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Voices Underwater

by Abi Basch

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1798

SHOWING : November 03, 2006 - December 03, 2006



The scene is an attic in an old house in Alabama. In 1864, a wounded Civil War soldier writes letters to no one. In 1923, a teenage girl daydreams about sun and water and "the dirty boy with dark eyes" as her father leads a white-robed "army" across the countryside. Tonight, a couple is exploring the house they have inherited from a mysterious benefactress. Past and Present intermingle in a poetic exploration of who we are, what we were, and what we need to do to find the answers to those questions that have no answers, even as they form the core of what makes us human.

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Who We Are / What We Were
by Dedalus
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
“The action of the play should rush like water. It is fluid and continuous, as time frames and characters collide.” (“Playwright’s Notes,” Abi Basch).

The audience flows into 7 Stages Black Box Theatre and crashes against the set – a ruined attic with debris scattered everywhere, an incongrous bed centering rotting rafters and cracks and traps and piles of white dust and plaster.

A teenage girl in 1923 Alabama rhapsodizes about lounging in a local stream, perhaps watched by a mysterious “Dirty Boy” with eyes “brown and deep and muddy like the creek.”

A wheelchair-bound Union soldier sits in the same attic in 1864, writing scraps of letters, destroying them and leaving them as scraps of memory to be discovered by a girl in 1923.

Tonight, a bi-racial couple takes refuge from a storm, real and metaphorical, in the same attic, struggling to come to terms with what they are to each other, what this house means to them, why a mysterious old lady bequeathed it to them, and why echoes of the past obsess and haunt them.

Abi Basch’s “Voices Underwater” is one of those haunting, poetic gems of the theatre that stirs emotions and opinions and raises thousands of unanswerable questions that demand attention. Ghosts of three generations intermingle as time and place and history flow over us like the flooding creek that washes away the characters’ preconceptions of themselves and their own natures.

It is an old debate – nature or nurture? Are who we are a product of our genetic code or a product of our lives and experience? Or is the truth somewhere in the juxtaposition of both, a self-controlled amalgam of who we were made to be and who we want to be? These are the questions raised and left open by Ms. Basch, thankfully left open because any answer would be glib and biased, and, for most us, wrong.

In 1923, teenage Jennie ridicules her father and his “white-robed army.” Yet her own actions and prejudices lead to a tragedy of generation-spanning affect. Are her actions dictated by her European/Southern ancestry or by her own jealousies?

In 1864, Albert is hiding a secret of a different sort, and is unable to articulate what needs to be said before Death’s inevitable flood. Yet the scraps left behind give Jennie clues as to what went on in her safe haven of an attic.

Tonight, Emma and Franklin are trying to make sense of their inheritance. They have been the victim of an ugly incident more common in the Jim Crow south than in today’s “Red State” Wilderness, but, unfortunately, not unknown even now. Emma’s background is European Jewry, her ancestry is rife with pogrom and atrocity. Franklin is an Ohio African-American, steeped in the history of prejudice, unable to concede that Emma could have any clue about what it’s like to be him. Yet both are connected, through unknown ancestry, to this very house, this very attic.

To digress, it sometimes strikes me as ironic that some people will insist that knowing their cultural roots are a necessary part of forming and discovering their own identity. People who are embarrassed by the cultural choices made by their parents (music and clothing, for example) will embrace the culture of an imagined ancestor as more relevant to them. And yet, the farther back we go, the more diverse our ancestry becomes. For example, I had a great-aunt who traced my mother’s father’s family back ten generations, to an aristocratic British family who settled in Maryland in the 1600’s. Concentrating on that one thin line, I have to ask: which is more relevant to who I am – my ten-times removed ancestor who fled England for whatever reason, my Grandfather’s Grandfather who owned slaves in Maryland, or my Grandfather himself, a Blue-Collar worker in Central Pennsylvania whose wry sense of humor is a lasting legacy to me and my siblings? When you throw into the mix the fact that I have 1023 other ancestors who were contemporaries of the tenth-generation immigrant, the question of “what is my heritage” becomes complex to the point of chaos. Yet all 1024 ancestors contributed an equal amount to my genetic make-up. And, through subtle ways, all 1024 (and the subsequent 9 generations – 1544 ancestors strong) all contributed patterns of behavior and choice and belief and culture that influence how I was brought up and what I experienced and the choices I’ve made in my life.

So when Franklin accuses Emma of giving too much attention to her immediate European forebears, he is correct. But when he says she has no connection to the south of which he is a product, he is very much mistaken. And yet, even this reasonable argument falls apart when we consider what he and Emma have just been through, what Jennie does to precipitate tragedy, what secret Albert is finally forced to reveal.

Those of you who read my pretentious little pseudo-reviews know I prefer plays that raise questions without answering them much more than plays that tie every little argument into a neat jewel-boxed package. To me, theater is like time, a river that washes over me in the experience, and my writings are a metaphoric attempt to blot dry all the disparate reactions I have. And usually, the best plays reveal more about myself than about the playwright and the world flowing within her construct. “Voices Underwater” reminds me that these writings themselves may someday tell my daughter’s descendants just who I was and how I will always be part of them.

-- Brad Rudy (



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