Morocco vignettes engage, entertain

After collecting over 14 hours of raw audio footage from her trip to Morocco this past Winter Study, Michelle Rodriguez ’12, with the directing assistance of Meghan Rose Donnelly ’12, shared her memories and experiences of Moroccan culture in an auditory and theatrical scrapbook titled “Tales They Told Me: Morocco.” A cast of seven performed this folktale-like piece in the ’62 Center’s Directors’ Studio this past weekend as a continuation of the department’s Studio Series.

From the play’s onset, the style and format of the work became apparent: segmented stories and monologues unfolding over specific soundscapes of Morocco. Emily Cook ’13, who had an impressive grasp of her intermittent Arabic phrases considering the two-week rehearsal time, delivered the first monologue about domestic life, set to the soundtrack of a Moroccan kitchen. William Slack ’11 and Eric Anderson ’10 told sharp-witted stories about an older tourist buying a hat that Moroccan boys wear during circumcision and about throwing up in the Sahara Desert, respectively. Two other stories dealt with men in the marketplace, one concerning their predatory nature towards women and the other concerning the dangers and difficulties of a tourist haggling with shopkeepers. The climax of the play was a well-crafted and comical scene with children playing at a school during which the cast constructed a fort out of chairs and zealously shot the “teacher” with imaginary laser guns.

One of the longer scenes involved a folktale about a wealthy and twisted man finding a wife. A mystical woman tells him that he must fulfill three requirements and, in doing so, he loses his wealth and pride. Forced to reevaluate his values, he changes his “bad” ways and of course finds the woman of his dreams. The entire cast sat in a semi-circle and acted out roles as Molly Olguin ’12 narrated the tale. As an archetypal story that the cast and Rodriguez had written together, this was the only scene of the night that didn’t work to recreate or share the Morocco experience. No audio component placed it in a specific Moroccan soundscape, and the language stood out as particularly American. Though the scene was entertaining and inspired by a specific place Rodriguez had visited, it seemed out of place in the context of the evening and without knowing the back-story.

The other kink of the show was a scene where two women tell two stories simultaneously. The individual monologues were beautifully written and skillfully woven together, at times creating a stunning effect. However as the scene progressed, it proved increasingly hard to follow both thought processes; halfway through the audience was noticeably confused. Regardless, certain intertwining moments managed to pull everyone through and salvage the scene.

In spite of these few issues, “The Tales They Told Me: Morocco” was without question an engaging and energetic show. Rodriguez’s quick wit and skillful pacing kept the audience laughing, and the abruptly short monologues added power to the performance, as they were consistently clever and surprising.

Lighting by Karlan Eberhardt ’13 also played a vital role, perhaps epitomized by a scene where a tourist is surrounded by shopkeepers in the market. While conmen tried to trick the innocent woman and audio clips conveyed business in the background, the very low golden lighting added the feeling of seriousness necessary to complete the scene.

The only substantial disappointment of the night was the lack of attention given to the audio samples. Out of the impressive 14 hours worth of material, only a few relatively short samples ended up in the show, and even then only as background noise. While the sounds were undoubtedly an important part of the performance and succeeded in transporting us to Morocco, there was nothing unique or particularly creative about their use. The opening clip, a man singing through a megaphone, was an exception – its mysterious character provided a gripping and foreign introduction. The rest of the samples however, though not inherently less fascinating, merely functioned as backdrops for scenes. Though the show was advertised as “a theatrical experiment that explores the way sound triggers memory,” this aspect of the play failed to show any significant exploration and instead seemed to follow more conventional forms of theater.