The Annex Theater
June 18 - 27, 2004
June 18 - 20, 22 - 26 at 7:30pm
June 20 & 27 at 2:30pm
& Directed: Ping Chong and Michael Rohd
In collaboration with Bobby Bermea, Jeff Randall and M. Burk Walker
Set, Lighting & Projections: Randy Ward
Costume Design: Stefani Mar
Puppetry Desing & Construction: stephen Kaplin
|"Blind Ness: the Irresistible Light of Encounter,"
a new multidisciplinary theater work written and directed by Ping Chong
& Michael Rohd, will have its New York premiere at La MaMa June 18-27. A
gala benefit for Ping Chong & Company will be held on June 23.
New York Times preview.
"Blind Ness…," is a prismatic theater work exploring
Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," colonialism in the Belgian Congo and
their reverberations into the present. Using text, movement, performance,
shadow puppetry, object theater, and stunning visuals that have been the
hallmark of Ping Chong's work for more than 30 years, "Blind Ness…" intercuts
the dramatic saga of Conrad's classic characters, Kurtz and Marlow, with
such real-life figures as King Leopold II of Belgium, Roger Casement, Edmund
Dene Morel, William Sheppard, Henry Morton Stanley, Patrice Lumumba and
other heroes and villains of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The work draws from contemporary resources such as Adam Hochschild's "King
Leopold's Ghost," Pagan Kennedy's "Black Livingstone," and historical texts
by Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, Casement, Morel, and others. Co-writers
Ping Chong and Michael Rohd made two primary research trips to Belgium where
they gathered photographic and textual materials and conducted interviews
at the Royal Museum of Central Africa and other archives.
The show explores the historical events in the late 19th century that led
to the acquisition of the Congo as a personal colony of King Leopold II
of Belgium, the exploitation of the Congolese people, and the human rights
movement that arose when Belgian abuses were brought to light. That movement
ultimately became a worldwide cause, resulting in the removal of the Congo
from Leopold's personal control and ultimately, the colony's independence.
The play alternates between the narrative line of "Heart of Darkness" (Marlow's
journey up the Congo River to find the mysterious Kurtz is told through
shadow puppetry), historical events surrounding Leopold II, and the struggles
of activists who organized to reveal his crimes in the Congo. These activists
included Edmund Dene Morel, Roger Casement, William Sheppard, and famous
writers and such public figures of the time as Mark Twain and Arthur Conan
Doyle. Edmund Dene Morel was a shipping clerk who noticed that vast quantities
of ivory and rubber were coming out of the Congo, but that the only "trade"
flowing in return was weapons for the colonial administrators. Roger Casement
was a British diplomat and Irish nationalist who documented the horrible
cruelty inflicted upon Congolese people, such as amputation of limbs from
forced laborers in the rubber and ivory industries. William Sheppard established
the first Black missionary community in the Congo. He witnessed and documented,
through photography and articles, the pervasive abuse of Africans. The publication
of photos by Sheppard and others set off a decisive change in public opinion
The play is rewarding from a historical standpoint, as it shows how Europe
exploited Africa in 19th century and thereby inspired a protest movement
which was the precursor to the international human rights movement. The
piece displays the theatrical artistry expected from a work by Ping Chong.
It also sizzles with contemporary political urgency: there are striking
parallels to current events, including the systematic use of torture and
the pivotal role played by photography in revealing crimes committed in
the name of "progress."
"Blind Ness…" is conceived by two time
OBIE winner Ping Chong. It is written and directed by Ping Chong and Michael
Rohd in collaboration with Bobby Bermea, Jeff Randall and M. Burke Walker.
"Blind Ness…" reunites Chong with several long time artistic collaborators:
Randy Ward (sets, lighting and projections) and Stefani Mar (costumes).
Joining the production team is Stephen Kaplin (puppetry design and construction),
creator of shadow puppet sequences for Broadway's "The Lion King," and Stephen
Zapytowski (sound design). The cast includes Bobby Bermea, Jeff Randall,
Michael Rohd, M.Burke Walker and students from Kent State University's School
of Theatre and Dance.
Reviewing a developmental production of "Blind Ness…" at Kent State in April,
1994, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Tony Brown) wrote, "Dense, elegant and
horrific in its recounting of the rapacious 19th century colonization of
the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium, Ping Chong's latest work employs
simple images and gestures in a baroquely stunning tapestry."
This is the seventeenth premiere by Ping Chong at La MaMa, which has been
his theatrical home since it produced his Obie-winning "Humboldt's Current"
Ping Chong was born in Toronto and raised in New York City's Chinatown and
is now considered one of the foremost directors of American performance
art. La MaMa has premiered Ping Chong's "Nuit Blanche" (1981, 1985), "Anna
into Nightlight" (1982), "A Race" (1984), "Nosferatu" (1985, 1991), "Kind
Ness" (1986), "Skin A State of Being" (1989), "Brightness" (1989; two Bessie
Awards, 1990), "Elephant Memories" (1991), "Deshima" (1993), "Interfacing
Joan" (1996), "After Sorrow" (1997), "Kwaidan" (1998) and "Pojagi" (2000).
In 2002, La MaMa presented "SlutforArt, a.k.a. Ambiguous Ambassador," a
collaboration of Ping Chong and choreographer Muna Tseng, and "UE92/02,"
a work with Talvin Wilks that was part of Chong's "Undesirable Elements"
series on immigration issues.
Ping Chong's awards also include two Obie Awards, five National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowships, a Playwrights' USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship,
two McKnight Playwriting Fellowships, a TCG Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship
and a 1992 Bessie Award for Sustained Achievement. Altogether, he has created
over 30 works for the stage, seven visual arts installations and three videos.
His work has been presented at major museums, festivals and theaters throughout
the Americas, Europe and Asia.
For Ping Chong & Company info, visit