A thunderous rain storm passed over Manhattan the night I went to see the harrowingly good play, No One is Forgotten, written and directed by the focused And brilliant Winter Miller (Spare Rib, The Penetration Play). Mother Nature gave no favors to the eerily quiet and disturbing play. It punctuated the intended stillness with determination, demanding to be heard and paid attention to. As the rain pelted down on the walls surrounding us at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, the actors that occupied the cell centerstage paid it no heed. The two never yielding any of their survivalistic impulses to the powerful storm, defying it, just like the two incarcerated characters they miraculously embodied. It was an act of unplanned provocation and rebellion, and as portrayed with intensity and conviction by Renata Friedman (RTC’s If I Forget) and Sarah Nina Hayon (Old Globe’s Water By The Spoonful), the piece was elevated to the level of defiant insurgence watching the two actors stand up to the heavens and the heaviness of the unknown simply by stayed alive, denying their captors the satisfaction of just fading away before their time.
Held captive in a rectangular windowless abstract, beautifully designed by Meredith Ries (Curtis Opera’s Sweeney Todd), with impeccably harsh and intentionally sporadic lighting by Stacey Derosier (CSC’s Mies Julie/Dance of Death), a detailed sound design by Tyler Kieffer (The Flea’s Sound House), and a devastatingly simple costume and prop design by Rhys Roffey (DR2’s Brave), the two rebels struggle to hold on to their senses, even as they lose track of the time and their precarious situation. They exercise their bodies and their brains with an intensity worthy of the heroic incarcerated creatures that they have become, not by design but by misfortune, or maybe just by chance or with purpose, although unstated. Their entanglement with each other resonates. It’s hard to know if their ties were created by the need inside, or a history before. Regardless, their love and frustrations are extremely touching and heart wrenchingly pure, dripping in desperation and difficulty. Both give powerfully exacting performances, digging into the dirt with a defiant rage and an emotional depth that one can’t truly wrap our minds around, as the reality is impossible to comprehend.
The desperation by design is an impossible situation to imagine, with despair and the fear caked into each morsel of porridge-like mush served or dirty possibly contaminated bottle of water given. These two are stand-ins for all those women who at this very moment are struggling against the same horrific odds. They are currently imprisoned by countries like Saudi Arabia for campaigning for human rights, such as the long-standing ban on women driving and the end of the male guardianship system. As reported in the flyer left on our seat, eleven Saudi women activists are on trial right now before the Criminal Court in Riyadh, risking their lives while waiting to be sentenced to prison terms on charges related to their fight for women’s rights. They have been detained since May 2018, following a Saudi flurry of arrests targeting human rights activists who are campaigning for changes that we, as a nation take for granted, at least for now. The flyer from Amnesty International is thorough and frightening (see below), demanding action from the audience, begging that No One is Forgotten. And I hope everyone of us does our small part, even if it feels insignificant, as it is so little in comparison to what we just witnessed before us. The play is an excruciatingly intense and dynamic 90 minutes, but nothing compared to the time frame some of these brave women are actually trying to survive at this very moment while reading this or seeing this play.
Miller has created a piece that ricochets with unsettling power off the four cell walls within the theatre. As the storm pelts those same walls that are protecting us, the cast and creators are miraculously dragging us in and confining us to this vision. It’s definitely not a light summer’s eve at the theatre basking in liberalisms of the world, but an intentional slap and call for urgent action. One I hope we all see, hear, and heed.
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