The “way she spoke” is the way a mother pleads for the safety of her missing daughter; the “way she spoke” is the way an actress weeps as she reads an endless list of horror, a history of violence against women.
This “docu-mythologia” by Isaac Gomez is a meta-play-within-a-play, and the whole thing seems almost innocuous in the beginning: An actress (Kate del Castillo) enters the bare theatre, sits down at a table, and makes small talk with the “author,” represented in the space by the audience. She describes her experience at a degrading audition she’s just had: How many times does a Latina actress have to go in for parts with names like “Cha Cha” and be in lace underwear for whole scenes? But then she picks up the script before her and starts to read–and you’re immediately enveloped, transported to the world of the play; the story punches you in the heart before you realize it, and eventually you leave with a lump in your throat.
The Way She Spoke is based on intimate interviews Gomez conducted in the streets of Juarez, Mexico, where thousands of women have been murdered in an epidemic of violence that the world has turned a deaf ear to. The play gives a sincere and vulnerable voice to the silenced women of Juarez and beyond: For them, safety is a luxury and walking home from a bus stop feels like crossing a minefield.
Props to director Jo Bonney: The transitions between the play’s different worlds are executed with subtlety. (This is also a feature I’ve come to relish and expect in Audible productions.) A shift in Castillo’s voice as well as minor changes in her hair and costuming, assisted by the ambient sound (Elisheba Ittoop) and projections (Aaron Rhyne), and you’re transported to Juarez, a city Gomez had considered a second home. You’re gradually soaked in the story through the words and the vivid images painted by those words. The horror in the tale comes to you plain and simple: “There’s no better place to kill a girl…” reads the actress, her grounded presence making it even more impactful.
True to the conceit of a first read-through of a script, the actress periodically breaks character to insert her own comments or questions about the text, or to “rewind,” or repeat certain lines. With that, the play effectively creates organic emphases on important points, as well as time for the audience to process heavy, complex information.
Castillo embodies various characters throughout the script, including the author himself as well as women he’s interviewed. During one segment, a mother asks Gomez to carry a message from her to whomever may be listening: Have pity and bring them back. Through Castillo, we witness the grief-stricken family members of the missing women, who wear their hope like armor. And so, “the way she spoke” is the way a mother doesn’t cry over her missing daughter because there’s still a glimpse of hope that she’ll come home.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre, because it showed me a reality that I’ve had the privilege to not be a part of. It’s a reality that reminds me that the war against women is far more horrendous than I could stomach. “It’s hard to believe listening is enough.” We should nevertheless listen, because then at least we hear them, through a voice of grief–but also hope. Our job is to amplify that hope.