February 20, 2007

Whispers shout in UT

But i cd only whisper is a play that works by piecing things together. The many fragmented accounts and testimonies of its characters are interwoven to create a complicated man, situation, and culture. Written by graduating third-year Kristiana Colón and directed by TAPS lecturer Tiffany Trent, the play centers on the psychoanalysis of black Vietnam veteran Beau Willie Brown. As the story progresses, the audience works with the psychologist to figure out Brown’s character, as well as with Beau to identify the horrific event that brought him there.

What makes this play so successful is not just the artful suspense involved in revealing the plot, but the depth and believability of its characters. The supporting characters that surround Beau and help to create his story are also complex and vivid. This is due partly to Colón’s intense and realistic dialogue, and partly to outstanding acting by the whole cast, propelled especially by the lead performance of Osiris Khepera as Beau.

The problems addressed in but i cd only whisper are focused not only on the complicated struggles that have faced and are still facing black Americans, but the ways in which people attempt to communicate them in art. It incorporates dance, firsthand and secondhand accounts of events, and the actual events themselves as if striving to find every way possible to communicate.

“I liked the freedom of the rhythm and style with which Colón writes,” said Trent, on why she chose to direct the play.

The rhythm of the show certainly varies but never drags. It often seems as though several scenes are going on simultaneously. At certain times the testimonies of the characters are interwoven so that multiple perspectives are represented at the same time. At other times, Beau relives an event in action as he describes it afterward in words. This makes it all the more powerful when the rhythm slows down and focuses on only a single place and time.

Many elements come together to keep all of these perspectives active at once without losing the audience. Perhaps the most important is the staging, which often places characters giving their testimonies or reenacting events in the downstage corners while the scene in the psychologist’s office remains in the center. But the spheres do not remain completely separate; characters giving testimony or in Brown’s mind often cross the boundaries between stage spaces to tie the scenes together.

Set and lighting design also play a major role in keeping everything straight, as well as in setting the tone. The set consists mostly of a massive stage cube construction, flanked by hanging red curtains, which are almost as forbidding as the environments they may be meant to represent—from the streets of inner city slums to a psychologist’s office to the war zones of Vietnam.

“Theater is a neighborly process by which we hear each other’s tongues and dance in each other’s shoes,” said Trent. “I like to leave a show with a little more willingness to do that—to hear and walk and dance with someone I may have previously thought was very far away from me. I hope some of that happens for someone who comes to witness the stories.”

Trent has little to fear. Anyone would identify with the characters in this play, who in many ways do not seem far away at all.