Soma Mnemosyne

Patricia Ariza

Illustration by Emily S. Franklin

The performance takes place in four distinct spaces: lobby, cabaret, memory gallery, and theater.

As the audience enters the lobby, a light shines on a man sitting inside a glass case. He is holding a small white boat in his hands. In another part of the lobby, an actor is sitting with a tape recorder in her hands. She will be called WOMAN WHO FORGETS. Another woman is standing in front of some objects hanging from a wall. She will be called ALICIA. A DEAD MAN, who is covered by a white sheet, is lying on a gurney in the background.

A woman suddenly enters the lobby. She will be called LA ENCARGADA. This character, who is wearing a red and black cabaret outfit, personifies death. She is accompanied by an unusual character wearing some sort of white skirt. He is a DISAPPEARED PERSON. He has a speaker playing music that accompanies the dialogue during the following scene. LA ENCARGADA walks from one end of the lobby to the other.

LA ENCARGADA:  Here. Before you. Night falls. My body as an actor is ready for theater’s fleeting moment. Like when you gaze into the abyss. I am just a body. In other words, the whole universe. Every pain and injury lodges in my side. Festivities, though, take over all of my body, spreading out and releasing it. Tonight, I will be a medium for the forgotten. For those without a name floating down the river with just a buzzard resting on their backs.
I am Soma. I am the body of memory. I am the Goddess Mnemosyne, who wishes to forget but cannot. Some call me La Pelona, La Huesuda, or La Parca. I call myself La Encargada. (Pointing to the man with the boat.) Over there, a man is dreaming about a boat wandering aimlessly, where a group of actors depict what has not yet happened but is absolutely true. (Pointing to a screen.)

(In the hallway, a video is projected of the MAN WITH THE BOAT in front of a wall with a piece of chalk in his hand. He speaks directly to the camera.)

MAN WITH THE BOAT (VIDEO):  Why am I sitting here before all of you? I am obsessed with finding a truly human face. (Pause.) Forgotten bodies ask me to depict them, ask me to depict them. I am their feet and their innards . . .

(The video fades out.)

LA ENCARGADA:  You will also learn about a woman who wishes to forget everything. (She points to the WOMAN WHO FORGETS who is still sitting with a tape recorder in her hands.) Her. She refuses to remember the date and time of her own birth.

(The WOMAN WHO FORGETS turns on the tape recorder. As she walks around the lobby, the tape recorder plays testimony from victims of the armed conflict.)

WOMAN’S VOICE 1:  I never thought that something so tragic could happen as that which we experienced here in this community.

MAN’S VOICE 1:  Something happened here. Brother, it was impressive.

MAN’S VOICE 2:  Why did this happen to us? We were just some innocent kids. We didn’t have anything to do with the armed conflict in Colombia. The calm was broken.

WOMAN’S VOICE 2 (singing):  Let me cry . . . Let me cry . . .

(The testimony ends and the WOMAN WHO FORGETS exits the lobby.)

(LA ENCARGADA points to a spot where some objects are hanging: a bloodstained shirt, a peacock feather, a jug, a cup, a plate, a mirror, a book, a newspaper, family photos, a radio, carpentry tools, a lamp, and a worn apron. ALICIA is standing in front of the objects.)

LA ENCARGADA (pointing to ALICIA):  Over there. A woman waits for the light to tell her she can begin to mourn.

ALICIA (speaking as she points out the objects):  Here, his white shirt has been washed. It is spotless, just some holes from being shot point-blank. And, here, the peacock feather his father left him. And, here, his newspaper clippings. (Pointing at the mirror.) And, here, his image merged with mine. He and I, together for eternity. Here, his radio. (News reports can be heard in the background.) He used to turn it on every day at five in the morning. He would listen to the news with a cup of strong black coffee. Look closely. Here is the book he was reading the night he was murdered. (Pointing at some photographs.) Here are his grandparents: papá Juancho and mamá Meche. And, here, Vivi’s birthday photo. Here, his jug, his plate, his cup—from which he used to drink chilled panela water. Here, his work tools: his brush, his brace, his burin, his chisel, and his saw. (She grabs a lamp and shines the light on the audience.) This is the lamp he used to see the faces of his murderers that evening. Here is his apron, his worn-out apron, his tattered apron. He’d never take it off. And here. (Clasping her ears.) I can hear it. Yes. This was his favorite song. (The song, “Dear Alicia,” can be heard in the background. She looks for someone in the audience, dances, and exits.)

(LA ENCARGADA points to the DISAPPEARED PERSON, who walks through the space with a gurney carrying a DEAD MAN covered by a white sheet.)

LA ENCARGADA:  Here. A man searches for his bones to rebuild his body. And somebody else is trying to survive on a hospital gurney.

(The DISAPPEARED PERSON and LA ENCARGADA place the gurney in front of the screen. Meanwhile, several short radio excerpts on the murder of political leaders in Colombia can be heard from the speaker carried by the DISAPPEARED PERSON.)

