Gardens Speak

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday November 9, 2017

A publicity still for "Gardens Speak."
A publicity still for "Gardens Speak."  

ArtsEmerson is giving Boston one of the most uniquely individual and profound theatrical experiences in recent memory with Tania El Khoury's haunting "Gardens Speak."

The topic is the Syrian war. In an effort to conceal the bodies of protestors and activists killed during the uprising, friends and family would construct makeshift graves in local gardens. In "Gardens Speak" we get to visit these graves and hear the stories of the dead.

Limited to only 10 audience members per hour, the experience is highly ritualistic and emotionally shattering.

Each audience member is given a card with an Arabic name on it. Once the piece begins, barefoot and flashlight in hand, you begin to search for the grave with that name. You must then begin digging through the dirt at the base of the tombstone until you can hear a faint voice.

The voice is so faint, in fact, you must lie down on the grave with your face pressed against the earth to hear the story of the person you are visiting. You then spend the next few minutes in almost complete darkness, lying on a grave, and listening to the atrocities of the war.

To confront violence and death in such a way hits you at a level so deep that it is mildly terrifying. Not only are you facing the Syrian tragedy, but also your own personal fear of mortality as you lie there.

This is certainly not a piece for everybody. But if you are willing to confront the fragility of life and the senselessness of war in a very visceral way, do not miss this opportunity.

"Gardens Speak" continues through November 19 at the Emerson Paramount Center, Robert J. Orchard Stage, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the ArtsEmerson website.