What's it about?
Set in Ethiopia (act I) and New York City (act II), Mourning Sun is a story of the perils of patriarchy in too many parts of the world. It is the story of Biftu, from innocent childhood to forced womanhood.
What'd I experience?
Walking into the West End Theatre, I am greeted immediately by the musty smell I have come to associate with churches. This is because I am in a church, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on the Upper West Side, to be precise. I am with a man whom I think I adore, J, and we are going to watch Mourning Sun.
Entering the actual theatre space, we are transported into an environment that looks like it would be appropriate for the staging of a Shakespearean drama. The ceiling is high, domed, and dotted with curtained windows. The seats are upcycled church pews with red velvet upholstering. The stage is barren except for three mobile beams and a strangely shaped translucent wall that looks like ice. We settle into our seats as I pitch the idea of becoming upcycled church pew vendors to J, the theatre goes dark.
When the lights come on, we are in Ethiopia. Enter Biftu and Mawardi, two young sisters. They speak in accented English and run after each other playfully. Soon after, a young boy, Abdi, enters. He is clearly enamored by Biftu and has brought her a gift: a portable DVD player playing a Michael Jackson song. We watch the kids do their best Jackson imitations and revel in their innocence until the sisters’ mother enters and aggressively declares the area a No-Fun Zone and commands Abdi to never see Biftu again.
The lights go out again. They return. They go out again, return. With each exit and entrance of light we learn a bit more of Biftu’s story. We see the frightened fourteen year old being married off to an older man by her mother. We see the prelude to her wedding night rape. We see her belly pregnant with a life she never asked for.
As we watch Biftu's horrors unfurl in front of us, I think about all the ways I might be affected by the backwards patriarchal beliefs that infiltrate all social interactions. I steal glances at J, trying to gauge his thoughts and feelings about the events taking place on stage, keeping track of what makes him laugh and what doesn't. Perhaps it's the dim lighting or my own hopefulness, but he looks as dismayed and bothered as I feel. I link my arm with his and I feel stronger knowing that I am part of a unit, however briefly.