“Collision” looks at social issues through experiences
As the Frank Ocean song went silent and the house lights dimmed, a voiceover began to play. “This is a story about alcohol … about church ... about race … about oceans … about returning and leaving … this is a story about you.” According to its program, “Collision” was “a collaborative, artistic effort to enact social change through personal narrative.” Director Kesi Kmt ’16 said that the cast rehearsed for about three weeks before presenting “Collision.”
Kmt, along with Sophie Warren ’18, Ashani Peterkins ’16, Sarah McCarty ’16 and Shakeria Hicks, who does not attend Brandeis, wrote the show’s script. Brandeis’s Queer People of Color Coalition, Triskelion and a grant from the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance sponsored the show. The engaging show played twice over the weekend in the Merrick Theater at the Spingold Theater Center.
Kmt’s biography in the program stated that she is “committed to the preservation of marginalized communities and the work of social transformation through art.” “Collision” held true to these themes by examining the social issues playing out in each of six unnamed characters’ lives. The play focused on their personal histories, detailing them over the course of three acts.
When the lights were still up, Kmt prefaced the show by noting that it blended improvisation, theater and collaboration. She said that “Collision” was inspired by the film “Pariah” (2011), an art and drama film directed by Dee Rees about a black teenager who discovers her identity as a lesbian.
The first scene saw the six actors stand onstage and look into mirrors propped up on the backdrop behind them. The unnamed characters explained that upon arriving at Brandeis, their identities — or rather, their relations to them or perceptions of them — changed. The next few scenes served to ambiguously detail how and in what ways their identities shifted.
One character, played by Molly Gimbel ’17, spoke about gender policing and how gender is not a rigid binary. Gimbel's character noted that identifying between male and female complicated formerly simple parts of their life (like going to the bathroom) in ways that cisgender people are unlikely to experience. She lamented that “they [society] don’t make bathrooms for the in between.”
Another character, played by Dennis Hermida ’16, started his monologue with a song written by Kmt titled “Edge of the Moon”. He sang about being at “the edge of the moon/ [with] nothing to gain/ and nothing to lose.” Hermida slipped into the melody in between describing a relationship with another man who was not yet open about his sexuality. Hermida’s rendition was smooth, captivating and emotional. As his story heightened in intensity, Hermida followed his retelling by singing in a more strained tone. When his story was more uplifting, he sang with more breathiness and ease. In this way, Hermida’s singing adjusted to match the emotion of each part of the story as he told it.
In addition to poetry, song and monologues, Brontë Velez’s ’16 character used dance to tell her story. Dancing to a Nina Simone cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” Velez performed an emotive and technically challenging solo. With the lights dimmed, Simone sang, “I’ll put a spell on you/ because you’re mine.” Velez shifted smoothly between tempos during the dance. At times, she paused to bend and reach towards the audience, and at other times, she turned and jumped quickly so that all that the audience could see was her trailing silhouette. At one point in the dance, Velez, lying on her back, slid from the back of the stage to the front while holding eye contact with an audience member. At the end of her dance, the audience seemed unsure whether to snap, as if in agreement with what she conveyed, or clap in appreciation of the performance.
In the last scene, Kmt delivered a spoken-word poem. She talked about feeling outcast, about mercy in religion and about being “afraid of death the way books are afraid to burn.” Referencing the film, she mentioned feeling like a “pariah among pieces of herself.”After her poem, the cast came on stage and bowed to the crowd, which had already jumped to its feet in a standing ovation.