By Natalie Grillo
As a white, middle-class female from small town America, I have had only a few small hardships in my life. Nothing I have been through compared to what I witnessed on stage at the Rand Theatre at UMass Amherst the night of January 30th, 2013.
Often times I, as well as many others, take for granted the fact that we have roofs over our heads, food in our stomachs, as well as people who are willing to help us and take care of us. 'Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking', opened my eyes to not only hardships in life, but also how people work together to overcome them. Jennie Reznek and Faniswa Yisa were the only performers in the show, playing a mother and daughter. The beginning of the performance was very fun and playful. The set was simplistic with just a circular cloth on the ground, a table with a small paper cut out of a house, and a clothesline. Musician and composer Neo Muyanga sat off to the left in a chair, holding a guitar. The mother and daughter happily hung up pieces of fabric on the clothesline, laughed together, played games, and were always smiling. There was very minimal dialogue. The dialogue that did exist was mostly in foreign languages. One anecdote given in English by the daughter, Aggie, was about elephants in Africa who could walk anywhere and everywhere. There was a sense of freedom and joy. Then things became dark.
Jennie and Faniswa alternated wearing masks and holding machetes. The music became faster and extremely tense. The lighting went dark. Fire was set to the house. The clothesline was cut and the mother and daughter were separated. I am used to shows gradually shifting from one drastic emotion to another. Here, it was so fast and drastic that it had much more of an impact on me. Instead of the climax being in the middle of the show, it was at the beginning. The emotional roller coaster I was on dropped much sooner than expected. The rest of the production was a journey.
Jennie and Faniswa used shoes to depict their movements. However instead of wearing the shoes on their feet, they were on their hands. This really enhanced the effect of the journey since we could fully see the shoes moving, rather than them being hidden beneath their feet. There were no words. Simply walking shoes. The most poignant moments were the mother helping the daughter, by returning to get her when she would stop for a rest. Or by even carrying her on her back. With physical theatre, there is no distracting dialogue. I have never been so focused on body movements during a show. In a way it leaves the audience to create the dialogue in their heads and is open to so much more interpretation. It also made the piece much more relatable. The emotions displayed were emotions every human has felt from joy to loss to anxiety.
Throughout the journey, Aggie and her mother face many hardships, but also find help from a few. They arrive in Cape Town, South Africa. The song that plays when they arrive asks, "A lovely place to see, are they willing to see me?" They have found a new home, but is this place able to accept them and help them? After some time there, there is that feeling that they may have found a new home. The rest of the performance is about the two women moving on.
I truly applaud the Magnet Theatre Company for conveying a story with very minimal dialogue, simple sets and props, and music. Physical theatre is all about the body and telling a story through movement. While I was skeptical in the beginning about not understanding, or not being able to relate, their movements moved me.
'Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking' ran at the The Rand Theatre at University of Massachusett's Amherst Theater January 30-February 2.
For more information on The Magnet Theatre Company, click here.