AUDIO 1:  “Paid political advertisement. This is Luis Carlos Galán . . . ”

AUDIO 2:  “For the first time in the investigation into the murder of Jaime Garzón . . . ”

AUDIO 3:  “Extra! Extra! Just moments ago there was gunfire at the airport in Bogotá. Patriotic Union presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa was wounded in the gunfire.”

AUDIO 4 (voice of Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa):  “A small group of people wants to take Colombia down the path of Fascism. I believe that . . . and I say this with serenity and sometimes indifference . . . I know that I will be murdered.”

(A video of a DEAD MAN lying on a gurney is projected onto the screen.)

DEAD MAN (VIDEO):  Some criminals in Mapiripán gave me this wound you see here. They thought I was asleep and came at me with their blades. I don’t have any sweat, tears, or semen. All of my bodily fluids have dried up. (Singing.) “The rest of me is all there is of my brief memory . . . ”

(The video ends and the DISAPPEARED PERSON approaches the audience.)

DISAPPEARED PERSON:  Tonight, we have been given some time . . . a little bit of time. We are here before you . . . Yes, it must be said . . . to search for our bones. Somebody disappeared them. No, don’t be afraid. We are immaculate. Tonight, we have covered ourselves in essential oils. I’ve cleansed my wounds with sandalwood. You wish to know the question? The body is the answer. (Approaching the audience.) Stay calm, stay calm. No river can drown a dead body.

(The DISAPPEARED PERSON exits with the gurney.)

LA ENCARGADA (singing):  Ladies and gentlemen, let’s proceed . . .

(LA ENCARGADA points to the screen. Santiago García, co-founder and director of Teatro La Candelaria, appears in the video. He is dressed in a white suit and speaks directly to the camera.)

SANTIAGO (VIDEO):  This song is for those nobody ever asks about. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the performance of Soma Mnemosyne: The Body of Memory. (Speaking in German.) “Ich bin der Geist der Welt, aber ich habe den kleinen Schlüssel verloren.” “I’m the spirit of the world, but I’ve lost the key.” (Humming the song, which is a phrase by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.)

(The video pauses. LA ENCARGADA directs the audience to enter the cabaret space. Once there, the DEAD MAN begins to play the accordion. LA ENCARGADA sings and dances to “Mackie Messer,” a song by Bertolt Brecht, Mackie Messer, accompanied by a character who will be called THE STRANGER. As the song ends, THE STRANGER approaches with the gurney. The DEAD MAN lies down and plays another song on the accordion.)

(The WOMAN WHO FORGETS begins to walk among the audience with the same tape recorder, which is playing a recording of her own voice.)

WOMAN WHO FORGETS (AUDIO RECORDING):  Since there are not enough words to describe forgetting, I will let you know I’m in a permanent state of decline. I’m pleased to welcome all of you—all of my sisters—to this place that is no longer a theater. It is now a map filled with living and deceased memory. Before you, I wish I could forget everything today. I don’t want to know where anything is anymore. I don’t want to know the time, day, or place. I don’t want to open badly written history books. I don’t want to know where to find that vest or stove. I don’t want to know where to find my house.

I don’t want to know my place. I don’t want to acknowledge my friends who embrace me. I don’t want to know what I am here for. I am all the actors who have been in this house and all of those who have tried to imitate God . . .

(All of the actors leave the space, except for LA ENCARGADA, who remains with the audience.)

LA ENCARGADA:  We shall continue through this space. We are on our way to Santiago. Come. Look at this night. Wandering bodies. Missing bodies. “Ich bin der Geist der Welt, aber ich habe den kleinen Schlüssel verloren.” “I am the spirit of the world, but I’ve lost the key.” Proceed! Proceed!

(The audience enters into a memory gallery. The WOMAN WHO FORGETS greets the audience. In the middle of the space, the MAN WITH THE BOAT is sitting down, making a boat out of paper.)

WOMAN WHO FORGETS (microphone in hand):  Ladies and gentlemen, please proceed. Make yourself at home. This is no longer a theater. This is a place of living and deceased memory. Place your bets. Over here, those who wish to remember but cannot. Over there, those who should forget but don’t want to. Place your bets. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

(A video of ALICIA is projected in the background. She is partially undressed and moving back and forth in front of a wall. At the same time, ALICIA, the actor, is standing in front of the video projection.)

ALICIA (VIDEO):  If you reflect upon my face, we will have defeated death. We will have defeated death. (In the video, images of people who have been murdered and disappeared are projected on to her face. Then, LA ENCARGADA, who is also partially undressed, appears in front of the video.)

LA ENCARGADA (VIDEO):  I am the body of memory. I am Soma. I am the Goddess Mnemosyne, who wishes to forget but cannot. I am the voice for those we miss. For those we long for. I am the body that nobody asks about. I am the voice for those we miss. For those we long for. I am the Goddess Mnemosyne, who wishes to forget but cannot. I am the body of memory.

(The video ends. The MAN WITH THE BOAT exits the space.)

translated from the Spanish by David Pegg

Click here to see a video of the performance: Soma Mnemosyne.