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Women’s issues and gender inequities dominate Ellington stage

Julia Katz, a student at McLean High School reviews “Aftermath II – The Silence Soldiers: Breaking the Appearance of Delicacy” performed by Duke Ellington School of the Arts as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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DeAndre Baker and Victoria Wallace from Duke Ellington School of the Arts. (Photo Courtesy of Duke Ellington School of the Arts)

After centuries – even millennia – of being beaten down and degraded, the "fairer sex" has spoken. Their voices ring out loud and clear, from the battle-weary to the tough-skinned, sometimes individually and sometimes as one, swiftly confronting gender inequities with a simple message: enough is enough. This voice spoke in Washington, not from White House memos or Capitol Hill lobbyists, but with astonishing maturity from a few determined high schoolers, presenting the original, deeply touching “Aftermath II – The Silence Soldiers: Breaking the Appearance of Delicacy” at Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Many teens may not be capable of writing a compelling story, much less powerful commentary on women's roles in society. But Duke Ellington's students fearlessly navigated through controversial and alarming issues, beginning their play with startling statistics flashed on a screen followed by one word: perception. Addressing such issues as acid attacks, rape, female genital mutilation and religion amidst a backdrop of war, race relations and poverty is no easy task. Yet Ellington's vignettes pushed every boundary with actors unafraid to scream, stomp or cry in pursuit for equality.

Unity in writing and performing the show was Ellington's chief asset. During each short scene, all actors were on the sidelines of the stage. When they jeered or defended other actors onstage or read aloud in unison, each cast member seemed clearly invested in creating the total performance.

And yet individual actors still stood out. Portraying a radical women’s studies professor, Ellen Winter began her memorable speech calm and collected but eventually became agitated and even screamed for her cause. The deft range of Aleca Piper was also extraordinary, as she went from confident lingerie-clad Biblical seductress to vulnerable victim clutching at her body with a tear rolling down her face.

Though some international accents seemed out of place, Hannah Goldman mastered Israeli tones for her charming piece, "Hila in the Army." Placing five actors on various points of the stage, among them Asia Martin and DeAndre Baker, each gave differing and heartbreaking accounts of rape. Martin and Baker were also impressive in their own monologues, from Martin's "Evil Woman," describing childhood abuse to Baker's comically infused rant about the male perspective. The whole cast shone in insightful interviews asking about how gender influences their lives, passing around a microphone to proudly declare their thoughts.

None of this would have been possible with a complicated set. Instead, a clean, white stage and costumes served to highlight Ellington's lovely lighting detail, changing from blue to red hues for different emotions and projecting a startling slide show that featured quotes, pictures and statistics that added context to the onstage scenes.

The struggles endured by ancestors, parents and even themselves might have left Duke Ellington students weary and overwhelmed. But in Aftermath II: The Silence Soldiers: Breaking the Appearance of Delicacy, the cast chose not to give up but to fight back, bravely performing with maturity beyond their years. The battle of the sexes may not be over, but the fierce voice of Duke Ellington's play shows that victory is on the horizon.

By Julia Katz, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  March 28, 2010; 10:52 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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