Children of Heaven produced by Laugh/ Riot Performing Arts Company Is pertinent following the #metoo movement currently storming media. Before the performance begins I am greeted by a woman wearing all white. She shook my hand, thanked me for coming, then stated, “We hope the message fills you”.
Children of Heaven is performed in 2 acts, by students from Edinboro and California State Universities. The show unfolds as each woman, dressed in white, shares a personal narrative about sexual assault, harassment and victim blaming followed by a statement of gratitude to Lilith for rescuing them from a wicked and crumbling society. Each woman has an experience of abuse and a need for healing. Their stories are not unique, but each actor delivers an honest account wrought with emotional agony, remorse, disdain and shame. You can’t help but feel the ugliness they convey. The casts tributes to Lilith evolve from a culture supportive and nurturing to all women, a family who lives apart from mainstream society. In other words, they are members of a cult, led by Lilith. Lilith has convinced these women they could not function happily, at peace, nor should they want to, outside of the society.
Act 2 features Lucy, a young woman who has left the cult. Per the request of her parents, Lucy is being interviewed by Harvey. He has been hired by Lucy’s parents, to integrate her back into society and reunite her with her biological family. Lucy is angry and not at all receptive to conversation. She portrays a ‘feminazi’ type character who wants nothing more than to take down Harvey and will try at all costs.
It’s clear Children of Heaven is an attempt to raise awareness of important issues such as rape culture, victim blaming and patriarchy, but the script does very little to support feminism in a beneficial manner. The cast is sincere in dramatic representation of characters ultimately the message falls short of being supportive of women, men or feminism. I get it, not all endings have to be happy but the message here could easily be misconstrued and that is not helpful for anyone.
Who- Ha is a cluster of chaos. Choreographed by Anthony Alterio, faculty member of the University of Kentucky, Who- Ha is a performance art piece which begins and ends in an intense explosion of untamed energy. The show begins when the performers pass out index cards to audience members. Each card has a question written on it that the audience is expected to answer. After writing your response, a troupe member takes the card from you, reads the question and answer aloud in front of the audience. Then the performer snatches a piece of tape from off of a poster board, sticks the tape to the back of the card and slaps the card onto another performer. This is done within a matter of minutes. The girls run at high speed, read quickly and zigzag about the performance space with no perceived direction, appearing disorganized and out of control. Once all of the index cards have all been collected and the questions and answers presented aloud, the dancers line up in front of the audience with pieces of tape and index cards dangling from their hair, shoulders and backs. The props begin to fall off the girls, dropping to the floor, scattering across their feet and I kept wondering, how are they going to dance with all that stuff on the floor? In this instance, dance is subjective. There is movement, some clearly choreographed. There is music too, but for most of the performance there is so much happening on stage simultaneously; each performer moving in a different direction, some standing on their feet, some rolling on the ground, while another runs aimlessly or dances on top of a box. I really struggled to follow what was happening; I didn’t know where to look, or whom to watch. I felt lost and confused.
The Fringe program synopsis reads, “Who- Ha is a performance dance piece that showcases feminine hygiene, feminine characteristics and feminine oppositions in pop culture”.
I typically enjoy performance art and I enjoy dance performances. Unfortunately, I think Who- Ha missed the mark. The direction was far too scattered for me to appreciate Mr. Alterio’s choreography nor could I extract any of the aforementioned themes from the movements or music.
* As I reflect back, a day later, I realize, I initially felt the subject matter being presented was lost in translation, but perhaps, this is Who- Ha’s point. Sometimes, after experiencing a piece of art, it takes a day or two for all I saw, heard or felt to sink in. I’m still mulling this one over. Who- Ha is definitely left up to audience interpretation.