Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo began as a project meant to bring peace and alleviate the tensions still remaining between the Congolese residents of Syracuse. It was meant to educate people about the involvement of the West in the plundering of the Congo for the past 130 years and its damaging effect on the Congolese.
Cry for Peace was written and directed by Kyle Bass, a local playwright, and Ping Chong, an internationally renowned theater director. After many workshops and changes from when the project began in 2006, the completed film finally made its way to Oswego State’s Waterman Theatre Nov. 2. It featured five cast members: Cyprien Mihigo, Emmanuel Ndeze, Beatrice Neema, who spoke for a woman whose “voice was silenced by shame,” Kambale Syaghuswa and Mona de Vestel. In the introduction, Bass stressed that these cast members are not actors and, though they are reading from a script, the horrors of which they speak are their own experiences.
The film begins with the tweeting of birds, and a single voice singing. The stage is revealed as a cast member walks onto it and takes a seat in one of the five chairs. Several other voices join in the singing as the rest of the cast members enter the stage. Each chair has a music stand in front of it, holding the script to be used during the film. During the introduction, Bass mentioned that Chong referred to this experimental documentary as “chamber work for the spoken word” or “seated opera.”
The film was chronologically ordered, beginning in the 60s and progressing into 2003. The cast members moved forward through time during the film by announcing the year they will speak about. They each take turns telling their stories about what happened to them and to the Congo during that year.
As the cast members proceed to tell their life stories, they make use of clapping in unison. According to Bass, the clapping punctuates what they are saying and can be seen as representing italics or the “white space between stanzas in a poem.” Another way they punctuated what they were saying was by saying it in unison. For example, there was a time when they were sharing their experiences during the war, and when one would finish stating something, the cast members would shout in unison “Gunfire! Gunfire! Gunfire!” as they clapped.
An interesting part of the performance was that the cast members did not simply read off the script about themselves. They took turns helping to tell each other’s stories. For example, when Ndeze was telling the audience about the time he had to leave his family; de Vestel played the part of an old woman he met along the way.
The joy with which the cast members performed was also impressive. After describing the horrors they had faced, the death and destruction that their country experienced, they still managed to have hope. They still managed to forgive. They still managed to be a part of a project that will hopefully bring peace to them and their countrymen here in the U.S.
Beatrice stated, for the woman she spoke, near the end of the film that, even though her captors and rapists murdered her husband and child, she would still forgive them because she is still alive and still has hope in her life. Syaghuswa also managed to let go of his hatred of the people responsible for deaths in his family when he arrived in Syracuse.
“You are heavy when you carry hatred, I am lighter now,” Syaghuswa said.
The film is very educational and is unlike anything many will see. It highlights the horrors of a world we seem to forget about in a very personal and novel way. Bass and Chong managed to create something that will speak to the hearts of many. Hopefully through events like this, they will be able to see the change that they are aiming for.