How do you mourn the death of a father who abandoned you? How do you feel connection to a land you’ve never known? Where ancestors, long and near gone, are only whispers in the symphony that creates your life song?
These questions of belonging and identity form the autobiographical first-person story in Candice D’Meza’s gorgeously crafted mystically haunting 50-minute show, Fatherland, part of the Sin Muros Theater Festival at Stages.
Although it's not a show, she tells us at the start. It's a ceremony, one born of ritual, metaphor, and journeys. And, eventually, a tea to be made by her and, if they so wish, the audience. A tea that honors the identity connections and breakages so many of us experience.
D’Meza’s connections certainly seem broken at the outset of the show. A call from an uncle in Haiti sends news that her father has passed. A father who long ago ceased to be for her, on an island she knows only in story. As his sole next of kin, she packs her things and prepares to head to Haiti to deal with his remains.
But not before she grapples with the emotion of it. “The problem with grieving someone’s who’s been dead to you for a long time is that you need to resurrect them and kill them anew…Grieving is in effect acting as their murderer.”
It’s just one of the too numerous to count pieces of dialogue that stop us cold in admiration. D’Meza here has written a bounty of exquisitely crafted, emotionally weighty notions that at once serve as poetry and prose. The benefit of viewing Fatherland as a streamed production is the ability to rewind and listen again, to hold it a little longer, and let sink in.
Matching the sumptuousness of the script is the way the show is presented.
Part film (directed by Nate Edwards) and part filmed on a simply designed stage (directed by Eboni Bell), Fatherland’s blend of mediums evokes a dreamlike, mystical ethos that gives us gusting winds and crashing waves on film one moment and swirling seas (thanks to exquisite lighting and fog) onstage the next.
Switching back and forth between film and stage, (or on stage with background film) here feels seamless, even necessary to the telling of the story. This is how you do mixed mediums in service of a show.
D’Meza’s journey to Haiti is not simply to make peace with and grieve her father, along the way she also tackles lost connection to her heritage at large. D’Meza grapples with an island and a culture she feels apart from. An identity she isn’t able to grasp.
Special angels (some known to her, other’s not) help her on this journey, appearing as filmed apparitions imparting wisdom. “What is in the blood can’t be bled out.” “Emptiness is a gift, you decide what to fill it with.” Those delicious lines, we once again think.
But dialogue alone doesn’t fill up this culturally rich cup. D’Meza incorporates chants/sounds, spiritual songs, and dance from Haiti, moving us further with the beauty of the movement and song.
While the past can’t be unchanged, D’Meza does find some comfort in the knowledge of why things were so. Reading the pages her father wrote, not in apology, but in explanation, allows for the door of empathy and exhale to open. A moment in the show that would have landed with more impact had it not appeared that D'Meza seemed to be relying on a hand-held script for a spell. An unfortunate distraction from what was otherwise a profound performance.
By the time the tea is made at the end of the show, we feel the change in D'Meza. The journey has brought a wash of harmony. Not just for her, but us as well. This is the magic of a good memoir play. We don't just experience someone else's story; we are invited to weave our own feelings and truths into the experience as well.
By making peace with where and who she is from, D’Meza invites us to do the same.
Fatherland is available to stream for free until March 7. For information, visit stageshouston.com
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