of an ethnic war, which is the residue of the genocide in Rwanda that spilled over the border into Congo; and then you have the war that I examine in my play Ruined, which is the war being waged against women. To throw some statistics at you, according to International Rescue Committee, nearly 5.4 million people have died in that country since that conflict began; every month, 45,000 Congolese people die from hunger, preventable disease, and violence related to war. The fact is the war in the Congo is the deadliest confl ict since World War II. It is sometimes called World War III, because of the international interests that fuel the conflict in order to exploit the land, which is rich in minerals such as gold, coltan, copper, and diamonds.

In 2004, I went to East Africa to collect the narratives of Congolese women, because I knew their stories weren’t being heard. I had no idea what play I would fi nd in that war-torn landscape, but I traveled to the region because I wanted to paint a three-dimensional portrait of the women caught in the middle of armed conflicts; I wanted to understand who they were beyond their status as victims.

I was surprised by the number of women who readily wanted to share their stories. One by one, through tears and in voices just above a whisper, they recounted raw, revealing stories of sexual abuse and torture at the hands of both rebel soldiers and government militias. The word rape was a painful refrain, repeated so often it made me physically sick. By the end of the interviews, I realized that a war was being fought over the bodies of women. Rape was being used as a weapon to punish and destroy communities. In listening to their narratives I came to terms with the extent to which their bodies had become battlefields.

I remember the strong visceral response that I had to the very first Congolese woman who shared her story. Her name was Salima, and she related her story in such graphic detail that I remember wanting to cry out for her to stop, but I knew that she had a need to be heard. She’d walked miles from her refugee camp to share her story with a willing listener. Salima described being dragged from her home, arrested, and wrongfully imprisoned by men seeking to arrest her husband. In prison she was beaten and raped by five soldiers. She finally bribed her way out of prison, only to discover that her husband and two of her four children were abducted. At the time of the interview she had still not learned the whereabouts of her husband and two children. I found my play Ruined in the painful narratives of Salima and the other Congolese women, in their gentle cadences and the monumental space between their gasps and sighs. I also found my play in the way they occasionally accessed their smiles, as if glimpsing beyond their wounds into the future.

In Ruined, Mama Nadi gives three young women refuge and an unsavory means of survival. As such, the women do a fragile dance between hope and disillusionment in an attempt to navigate life on the edge of an unforgiving conflict. My play is not about victims, but survivors. Ruined is also the story of the Congo. A country blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and resources, which has been its blessing and its curse.

— Reprinted from Almeida Theatre Company

BWW Review: THE BALTIMORE WALTZ Is a Whimsical Journey Through Grief, Via Europe, at Profile Theatre by Krista Garver

Originally Published by Broadway World on October 23, 2019

Photo by David Kinder

“When I read that Paula Vogel’s THE BALTIMORE WALTZ was a film noir-inspired comedy about a fictional toilet seat disease that’s a stand-in for AIDS, I had no idea what to think. What does that even mean? But on watching the show at Profile Theatre, all I could think was that this bizarre, extravagant fantasy was the only fitting way to deal with a grief too deep to bear. If you need any convincing of the healing power of theatre, this hilarious and heartbreaking production, directed by Josh Hecht, ought to do it.

Vogel wrote THE BALTIMORE WALTZ in the late 1980s following the AIDS-related death of her brother, Carl. Before knowing his diagnosis, she had declined a trip to Europe with him, so after he died, she imagined one.

In the play, Anna, a single elementary school teacher, learns she has contracted Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD), an untreatable malady that’s transmitted via toilet seats and mainly affects single female elementary school teachers. Her brother, Carl, hears of a Viennese doctor advocating a highly experimental cure, so the two jet off to Europe, traipsing through Paris, Amsterdam, and Munich on their way to Vienna. The journey is filled with all manner of hedonism — art, wine, plate-licking good meals, and a ton of hot anonymous sex.

It’s a beautiful fantasy, but it’s just a fantasy, and as the play progresses reality starts to force its way in. What Vogel does so brilliantly is to open your heart with laughter and then release waves of sadness so small that you hardly notice them until the climax comes and you realize you turned to emotional mush a while ago. At least, that’s how it happened for me.

Even with Obie Award-winning material, this play requires an exceptional cast. This is what Profile has in Jen Rowe (Anna), Dan Kitrosser (Carl), and Joshua J. Weinstein (The Third Man, read: all other parts). Rowe is sexy, sassy, worldly, and innocent all at once, while Kitrosser is kind, earnest, and vulnerable. As the drama builds, Weinstein keeps the show firmly rooted in comedy, playing a slew of characters, from a southern TSA agent to a French waiter, a nervous German bellhop, and all of the doctors. Finding the fine balance between tragedy and melodrama is no easy feat, but all of the walk the line confidently.

Final verdict: see this show. See it for the material, see it for the acting, see it for Alan Cline’s imaginative projection design, whatever. Just go.

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ runs through November 3. More details and tickets here.

For a non-theatrical take on similar themes, check out The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkhai, a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction.”

Take A Sneak Peak:

Photos by David Kinder
Voice Over by Josh Hecht, Dan Kitrosser, and Kayla Hanson
Scenic and Lighting Design by Daniel Meeker
Costume Design by Sarah Gahagan and Alex Pletcher