Ashes of the World

MoLoRa, created and directed by Yael Farber and presented by Women Center Stage, a Culture Project initiative, re-imagines the Oresteia Trilogy through the lens of post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa. It is a riveting tale of violence, injustice, truth, grace, pain, and healing. Farber's play asks us to re-consider the larger questions about our humanity and the ways we, in this global community, are so often dominated by conflict, power, and vengeance. What is our truth? How do we react to violence and injustice? What do we do when faced with seemingly impossible decisions? Do replaying and continuing cycles of violence such as the curse of the House of Atreus serve any purpose? Can we choose a different path? Farber’s retelling of the Oresteia focuses on the first two plays in the cycle, Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers as well as texts by Sophocles and Jean Paul Sartre’s The Flies. The body of the show is the story of the three central characters Klytemnestra, Electra, and Orestes. Agamemnon, the king, is dead. For seventeen years Klytemnestra, played by Dorothy Ann Gould, and Electra, played by Jabulile Tshabalala, have been locked in a dysfunctional cycle of violence, grief, and pain. Mother and Daughter face off, waiting for the return of exiled son, Orestes, played by Sandile Matsheni, who is destined to take revenge against his mother for the killing of their father, Agamemnon. Orestes, when eye-to-eye with his mother, the embodiment of his hatred, is faced with a contradiction: his familial duty to his dead father versus that to his living mother.

The heart and pulse of this show is the chorus, performed by the internationally renowned singers and musicians of the Ngqoko Cultural Group – Tsolwana B Mpaxyipheli, Tandiwe Lungisa, Nofenishala Mvotyo, Nokhaya Mvotyo, Nopasile Mvotyo, Nosomething Ntese, Nogcinile Yekani. This group of performers is simultaneously participant, witness, and representative of everywoman/everyman.

Past and present members of the Ngqoko Cultural Group, founded in 1979 by the late NoFinish Dywili, provide vernacular text translations, the traditional instruments, and song arrangements. The show is driven by their voices, rhythms, wisdom, and experience. They set the stage and tone of the production and guide us on the journey through the characters' stories and testimonies. As noted in the production website, they also “reconstruct the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions” and they represent the grace of choosing a different path out of a violent past.

The simplicity of the sets, by Larry Leroux and Leigh Colombick, belies the complexity of the emotional journey of the characters. Two desks with chairs and microphones surround a central platform with a dirt grave; a row of witness chairs is upstage for the chorus. The lighting, original concept by Michael Maxwell and designed by Caleb Wertenbaker, leads us into and out of the story and testimony in golden tones of everyday events contrasted by the harsh fluorescent lighting of giving evidence. The costuming, designed by Natalie Lundon and Johny Mathole, places us in a time between ancient Greece and rural South Africa.

MoLoRa, Farber tells us in her director’s note, is the SeSetho word for “ash.” It is the “handful of cremated remains that Orestes delivers to his mother’s door. From the ruins of Hiroshima, Bagdad, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Bosnia, and the concentration camps of Europe.” It is what remains after the burning fires of hate and violence. MoLoRa, told through Greek tragedy, asks us to consider this question in our own world: do we continue these cycles in vengeance and displays of power, or can we find a new path through the pain to healing and understanding?

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