From Thursday to Saturday of the Big Game weekend, the Roble Arts Gym offered a somber ambience to the community with its Theater & Performance Studies show “Parentheses of Blood.” The cast was clad in camo, the stage was smeared with blood and the audience was a quiet mix of students and older adults. Written by Congolese playwright Sony Lab’Ou Tansi and directed by guest director Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, the play was “a darkly humorous satire set in a country with a brutal and authoritarian government” and brought a fresh way to examine government suppression.
The simple set consisted of a tiled floor, pillared platforms, dining room furniture and a graveyard with two tree trunks. The show opened with militants’ shouts, soldiers outfitted with camo guns and syncopated marching. A chaotic scene quickly unfolded: A family, mourning the loss of their uncle, father and rebellion leader Libertashio, are confronted by soldiers on orders to kill him, as the government won’t accept the truth that he is already dead.
The soldiers are inefficient, argumentative and ignorant of their own missions, rambling on and on until one pulls out a gun to kill the sergeant. Moments later, a new sergeant is crowned, until the soldiers grow disenchanted with them and kill them as well. No one is happy with their leader, and everyone is hungry for power. The light and sound design (done by UC Berkeley professor Kent Dorsey and Bay Area designer Jake Rodriguez, respectively) of the gunshots shocked the audience out of their seats. Fake blood spurted across the stage and smeared when a body was dragged off.
The show follows the family through their misery. As the soldiers lose patience, they decide to kill each family member one at a time. Each victim gets one final wish before their death. The daughter Aleyo (Emily Saletan ’24) requests a marriage with the sergeant, buying the family some time while the wedding is arranged. Eventually, the soldiers torture the family so brutally, that at times the cast and audience alike aren’t sure who is still alive.
The show’s small cast (merely seven actors) forced the actors to play multiple parts, yet they did it seamlessly; distinct accent and costume changes enabled the fluidity. Specifically, assistant director Corazon Johnston ’23 embodied incredibly realistic accents during her portrayal of the various soldiers and sergeants. Although the lack of cast members was not noticeable, I found myself wishing that more students had taken advantage of the opportunity to work with such a talented creative team.
Comedic highlights included acts by Leeth Singhage ’26 and Dhriti Nagar (Postdoctoral researcher). Portraying The Fool with repetitive moments and redundant ridiculous actions, Singhage earned the audience’s laughter when he ate leaves off the ground and stared people down with wild eyes. Embodying a corrupt sergeant, Nagar’s physicality was notable: her hip thrusts and drawn back shoulders screamed chauvinism and rottenness before her words did.
After Thursday’s performance, Director Cooper-Anifowoshe mentioned that she had directed this show three separate times, and each time the show had a unique feel. “I’m an intentionally lazy director,” Cooper-Anifowoshe said, “I don’t like to have all the ideas myself.” She kept the blocking loose and allowed the cast members to discover the movement together in rehearsal, thereby allowing most of the physical comedy in the show to be developed by the actors.
In reference to the subject matter, Cooper-Anifowoshe was not afraid to acknowledge the real-world occurrences of similar brutal scenes. The experience of careless death at the hands of corrupt soldiers is much closer to home for many people watching the play. In the show, citizens who disagree with the government’s version of the truth are killed. In a world not free of government censorship, this felt especially relevant. While some of the scenes dragged on longer than they needed to and some discussions of death felt tedious, the production successfully led the audience to reflect on authoritarianism.
“What are we not talking about?” Cooper-Anifowoshe asked, referring to the theme of the play. “What are we afraid to explore? Let’s go there.”
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.