It changed everything. I had no idea, but it changed everything. Without realizing, I’d imported the psychosis of the US, as quickly and indiscriminately as if it had been a UN rice drop, right into the heart of Mara Mara, right into the heart of our rehearsal room.
I’d answered a question. It was a simple backstory question, and we’d been sorting them all out, one at a time, for weeks, so this one I just answered. I answered with the first answer that occurred to me.
I said that E.G. Fukiyama was the first black president of Mara Mara. Why not? I thought, every place has to have their first black president eventually. I did not think that that having Fukiyama be the first black president would have a broad, ripple effect throughout the play, but that’s exactly what happened.
It happened in a few different ways.
The first thing that happened was that the actors tried to justify the backstory in their interpretation and delivery.
The second thing that happened was I tried to make script changes to back up this thoughtlessly determined backstory choice.
The third thing that happened was that those changes didn’t work, and instead of digging out of this hole I’d made of importing the racial psychosis of the US into our world, I tried to justify it.
Then Chris said, and I’m paraphrasing, that when our President was elected to the presidency it was a big deal, because when he was growing up, and friends of his we’re growing up, their parents told them that they could be anything they wanted when they grew up, except president.
To say that I was shocked and heartbroken by this truth would be an understatement. To be a little kid and have to hear that, to be a parent and have to tell your little beloved that there are limits to their dreams, to their destinies, to their imaginations. He told me that when our President was elected to the presidency this changed, that children didn’t have to hear that anymore, that imaginations, too, are finally free.
Everything I’d forgotten, in that sloppy backstory answering moment, everything I’d forgotten about the play came rushing back to me, along with lots of tears, and a cracking voice.
The play was inspired by a Somalian radio station. I have no idea how many black presidents Somalia has had, but I’m sure it’s more than the US.
The play was meant to be about cultural overlaps, a DJ who is most likely not Japanese named Masafumi Yukimoto, playing folk covers of Fuck the Police. An Archivist who is most likely not Middle Eastern with the sort of Arabic sounding but made-up name L’Ansashita, interviewing luminaries of Mara Mara. A first lady, we’d decided she’s the only American in the play, named Leoni Washington Fukiyama. The play was meant to answer that question “where are you from, yeah but where are you really from?” With the answer “I’m from Mara Mara, from the Leunsa Valley, just like we all are.”
I’d changed the play from being specifically set in North Africa because I know little about North Africa, to setting the play in an alternate universe, to plunking it haphazardly down on the American landscape, when it turns out I don’t know anything about America either.
I’d forgotten everything in one slippery moment, because I’m not immune to the racial psychosis of the US, a psychosis that says no matter what you believe, what you know, what you feel, there are insurmountable differences between us all, between white and black. There are experiences that are not shared, and these are insurmountable as well. These are insurmountable so long as we believe there are. And only the simple answers are the real answers.
It’s the chaos in our hearts that is the problem… The chaos in my heart.