Synopsis: Five Japanese spirits – a General, a Man, a Mother, a Girl and a Poet – recall their life experience in the Second World War. They are collectively thrown into turmoil in the process of recollection and recall, and in their wish to “make sense” of the war and its atrocities inflicted upon them, not only by the enemy but also by their own government and army.
What moved me: Many things moved me about this work, least of all the bolt of shock when I realised the freedom that comes with the representation of spirits onstage. Although they will ultimately by tied by the corporeality of the performer, it allows the easy transcendence of time and space, as well as other limitations that come with liveness.
As an example, this stage direction:
The series of questions shock the Mother, the Man, the Girl and the Poet, first into stillness; then the stillness turns into severe trembling – finally leading them to emit an almost animalistic cry – as if their inner souls have been stirred and a long-locked beast of the wild is finally unleashed.Instinctively, impulsively, they begin to undress, revealing bodies painted in primal, savage colours. They all look the same. Tattoos bear individual designs of a unified primitive style.
They show a lightness like spirits, an awesomeness like ghosts, an honesty like children, a savagery like beasts. And their personalities have been reduced to a basic commonality of primal instinct.
The devastating image of a woman looking for her husband amongst the many thousand skeletons and, failing to find him, committing a funeral ceremony for each collection of bones.
Synopsis: This collection of five short plays is explained best the Writer’s Note.
“The five short plays that make up Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions move toward feeling by way of thought, and toward gratitude by way of loss. These largely sane plays feature people alone or in pairs, or both, attempting to present themselves in the best light, or ultimately, desperately, in any light. Inadvertently vulnerable, or unconsciously callous, or both, the characters here realise that they are stuck in a body that will fail, and they try to put the best face on it. They are, at times, like all of us, unsure of who they are, what they want, and what exactly they’re on the way to. Is it a funeral or a christening? Is it both or neither? Though this might all seem hazy and conditional, it might all in fact be painstaking and absolute. This is life, for the Problematical Animal.”
What moved me: Unaccountably, I googled “Oh, the humanity” to find a picture to accompany this post and came across this. It is a recording of Herbert “Herb” Morrison, an American radio reporter, reporting on the Hindenburg disaster, a catastrophic fire that destroyed the LZ 129 Hindenburg zeppelin on May 6, 1937, killing 36 people. If you go to the link and listen to the recording, if you listen to Morrison unravel as he watches this devastation unfold before him, the framework for this play crashes to earth much like the zeppelin must have.
What is joyous, though, is that being aware of this context is totally unnecessary to encounter this play. I find a lot of comfort in this fact – that every time we encounter the world meaning will be made, regardless of whether that meaning was intended.
Synopsis: to make sure we never get too close, the primary narrative is presented as a play-within-a-play. Soviet peasants in dispute over land abandoned by retreating Nazi forces tell the story of young servant woman Grusha Vashnadze and how she saves the life of child prince Michael in a time of civil war. Abandoned by his well-bred parents, Grusha crosses mountains in her attempt to save him from his pursuers, adopting him as her own son and sacrificing any thought of her personal happiness. Ultimately rewarded for this sacrifice, she is the Everywoman whose courage and selflessness in the tumult of war is only matched by her innocence of its cause.
What moved me: the simple, painful lyricism of Brecht’s poetry. The exchange between Grusha and Simon (Grusha’s fiancee) when he has returned to find her married is excruciating. They cannot tell each other what they have been through and so it is left to The Singer to tell us what we already know.
SIMON: Is the young lady saying that someone has come too late?
Grusha looks up at him in despair, her face streaming with tears. Simon stares before him. He picks up a piece of wood and starts cutting it.
So many words are said, so many words are left unsaid.
The soldier has come. Whence he comes he doesn’t say.
Hear what he thought but didn’t say:
The battle began at dawn, grew bloody at noon.
The first fell before me, the second behind me, the captain sabred the third.
My one brother died by steel, my other brother died by smoke.
My neck was burnt by fire, my hands froze in my gloves, my toes in my socks.
For food I had aspen buds, for drink I made maple brew, for bed I had stones in water.
SIMON: I see a cap in the grass. Is there a little one already?
GRUSHA: There is, Simon. How could I hide it? But please don’t let it worry you. It’s not mine.
SIMON: They say: Once the wind begins to blow, it blows through every crack. The woman need say no more.
Grusha lowers her head and says no more.
There was great yearning but there was no waiting.
The oath is broken. Why was not disclosed.
Hear what she thought, but didn’t say:
While you fought in the battle, soldier
The bloody battle, the bitter battle
I found a child who was helpless
And hadn’t the heart to do away with it.
I had to care for what otherwise would have come to harm
I had to bend down on the floor for breadcrumbs
I had to tear myself to pieces for what was not mine
Someone must be the helper.
Because the little tree needs its water
The little lamb loses its way when the herdsmen is asleep