A Scarf & A Definition

Moment: A Scarf

In the introduction to her play, Fires in the Mirror, about another community’s unravelling, Anna Deavere Smith says, “everyone, in a given amount of time, will say something that is like poetry.” Zubaida’s monologue at the candle vigil is like poetry. Bart’s music elevates it to an aria. Words, music and candles? It’s like we’ve placed some grand opera in the middle of small town, Wyoming. It’s beautiful. And it makes it easier to act, now that I’ve gotten over worrying about being lost within the music and movement. I hardly even think about the words as I say them – they feel so natural.

When I found out I’d be playing Zubaida, I described her to a friend as “the cool-ass Muslim girl with the wikid monologue.” I love that monologue. Last semester, when President Broadhead sent out an email about the bad press around Duke and the frat emails, I thought of Zubaida’s words. He seemed to be saying “we need to show the world that Duke isn’t like this; that it’s just a tiny minority of students who are making everyone else look bad.” And in my head, Zubaida started talking: “No! We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.” I have a feeling her words will be with me for a long time.

And isn’t that cool? Just like she tells Stephen Belber – it’s so unreal that I, Kimi Goffe, a girl from Jamaica, am in North Carolina playing a Muslim girl with parents from Bangladesh, in a play about Wyoming written by a group from New York. I’m on stage, acting like I’m her, and she’s in my head, helping me articulate my feelings about the world around me. That’s so weird.

Moment: A Definition

Decide: To decide is to make up one’s mind as to what shall be done and the way to do it.

“Two years ago, because I’m Muslim, I decided to start wearing a scarf.”

Zubaida chose to wear a scarf. Contrary to popular images of Muslim women being oppressed and forced to wear the scarf, Zubaida’s scarf was her choice – something she decided. Realizing the importance of this word changed my performance of the monologue.

The beginning of the monologue also changed for me on Thursday night, when I was practicing before rehearsal. I realized that Zubaida is explaining herself. It’s almost as if she’s being asked, “So how come you have such a good Wyoming accent?” Or, “How long have you been in the U.S.”? That’s what it means to be an outsider – constantly having to explain yourself. It’s like Jonas Slonaker having to explain that he’s gay and still voluntarily lives in Laramie. It’s like Matt having to explain to Doc O’Connor that he’s gay and going to a gay bar, is that okay? It’s like me having to explain to Americans why I sound so Jamaican and to Jamaicans why I sound so American. So, it activated the monologue in a whole new way.

Family: any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

“As the grandmother and person who raised Russell, along with my family, we have written the following statement.”

The word ‘family’ is a very painful one for Lucy Thompson in this monologue. Her family is disintegrating. Her daughter was murdered in January and now, only three months later, her grandson is going to jail, maybe for the rest of his life. Certainly for the rest of her life. She will never see him outside of prison again. She knows that going into this speech. When I’m Lucy, I think about what she feels when she says ‘family’ or ‘we’ or ‘our.’ Is she reminded every time of her daughter? It makes the monologue hurt that much more.

Mercy: compassionate treatment of or attitude towards an offender, adversary, etc, who is in one’s power or care.

“You have shown such mercy in allowing us to have this plea…” (Lucy Thompson)

“To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy.” (Dennis Shepard)

It’s almost as if they are speaking to each other. One begging for mercy, the other granting it. This struck me as I was listening to Jacob perform tonight. They are on opposite sides of this case, but they are on the same side as well. To borrow from Doc O’Connor, the whole thing you see, the whole thing ropes around mercy.

Mercy mercy me

Things ain’t what they used to be, no no

Where did all the blue skies go?

(“Mercy Mercy Me”, Marvin Gaye)

After Matthew, in Laramie, (after Laramie at Duke?), things ain’t what they used to be, no, no.

2 thoughts on “A Scarf & A Definition

  1. Kimi–

    I need to find a way — I’m sure someone more technologically savvy in the cast or crew might know how to do this — to turn these blog posts into a book. Does Tumblr do something like that. Of course that would only make it an e-book, I want to find a way to get your thoughts (and those of your castmates) out into the world for those who work on this play and in this genre!!

    You mentioned, in another context, that you had become “dramaturgy’s biggest fan” and the way you are reading and mining the text for its language and extra-textual and intertextual connections has really come across in how you’re building your characters. [Anna Deavere Smith would be proud!] FYI, the title I’ve given the program note is “We are like this.” We might have been channeling each other because I chose that line for some of the same reasons you’ve given about the resonance of that language in Zubaida’s vigil speech. I also quote from Zubaida in that note, commenting about the layers of identity — Bangladesh heritage, Laramie hometown, Muslim religious traditions, Jamaican heritage, North Carolina location, Duke student culture — that pulse through this play as we render its rendering of a particular time and place and community.

    Did you see the note I gave Ben about Stephen Belber’s realizations through that monologue? I saw this most clearly in yesterday’s run, as you describe having to explain yourself to the people of your own town(!) it is possible that Stephen, an outsider, has been having to do the same thing. So it’s not your position as a “different” kind of person that he’s responding to, it’s the frustration and alienation Zubaida articulates about being a stranger in her own place, having to justify her existence that Stephen might see as “Wow. I’ve had to do this here too.”

    The parallels between what Dennis Shepard says to Aaron and what Lucy says to the judge are spot on. I’ve mentioned to Ash about how pivotal that small role of the Mormon Home Teacher is to fleshing out the narrative of “family” and “mercy” that is given in Act III in the wake of the trial. He is Russell’s father figure and the staging is the reverse of what happens with Dennis and Aaron. The Mormon Home Teacher has to send Russell away, excommunicate him, but then tells us/Tectonic that he’s going to show mercy too, to stand by Russell, and continue to advise him at what is probably some risk to his own standing in the church. I think we’ve done a lot to consider the humanity of Matthew’s killers in this production. As Dr. Cantway says, “I had a great deal of compassion … for both of them.” Perhaps through our reflexivity the production can illuminate a path of different behavior, a path of mercy not just as/when something awful happens, but mercy at the very root of human interaction. Tonight (at 6:01pm, April 4) is the anniversary of MLK Jr’s assassination. As when the verdict came down in the Dan White murder trial in San Francisco, so were there riots in D.C. when MLK was assassinated. So I’m thinking a lot about mercy in that context. What will you do when someone, inevitably, does you wrong? — takes something or someone precious from you or subjects you to misery and hurt because they can? Do we imagine ourselves as willing to exercise compassion? Can we exercise mercy and demand justice simultaneously? What does that look like? Does it look like The Laramie Project? Does it look like a balcony of a Memphis hotel?


  2. Kimmi,

    Excellent post and analysis! You do make Zubaida soar. The way you and Bart work together in the candlelight vigil is like a duet in an opera: Strong, rhythmic, passionate and illuminating. You are not getting lost. Sometimes your words score the action and sometimes it feels and though you are floating above their heads. You have done a great job in the show. I have wanted to work with you since the year I was chairman and you came to all of the lunchboxes. And I am so glad to have this opportunity.

    Your accent control was a revelation. It is an example of how hard work and self-awareness does not impede the truth, but elevates it.

    I loved meeting your folks. Hearing your Mother speak yesterday gave me a clear indication of where your strength as a communicator and a person comes from.

    Thank you for being a part of this project. I knew from the moment you showed up for auditions that you would be a key casting choice. I also love Lucy Thompson. Her voice SEEMS so frail and her spirit so broken and yet the performance is supported, clear and articulated in a way that lets us experience every word she says.

    Congratulations for all your hard work on this show paying off. I will look so forward to the Me Too monologues next year.

    All Best- Jeffrey

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