Failing Hannah

| 04/12/2014

Local media covered, to some extent, the premiere and success of “Hannah’s Confession”, the play by local award-winning playwright Patricia Marie Bent which debuted at the Harquail Theatre in September and was brought back by popular demand in November. Nearly every news outlet spoke of the excellence of the cast, the well-constructed dialogue and plot, and the realistic portrayal of what goes on in the not so visible corners of “Product Cayman”.

The few outlets that covered the work more extensively touched on the darker themes of the play — domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, bullying — but did so from a safer distance, favoring to highlight what was described as the “positive message” within it all.

“Hannah’s Confession” was brilliant, not only due to its ability to spotlight these “darker themes” — the willfully ignored or outright downplayed reality of Beloved Isle Cayman — but also by being able to highlight how we, as a society, have failed our children at every turn.  From the family members/“nosy next door neighbours”, to the church, schools, police service, and social services “Hannah’s Confession” lays out in simple ways all the missed opportunities for protection and intervention, distributes the responsibility equally among the different sectors of our community and turns the mirror on its audience for, at the very least, introspection.

What the news outlets failed to cover was that the most jarring, disturbing and outright infuriating aspects of the experience for some audience members were not those that took place on stage and not for lack of content. During a particularly difficult scene, where Hannah’s mother and father (portrayed by the incredible Rita Estevanovich and Michael McLaughlin) end up in a confrontation that quickly turns violent and highlights both actors’ commitment to the role as they realistically portray a no-holds-barred physical fight, the overwhelming audience response was not outrage or shock; it was laughter.

Comedy club laughter.

To clarify: there were numerous parts of the play’s dialogue that were intentionally funny, and the delivery by the actors made them outright hilarious. Yet there was no discernment among a good number of audience members between the comedy and the drama. This was not the only scene that evoked this inappropriate response, among them was also the scene where the mother’s new boyfriend is making overtly sexual passes at the young Hannah, who is clearly uncomfortable.

The inappropriate reaction to seeing sexually abusive behavior towards a child as well as acts of physical violence being perpetrated were not expressed solely by the young people who were watching the play. Adults too, both Caymanians and expats, in various capacities, including educators and other professionals, were among those finding humor in the situation.

Those who left the theatre feeling disconcerted and disgusted have been pondering how to make sense of this experience and more broadly what it means as it pertains to the state of our community.

To attribute this reaction, which members of the cast confirmed were the norm and not the exception, to our immature theatre culture and inability to process anything other than comedies is a far too kind and rose-coloured explanation of what appears to be a much more troubling reality.

On the one hand, perhaps the reality portrayed on stage is in fact so commonplace for those who experience it daily that, in their struggle to keep their head above water, they have lost their ability to empathize with another with similar struggles. It is an utterly indifferent response expressed through statements like: “I get my licks, so why I must feel sorry for you?”, “Das how it go”, “That’s life”, or the myriad of other ways which reaffirm that this type of violence is normal.

On the other hand, perhaps as a community we have become so accustomed to consuming violence in its various forms — in our communities, on TV, at the movies, in our news, via our radio, online and in our games — that we have become truly desensitized to it.

In a world where the brutal beating of a toddler by her Ugandan nanny is captured on film and disseminated so as to attain “viral” status, a man pushing a woman with such force so as to make her lose her footing and fall hard is a meaningless act by comparison. In our mass consumption we have grown increasingly tolerant as violence is now measured comparatively against the great archive of violent acts stored in our psyche.

There may be those who think this is a gross overreaction, but consider this: what message was sent to the young members of the cast, whose ages ranged from 8-16, when emotionally charged, threatening, violent and serious situations were met with such response?

Worse yet, who can guarantee that this cavalier reaction is confined to the theatre?  What of the child who presents with signs of abuse to one of these adults? A mandate to report is not a mandate to empathise, so with what reaction will s/he be greeted?

Those among us who work on trying to raise awareness of issues such as child sexual abuse and domestic violence have long held to the hope that making our population aware is half the battle won. Our belief has been that in helping to publicly assert that these things are happening and helping our people correctly name our problems we will take the most necessary step towards collectively finding a solution for it.

Yet, the cast of “Hannah’s Confession” laid out our problems on a silver platter, with all the trimmings, and provided us with a service next to none. Their last two performances, in fact, took place within the context of a Cayman Islands where six year old Bethany Butler was brutally stabbed multiple times by her mother just weeks prior.  If ever there was a time for the messages to resonate, this should have been it.

And still there was laughter.

Category: Viewpoint

Comments (30)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Amazing how a commentary can strike such a chord and yet the point becompletely missed. This isn't about "sophistication of audiences" or  wanting a controlled reaction.  This isn't about dictating to people how they should feel nor is it stating that we must all "cry" at the same sad scene or "laugh" at the same funny one.  This is about US, as PEOPLE!

    A SIX YEAR OLD GIRL WAS STABBED. MULTIPLE TIMES. BY HER MOTHER! And what have we done? Oh sure, there was shock…  there was outrage… there were plenty of opinions on the matter for about a week, but then it died down as if nothing happened.  At every turn our crimes keep getting worse- we thought we couldn't get any worse after we found ESTELLA- or should we say what was left of her body- AFTER SHE WAS RAPED AND TORCHED.  We thought it couldn't get any worse when FOUR YEAR JEREMIAH WAS SHOT.  Yet we do nothing to address what's at the core and we expect things to improve?

    "Hannah's Confession" isn't some movie about something that may or may not apply to Cayman. This is our story.  This is our REALITY.  This is what is going on NOW.  And sadly, so too does the audience's reaction point to what we are facing.

