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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: State of Play 2023, Yanira Castro/a canary torsi: I came here to weep, ODC Theater, Aug 13

A canary torsi’s I came here to weep, a collective awakening, the meeting of a performance cult, a shelter-building exercise for strangers, leaves the closing night audience for ODC Theater’s State of Play Festival 2023 in a stunned silence. They remain frozen for minutes at the conclusion of the facilitated performance they just participated in creating.

It is difficult to tell if they are terrified, mystified, or duly reverent, but they clearly aren’t ready or able to move on yet. Creator and performance activity leader, Yanira Castro, is gone. The lights and roaring industrial fan that had helped create the final tableau of an audience member turned revolutionary, have been turned off by a technician. On beach chairs and seating risers, bonded by their shared experience over the past seventy-minutes, the i came here to weep hurricane survivors sit fatigued and motionless.

The piece begins with Castro greeting us as we enter, advising us to get comfortable and to expect to move quite a bit. She wears a warm smile, bold eyeglass frames, and a casual business suit in a light-color. She offers the framing statement that “discomfort is useful.”

I came here to weep, is meant to be performed by Americans. Crafted to ensure through the actions Castro directs us to take, we understand that Puerto Rico, her birthplace, is under American occupation. It is unceded, a word we bandy about and pretend to respect as we nod wisely during the omnipresent land acknowledgements statements which precede many Bay Area shows.

Audience members gathering onstage at top of Yanira Castro's 'i came here to weep' Photo: J. Norris

Having efficient and effectively created discomfort, Castro now requests a show of hands from the Americans in the room. Feeling that identifying at this moment with their country makes them vulnerable or responsible for its actions, many present fail to even offer a nod of agreement when directly queried regarding their American citizenship.

Physical tasks involving bodies, chairs, and territory, represented by a quilt of Puerto Rican beach towels, teach us how arriving at a pretty, comfy place and getting comfortable may lead us to overstay or perhaps never leave.

A woman stands upon a quilt of beach towels. She holds a beach chair above her head. People sit on the quilt facing a variety of directions. A theater seating platform can be seen in the background.

Audience members participating in the construction of Yanira Castro's 'i came here to weep' Photo: J. Norris

The difference between being ceded, or given, a thing, even unwillingly, versus taking the object, is explored with more chairs and bodies. Next lesson: annexing involves much of the audience. As the boundaries between bodies blurs, Castro, checking for consent as she goes, weaves herself into and among a clump of amassed patrons. The goal, we are told, is to grab it, take it, make it feel like it can’t be gotten back. She asks us to enmesh ourselves sufficiently that we can no longer extricate ourselves.

Props help us understand in a new light (pun intended) that the one who decides what gets highlighted has much power. The pedestrian act of taking a selfie, becomes newly loaded as we consider how marrying our image with a place or an event is a way of claiming or annexing it as part of our own history.

The proverbial gloves come off, as Castro removes her suit coat revealing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Exorcism = Liberation.” With most spectators successfully converted to participants, Castro announces a requirement to memorize the Paris Treaty of 1898, with which the former colonizing country Spain cedes Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Guam, and for $20 million dollars, the Philippines, to the United States. A distorted recording of the Treaty, emanating from a Bluetooth speaker Castro wears on her back like a street-corner evangelist, blares through the venue.

After she introduces the idea that “performance is a cult,” we follow her lead chanting “NO” from deep within our bellies. The power of our unified voices is fierce. We practice saying “YES” softly and breathily, the sibilant whispers creating a snake pit of sorts. So indoctrinated are we, that when told that “NO is an act of participation” and “YES is a fall into the abyss,” we continue to do as we are told, no outspoken naysayers among us.

With eyes closed and hands raised, we experience the sounds of a hurricane and wake to the suggestion that we have no bedsheets, water, power, transportation, or shelter. Primed for cooperative action, we, perhaps thirty-strong, hum and howl as one. “If you are an American, weep,” she says. “If you are not an American and wish to weep, you don’t need permission.” Castro weeps and keens with bottomless sorrow, her cries sufficient to block out the sounds of others who may also be crying.

Open to the suggestion that we are in need of a ceiling, when two tarps and some clips are proffered, we work together to fasten a shoddy shelter, which unexpectedly partially collapses onto an attendee/castaway. Still, some remain gathered in the blue glow under the tarp listening to Castro interview an audience volunteer about soil and property, inclusion and exclusion, public, private and common ownership.

Audience members participating in the construction of Yanira Castro's 'i came here to weep' Photo: J. Norris

After draping this willing supplicant in Puerto Rican flags, and handing him a flag emblazoned with “la sangre de los revolucionarios” (the blood of revolutionaries), Castro slips away.

The storm that is Castro’s energy leaves a strong impression. I feel changed and grateful for the opportunity to not just bear witness, but to participate in the creation of this experience. And as I sit down to partake of the delicious Puerto Rican family style meal provided for us, fellow audience members, festival artists, and staff, I offer a little prayer: May the discomfort she sewed grow into something useful, and the afterglow of her presence spark conversation and action in support of Puerto Rican sovereignty and indigenous people everywhere.

Review by Jen Norris, published August 14, 2023


Production Credits:

Yanira Castro/a canary torsi: I came here to weep

I came here to weep

CREATED BY Yanira Castro Negroni




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