Press: "Plenty of Voices, Heard as One, Telling Stories Without Wavering ‘Soulographie: Our Genocides’ at La MaMa," by Anita Gates, The New York Times

November 15, 2012

From the article in The New York Times, Theatre Reviews section: The ghost of Julius Caesar appears on the road in front of a traveling salesman. A catcher’s mitt becomes pregnant. A pigtailed pianist suddenly stands up and begins playing Ping-Pong.

Soulographie: Our Genocides: From far left, Jamal Sterling, Jenni Pittman, Jeffrey Schmidt and Walter White at La MaMa in “Diamond Dick,” the story of the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Okla.Soulographie: Our Genocides: From far left, Jamal Sterling, Jenni Pittman, Jeffrey Schmidt and Walter White at La MaMa in “Diamond Dick,” the story of the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Okla.So begins “Soulographie: Our Genocides,” a series of 17 plays by Erik Ehn, who heads the playwriting department at Brown University, being presented this week at La MaMa. Those unusual moments are just from “Everyman Jack of You,” the first play, which is set in Las Vegas. As Mr. Ehn pointed out in a pre-curtain speech on opening night, most of the works have been produced elsewhere, but they have never before been presented as a group. Viewers can see all 17 in a two-day marathon this weekend.

On the first night of the cycle “Diamond Dick,” the story of the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Okla., was the standout. It starts with a black man wrongly accused of the rape of a white woman (a decade before the Scottsboro Boys) and ends with thousands of armed white citizens, including World War I veterans who have put on their uniforms for the occasion, killing as many as 300 black people and burning a prosperous black neighborhood to the ground. The story is clear, the movement-choreography dignified, the original music moving. Directed by Raphael Parry, the production originated with Project X in Dallas.

In the El Salvador-set puppet play “Yermedea,” Mr. Ehn combines the story of Medea, who kills her own children, with Federico García Lorca’s character Yerma, a childless woman longing to be a mother. Energizing and frightening, the tale is told through the experiences of a nurse, and two of its most haunting images are of a pile of puppet-baby corpses and the giant face of a demon-mother with sad eyes. Kym Moore directed the piece, which began at Brown.

While directed by Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Marcin Cecko with considerable style, “Everyman Jack of You,” which is described as an overture to the series, sometimes registers as a parody of avant-garde theater. There is entirely too much going on at once in this production, from Teatr im Jana Kochanowskiego in Poland, even for the multitasking generation. An interpretive dancer performs downstage on a floor with constantly changing projections; actors are upstage throwing boxes around; and a video screen that appears to be draped in wrinkled plastic tells its own stories, some haunting, some homey.

Even when “Soulographie” wanders into pretentiousness, it is clear that Mr. Ehn has something vitally important to say and a many-splendored voice with which to say it. “Ten thousand things turn into 10,000 other things,” he writes. And horror turns into art.