Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:39 pm
by Ken Jaworowski, NY Times
There’s a multipage chronology of Congolese history spanning the 1200s to the present day in the program for “Cry for Peace: Voices From the Congo.” Onstage a large screen offers detailed maps and dates about the Democratic Republic of Congo and its dismal past. Yet amid all the data about colonization, borders and conflicts, one moment late in this 80-minute documentary theater piece proves most moving.
“I see snow for the first time,” says Emmanuel, who fled the violence of Congo only to spend 12 years in a camp in Uganda before arriving in Syracuse. “When I hold the snow in my hands, I find it is water. And in America, people stay with their dogs in the house! In my country you cannot see this! And in the winter I see dogs putting on clothes!”
His words, filled with awe, help illustrate how far he has journeyed. That anecdote and others like it are the most stirring parts of “Cry for Peace,” which is interesting (and often overwhelming) when it dispenses information, but affecting when it relates individual tales of suffering and endurance.
The narrative focuses mainly on five people who have lived in Congo and witnessed murder, rape and other horrifying acts. They later worked with the theater group Ping Chong + Company to shape their stories into a stage program. Those accounts are read to the audience (much as in “The Exonerated,” which centers on former death-row inmates and recently opened at the Culture Project) and can be disturbing and tense; they lose power, however, when the talk moves into history lesson mode.
“Cry for Peace,” which ends on Sunday, is part of the Undesirable Elements Festival at La MaMa, in which Ping Chong will present two other pieces: “Secret Survivors,” with adults who were sexually abused as children, and “Inside/Out,” concerning people with disabilities. With a few exceptions, the participants are nonprofessional actors relating their own experiences.
While the best sections of “Cry for Peace” are the human ones, not all are uplifting. “I feel hatred,” says Kambale, whose father was tortured and killed. “When you are mad like this is when you want to go and shoot the people who murdered your family.” Such moments reveal more about the cycle of violence than any numbers could. Here, statistics don’t tell the essential stories. People do.