Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fragments of experience create a whole, on stage

Express Staff Writer

Being a survivor is a heavy burden. Just ask a war veteran, a survivor of catastrophes such as 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina or a survivor of domestic abuse. When trauma occurs, just as with visible injury, the body instinctually finds a way to survive. Cuts scar over, nerves find new pathways and shock is induced. The brain equally finds ways to hide from trauma. Repressed memories are often the result.

Sun Valley Performing Arts/nexStage Theatre presents "An Angel Cried A Tear Last Night," Friday, April 28, and Saturday, April 29, in association with The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and the Rape Awareness Task Force.

The autobiographical one-woman play is a vivid portrayal about incest and survival written and performed by Amy Marschak.

In fact, Marschak, 41, who grew up in a well-heeled suburb of Chicago, remembers little other than she was "very spaced out" and confused. Her mother called her crazy. She was fearful of intimacy, unable to sleep in small rooms and afraid to go home.

"I started remembering things in a self-help group, but it took years. I just couldn't believe my father would have sex with me," she said in a soft voice.

Marschak's story of sexual abuse and healing is told in fragments of remembrance, beginning when she was age 6, as she learned to hide both within herself and in her own house. To survive, she created what essentially became a dual personality. One knew the secrets; the other—the one she was for many years—did not.

"It's all about the hope as a child that things will be better. What can I do? How can I be better? Oh, I can dance. There's humor in it even," she said. "The most amazing comment I got was from a girl who came to see the play for her 14th birthday. She said 'Thank you. I just got my memories back.' When things are traumatic enough people do forget."

Asked if she's had any backlash from false memory theorists, she said, "There are too many facts to not believe. Even after the Civil War, when it was called shell shock, it was understood."

Indeed, the movement to consider post-traumatic stress and repressed memories took hold after Vietnam War vets returned home. Years later, there were reports of combat veterans who don't remember parts of their tours.

"Repression has been a vague and controversial construct for over a century, in part because it has been unclear how such a mechanism could be implemented in the brain," Michael Anderson, a psychology associate professor at the University of Oregon, wrote.

"People were put in insane asylums because they remembered things," Marschak said, acknowledging how for years she knew either she was crazy or her parents who denied everything were.

"I wasn't sick. I was just remembering."

"An Angel Cried A Tear Last Night" won rave reviews and was held over at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1997. It was called a play of "uncompromising honesty and intimacy" by the festival's director. Since then she has toured many schools and colleges with the play.

Based in Boulder, Colo., Marschak began The Human Theatre Company, which produces only original work.

"That's what really gets me going," she said.

She is also the author of a poetry book called "Poetry For All Those Breathing" and three other plays. General admission tickets are available at Iconoclast Books and at the theater or at 726-4TKS. Premier reserved seating tickets are available at $25 each directly from the nexStage or by calling the ticket line.

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