by Erik Ehn
La MaMa ETC
Sets, Lights, Music & Sound: Tom Dugdale
Costumes: Cybele Moon
Thistle centers on the testimony of a survivor, Rufina Amaya. Over the course of three days in December 1981, the army of the government of El Salvador killed nearly everyone in Rufina’s village of El Mozote. Clinging to her hiding spot, Rufina was forced to watch the massacre. She saw her husband and four youngest children—aged 9, 5, 3, and 8 months—killed. Eventually she crawled to safety, cactus plants tearing her dress and skin.
At the time of the massacre, El Salvador was aflame with civil war between its army and guerilla fighters. The United States government officially supported the Salvadorean army. The U.S. maintained that the guerillas threatened to spread Communism throughout Central America.
Thistle is both Rufina’s story and an exploration of how we as human beings greet—and then process—terrible information. Once we are tuned in to the full horror of an event, what do we do with our new knowledge? How do we carry its burden?
We decided very early in our process that Rufina’s account of the massacre—her sworn testimony in court—must be included. Our work became trying to understand how theater, which is necessarily a distortion, might respectfully stand alongside a document as pure as the testimony. Where we have arrived is at a hunch in the form of a question. That question, ironically, reflects back on our role as theater artists: could it be that a testimony is pure memory, while theater provides the experience of memory? The way it dances, flutters, convulses, lays still?
Radio plays a large role in the play, and like theater, radio is ephemeral, leaving no trace of itself after being turned off or tuned out. It remains only in the minds of its listeners. For this reason, our production more or less begins and ends in emptiness, and throughout, emptiness is all around.
Tom Dugdale / November 2012