Nora Strejilevich - Books / Stories- Single Numberless Death Play

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Single Numberless Death

A Single Numberless Death

Adapted by Bob Mayberry from the book of the same title by Nora Strejilevich, that was translated by Cristina de la Torre and Nora Strejilevich

Nora Strejilevich's memoir recounts her experiences in the late '70s when she and her brother Gerardo were abducted by the Milicos, the secret police of the Argentine military junta. Nora was released only to be re-arrested, incarcerated in a special prison for political prisoners and repeatedly raped and tortured by her captors with electric cattle prods. She later escaped from Argentina and has lived in exile since. Nora has never located her brother; he is among the thousands of young people who were disappeared" by the junta during its reign of terror.

This stage adaptation of her memoir - done with her approval and guidance - is really an evolving drama: a story that is ongoing and unfinished. Stage directors should seek to capture this sense of "living documentary" which, in the words of Dr. Strejilevich, "is a living history that is not yet resolved." Today in Buenos Aires -as well as in other South American and Caribbean nations -families and friends of the disappeared carry their loved ones' photos on placards as they demonstrate in their cities and before their government offices, demanding explanations.

Though the story seems to focus exclusively on the bitter experience of its central character, Naomi (the fictitious persona of the author), it is really more than that. Dr. Strejilevich remarked that it's "a collective story and a collective work" because she combined her own recollections with those of others whom she interviewed in Buenos Aires following her return from exile when she was preparing her memoir. The play voices such testimony in the form of constant dialog between Naomi and the chorus, and thus Naomi's experiences link with those of the thousands of other disappeared victims of state terror in Argentina, and with other terror victims around the world.

This stage adaptation retains the raw power and beauty of the original memoir. It is particularly challenging in the many choices it offers for staging violence and brutality. The playwright advises restrain in this regard, feeling that realistic violence "would overwhelm the play's focus on the effect of torture on Naomi and, by extension, on Argentina itself." Instead the playwright recommends abstraction and minimalism: "the illusion of violence is created through deliberate and precise choreography."

The play also offers numerous opportunities for music, dance and creative movement choices. There are "dance sequences" indicated in the script, masks, transformational roles for the actors, and much physical activity required - all of which should challenge the imagination of designers, directors, actors, choreographers and others. Additionally, all the roles can and probably should be portrayed by young actors, since the disappeared were mainly young Argentineans. Their photos can be integrated into the production and are readily accessible through Internet resources. And the two scenes in which older characters are called for - the letters of the loved ones and the closing demonstration - can work for a young cast with a little help from costuming and creative vocal-physical suggestions. The drama, in fact, might take on a highly-stylized, minimalist look in actual production; or it might resemble a ritualized dance; or in a documentary style the play could become high-tech, critical and modernist. And there are other choices.

Above all, however, the impact of the play's desperate and compelling message should never be lost in production, because this is what can move the spectator most strongly and powerfully engage the commitment of the young artists producing the play: "Don't forget us!" the ensemble demands of the audience during the drama's closing moments. "Don't forget us!" Indeed, this is the core idea of many plays written on the same theme by South American authors, such as Retablo de Yumbel by the Chilean author Isidora Aguirre, and others.

A Single Numberless Death is a powerful docudrama that celebrates and testifies to the worth as well as to the fragility of humanitarian values, despite the most shocking atrocities our contemporary world has been forced to witness.

Naomi, an Argentine Jew of indeterminate age who has experienced, and who remembers vividly, more pain and suffering than most of us will ever know

Gerardo, Naomi's brother

Narrators, a half dozen or so actors, male and female, who narrate Naomi's story, assuming minor roles as prisoners, mothers, fathers and guards as necessary

Milicos, the Argentine secret military police, 3 or 4 males, brutal and indifferent

Commander, head of the Milicos, ironic, subtle, even witty Except for Naomi, any of the other characters might double as Narrators.

Music The song referred to in the last scene, El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido, is a popular song of revolution from South America, although not necessarily Argentinian in its source, nor factually based on what political demonstrators have sung and chanted in Argentina. Numerous recorded versions can be found, with the help of which the cast can easily learn it. The version used for the world premiere can be found on CD, and was done by the composer/performers Sergio Ortega & Quilapayun.

Setting The stage is empty except for the shell of a '60s Ford Falcon, green, without doors or windows, conspicuously missing its license plate, sitting on blocks or perhaps suspended from above, but arranged so actors can climb in and out of it, even on it, and so the audience can see them beneath the green bug-like shell.

A Single Numberless Death was first produced in November, 2001, at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, with the following cast and crew:
Stage Director: Michael Page
Lighting Design: Andrew Dorland
Set Design: Alfred Sheffield
Costume Design: Jill Dole Hamilton
Stage Manager: Jeff Williams
Technical Direction: Paul Collins
Choreography & Combatives: Erin Merritt
Original Music: Alex Hamel & Gregory Secor
NAOMI: Heather Hartnett
GERARDO: Rodel Salazar
MILICOS: Jayme Wooster, Matt Wilson, Eddie Kleinfeld
COMMANDER: Scott Rosendall
NARRATORS, MOTHERS, FATHERS, RELATIVES, FRIENDS, PRISONERS, GUARDS: Dan Kennedy, Becky Black, Nick Randall, Carolyn Ratkowski, Justin Fournier, Tamira A. Henry, Rachel Roos, Jennifer L. Rashleigh, Megan Lynette Staples, Christina Hoffman, Michael L. Houser, Nathan Bauer

© 2005 Nora Strejilevich