I Stand Accused: The inheritance of violence

The voice is that primary event that circulates to wrap us in its sonorities, silences and rhythms, and intonations. – Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth

A young man is sleeping on the makeshift bed on stage — a thin mattress covered with a blanket. A figure hovers above him. She’s all in black. Black dress, black doek, dark lipstick and eyes with rings of kohl. The only furniture on stage is a medium sized wooden trunk. The young man, Thulani, is agitated and having nightmares. Wake up Thulani. Laugh Thulani. Run Thulani. Jump Thulani. Skip Thulani. He is hearing voices. His mind is playing tricks on him.

Through an impressive cast of six, I Stand Accused tells the horrific story of gender based violence. Thulani, having murdered his girlfriend, has to face his conscience, personified by Thuli, the woman in black. Hers is a sadistic and unrelenting spirit whose words, strange utterances and laughter can only be heard by Thulani. Laughter. What a strange and funny thing — at times comforting and joyful and at others disconcerting and devious.

In her 2015 text, My Life is a Joke, Sheila Heti writes about a kind of hell; a ridiculous place where everyone is always laughing. She writes; “it’s like that all the time — the dogs laugh, the trees laugh, everyone laughs— whether there’s anything funny or not.” So it is with Thuli. Her continuous laughter is maddening and unnerving, a form of torture.

With complexity and nuance, I Stand Accused succeeds in reflecting on gender based violence with a degree of care, allowing us to speak about violence without recreating it and retraumatizing victims. We learn of the brutality Thulani’s mother suffered at the hands of his father through a heart-wrenching letter she wrote before taking her own life when he was just a little boy. The process of remembering her allows the work of mourning to begin not only for her but for the young woman murdered and stuffed in a wooden trunk.

The play leans into aurality as a tool of narration where scenes are punctuated by spoken poetry performed by an actor embodying different characters at different points. By centering the voice, whether that of the poet or Thulani’s conscience, the play circulates to wrap us in the voice’s sonorities, silences, rhythms and intonations (LaBelle:2014). Folk tradition through the poetic becomes a way to speak of the painful aspects of life. In one instance, Thulani’s father poses a question to God — by way of reciting jazz musician Bhudaza’s lyrics in the song Tjontjobina — ha o none keng empa onkile mosadi waka (why has taking my wife failed to fatten you up?). Of course the contradiction here is the father’s own complicity and responsibility for his wife’s death.

I Stand Accused points to the ways in which trauma travels and how it stays with those it touches. Thulani’s childhood traumas have followed him throughout his life. Unable to find answers and to grieve, his life mirrors that of his father. The play delicately captures the tensions between love, loss and tragedy.

I Stand Accused can be viewed at St. Andrew’s Hall on:

June 30th at 16:30

July 1st at 21:00

July 2nd at 10:00

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