The Annex Theater
June 18 - 27, 2004
June 18 - 20, 22 - 26 at 7:30pm
June 20 & 27 at 2:30pm

Written & 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.

Read The New York Times preview.
Read review.

"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 worldwide.

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" in 1977.

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.

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