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