    I was there too and this wasn't some uncomfrotable, nervous, misplaced laughter of people who didn't know what to do with their feelings.  This was laughter with "gusto", of something truly entertaining, truly amusing.

  2. Anon says:

    We don't have all such audiences in Cayman – or in fact in the Caribbean. They are found in EVERY society so don't make anyone tell you that this is found only in Cayman. Wherever their origin, they have left some behind – or maybe some of theirs have followed them here. 

    • Anonymous says:

      I think you will find that you are talking nonsense.  I had never experienced such an audience other than in black orientated urban movie theaters in the States. 

      • Anonymous says:

        02:59.At least you are willing to admit your prejudice;some try to cover it up, but you put it up front and out there.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Any civilized person who has been at a movie at Camana Bay which involves a scene domestic violence is bound to have been shocked by the inappropriate reaction of some of the audience.  Seeing men and women cheering a man hitting his wife is quite sickening and not uncommon.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Inappropriate affect. It happens, and often too. Ask any psychologist, counselor, teacher, or anyone who has studied psychology.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nope.  That does not explain it.  The laughter is genuine and comes from a deeply unpleasant place.

  5. Castor says:

    There are one load of hateful commentators on thid site.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Laughter and apparently stupid behaviour do not necessarily mean the audience misses the point. It is a common method of dealing with very disturbing and frightening incidents; but it does not automatically mean denial or that the message is not understood, however surprising that may seem to “sophisticated” audiences.

    • Anonymous says:

      When it sounds like the audience is ready to chant "fight! fight! fight!", yeah it does mean that the point was missed.  The night I went the same thing happened and I left shaking my head. Don't know where Cayman gone.

      • Anonymous says:

        The play was sending a rather obvious message. So was the audience. Rather than dismissing the audience as third world imbeciles, we should learn from the sad message their behaviour was sending. We do not need the play to tell us what is wrong in our society; we can see it around us every day.

    • Anonymous says:

      They missed the point all right.  Stop trying to defend the indefensible.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately Carolina's viewpoint typifies another pervasive local phenomenon:  Authoritarian leftism.  

    • Anonymous says:

      As does yours- "anonimity induced cowarditis"

    • Anonymous says:

      really? so instead we should keep our heads in the sand and just keep chugging along? you call her a communist because what? she asked people to give a damn? 

    • Fox says:

      It is well known that authoritarian conservatives derive their greatest satisfaction by sitting in judgment on the plight of the less fortunate.

  8. Anonymous says:

     

    " the overwhelming audience response was not outrage or shock; it was laughter."

    that is just how STUPID and IGNORANT and BACKWARD SOME PEOPLE ARE 

    Laugh at things that is not funny at all

     

     

    • Anonymous says:

      19:19.Could you explain why this is any of your business.Just because a scene in a play may make you cry,it does not mean that I have to cry too. Afterall, it is just a play,in other words actors are only pretending to do something.It is not the real thing. I suppose if you ducked down between the seats to avoid seeing  a scene,you would criticize others who did not follow your lead.If Carolinawants a controlled audience who reacts just the way she reacted,she should watch alone.

  9. Anonymous says:

    "To clarify: there were numerous parts of the play’s dialogue that were intentionally funny, and the delivery by the actors made them outright hilarious"

    Perhaps the award winning playwrite needs to rethink this. Reduce the hilarity of the production, set a dramatic tone and prepare the audience for what you consider to be the most serious moments.

    Based on the Punch and Judy style slapstick traveling productions from Jamaica that appear from time at the Lions Center, what do you expect from this audience of theatre goers? 

    • Anonymous says:

      I disagree- if we are to present these issues thoughtfully and still remain true to life, we have to give audiences the range of complex emotions because these issues are not one dimensional. Films and plays that portray characters who are "good" or "evil" take away from the complexity of what it is to be human.  The same way which Hannah's mother shouldn't and isn't written off as some addict and drunk, and instead has dimension as a person with tremendous pain, neither are her next door family members totally likeable as they lack the fortitude of character to truly intervene.

       

    • Anonymous says:

      So in essence "Dumb it down because you are playing to a unsophisticated crowd". 

      • Anonymous says:

         02:29.You are a total snob.Why do you have to insult so many people by referring to them as "a unsophisticated crowd".Perhaps the real problem is that you are too pretentious and overbearing.

        • Anonymous says:

          Don't venture out into public websites if you are incapable of recognising irony. 

  10. Anonymous says:

    Many years ago in Jamaica, I went to the movies to have my first experience of a West Indian audience. Never again, not even here in Cayman. In those days, there was still smoking in theatres and people yelled, whistled and rossed cigarette butts and beer cans at the movie screen, especially during tender or emotionally charged scenes. There are certain types of West Indians who just cannot handle these things and they respond by imbecilic behaviour. Here in Cayman, theatre going is still relatively "young" and many crowds are pretty unsophisticated about conventions of this art form, hence the Cayman version of imbecilic behaviour at this particular event.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is Cayman.  Go to the movies and you will regularly see inappropriate responses.  I recall see a man hit an unfaithful wife and there was cheering among a large group.  That group did take their little children to a adult movie and did spend most of the time on their cell phones, but they did find time to cheer domestic abuse.  There seems a high correlation between people who behave like that and those that think the cinema is an interactive theatre experience in which shouting at the screen is considered acceptable behaviour.

    • Anonymous says:

      Saturday night at the movies is a truly third world experience in a first world enviroment.

    • Anonymous says:

      14:07. If you do not like Caymanian theater audiences ,I am sure you have other options.

      • Anonymous says:

        That would involve cutting off one of the last means ofaccess to culture in what is a cultural desert.