Ecstasy: An ancient fable not to be taken lightly
The University Theatre went abstract this month in its selection of “Ecstasy: A Water Fable” by Egyptian-American playwright Denmo Ibrahim. Inspired by a traditional Sufi (a branch of Islam) tale, Ecstasy is a dizzying combination of downright convoluted plot-lines, gorgeous costumes and live music.
Ecstasy is composed of three stories, each with their own personal struggles that are individual and yet inextricably connected. A character named Picture Lady narrates. She is an old Middle Eastern woman who tells us the stories of her homeland in slightly frenetic anecdotes. She struggles to remember the details, however, and the audience witnesses her surprisingly painful decline into forgetfulness. Picture Lady is played by Kiara Bernhart, who elaborated on the challenges of the role.
“She’s constantly forgetting where she comes from. Portraying that has been hard because I’ve always been secure in my identity,” Bernhart said.
“When the Waters Were Changed” is a Sufi fable from the ninth century. The story goes like this: Khidr, the teacher of Moses, issues a warning that all the water in the world will disappear, and when it returns, the men of the world will be changed forever. In “Ecstasy,” the character, Pipe Man, plays the role of the only man to heed the prophet’s warning; he spends the play isolated, engaged in fruitless labor to the soundtrack of taunts in the voices of his former friends. UO student Alex Mendel gives an enthralling performance as Pipe Man, a role that involves all kinds of yelling and fun convulsions.
Another protagonist is Mona, whose story takes place in modern times. Her struggle revolves around a strange connection to the past experiences of Picture Lady, as well as the voices that haunt Pipe Man. Actor and UO student, Jessica Ray, said that she related to her character’s persona.
“[Her] struggle… is relevant to college students who are trying to find themselves while hanging onto pieces from the past,” Ray said.
While Mona engenders sympathy for these experiences which keep her from sleep; I found myself feeling a lot sorrier for her boyfriend, who gets to deal with her moaning fits without having any idea what the hell is going on.
While the stories are admittedly difficult to follow, the emotional aspects definitely hit home. Director Michael Malek Najjar explained why the play is relevant to the University, particularly one with such a significant amount of international students on campus.
“Mona’s struggle… speaks to those students,” Najjar said. “It’s difficult to navigate both [cultures] at the same time.”
As far as music goes, there was a live band, an ensemble called “Americanistan,” that collaborates beautifully with the vocals to make for some goose-bump-inducing scenes. Najjar stressed the value of the live ensemble.
“The music and the poetry of the play are really inseparable,” he said. “Without it, there’s a major piece missing.”
“Ecstasy” is decidedly not a play to attend for a casual night of theater — you’d better be prepared to witness some wrenching emotion and experience a sensation of the divine. The music and probing questions about identity aren’t half-bad takeaways, though.
The show will run through next weekend at Hope Theatre and is free for UO students with ID; $14 general admission. @@http://blogs.uoregon.edu/theatre/201011-season/calendar/#@@
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