Shedding domestic violence's shame

March 26, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

FREDERICK, Md. -- At one point during a scene run for "Exuviae," the members of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre took turns posing questions to the audience.

"Are there any guns in the home?"

"Has he ever threatened to kill you or your children?"

"Does he have a history of violence?"

"Do you fear for your life?"

The actors, all women, continued circulating more and more questions at a quickening pace until their voices overlapped like a cacophony of cicada chirps.

The desired effect is a not-so-subtle metaphor for domestic violence, said the play's director, Julie Herber. Eventually, their collective "cicada" voice became very difficult to ignore.


"Exuviae" is an original play about the effect of domestic violence as personified by six insects. The troupe will debut the work Friday at its 100-seat, black-box theater in downtown Frederick. Shows will continue into April.

In biology, exuviae are skins or shells shed as insects or crustaceans grow into larger, more mature forms. For Herber and her artistic collaborators that provides an obvious metaphor for victims of domestic violence.

"I think the piece will press that you can survive, that there are avenues you can go on to get help," Herber said.

Domestic violence has been in the news recently, with the Chris Brown-Rhianna incident.

In Maryland, proposed bills attempting to protect victims of domestic violence include putting GPS tracking devices on domestic abusers and preventing victimizers from getting guns.

For "Exuviae," Herber said she didn't want to create a preachy, documentary-style play.

There's no story line. You don't meet a character or sets of characters whose lives you follow throughout the play, she said.

"I kind of call it a collage with this information that we've gathered about domestic violence," Herber said.

The play was written collaboratively by MET actors and crew, who, under Herber's guidance, researched and interviewed victims of domestic violence.

There are no plot points, though at one point in the play, the six actors "exuviate" - shed their outer larval skins and transform into new creatures. But there is no resolution at the end of the play. There is no "the end."

"I don't know that we resolve anything," said Gen Fouch, an actor in the play and an associate artistic director for the MET. "We ask questions."

Fouch said the actors have to rely on their physical movements to inform characterization - a la Jerzy Grotowski, the late Polish director who prized physical acting and the actor-audience connection.

This approach stems from Herber's background, which includes mime and dance training.

"I find that's more natural to me," Herber said. "It starts from my body."

Herber said she got the idea years ago while she was sitting in her backyard at night.

"And I was listening to insect sounds," Herber said. "I could pick separate ones out. Some of them were aggressive and wanted to pierce through the air. Some were quiet and faint and wanted to, maybe, say something, but you couldn't really tell."

The play evolved into a bigger idea - a play about domestic violence, she said - as told through the sounds of insects. She thought the idea was golden.

"This would be great for a theater piece," Herber said. "You know I'd love to do this, I'd love to have an audience sitting in the darkness and hearing these insect sounds. And suddenly these insect sounds without even realizing it turn into human voices who have stories to tell."

If you go ...

WHAT: "Exuviae," an original play presented by the Maryland Ensemble Theatre

WHEN: Play premieres 8 p.m. Friday. Evening shows continue Fridays and Saturdays through Saturday, April 25; also at 8 p.m. Thursdays, April 16 and 23, and Sunday, April 19, at 2 and 7 p.m.

WHERE: Maryland Ensemble Theatre, 31 W. Patrick St., Frederick, Md.

COST: $23.50. Call the box office at 301-694-4744 or go to

MORE: Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. The box office opens one hour before showtime.

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