Luigi Laraia (center) directing actors in his play “Neda Wants to Die.”
If a project doesn’t scare me I won’t do it. I am a playwright and I write about stories of the human condition. When I was asked to write a play on gender-based violence my mind started racing with questions: “How do I do justice to the victims? How do I get inside the mind of a perpetrator?” and “Why should a man write about gender violence?”
Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue; it is not just a men’s issue; it is a human rights issue. Men should write about it, talk about it, and share their views on it. Eradication of gender violence cannot take place without the participation of men. At any level of decision-making, men wield a lot of influence over the lives of women and men should be engaged to create awareness, make informed decisions and confront their own traumas.
So I decided to get involved.
Gender-based violence takes no prisoners: abuser, abused or observer. This is the frame through which I have written my play. I wanted to create a stage production that was ferociously real to the point of being unbearable just as gender violence is: a dehumanizing process of degradation and addictive dependency. The testimonies made by the play’s characters are based on real events. My intent is to present-without sentimental excesses, judgment or exploitation-the violence from the perspective of the abused, the abuser and those who must witness the aftermath. I talked to victims, lawyers, social workers and international experts. I posed uncomfortable questions. I pried. I wanted to know everything: the violence, the desperation, the self-hate, the shame. After three months of research, I found myself with a plethora of emotions. All I had to do was to create characters that would convey the brutality of their experience.
What is gender-based violence in a conflict country? To what extent does it impact people? How is it used? To what extent does it dehumanize us? These are questions I attempt to address in Neda Wants to Die. A play is a shared sensory experience, a visual distillation of crimes that affect the viewer more profoundly than reading the news.
There are brave people who work incredibly hard at the grassroots level. Much more can be done at the policy level. Victims are scared to talk. Acts of violence cannot go unchallenged because of fear of repercussion or stigmatization. I believe that abuse of any form, especially in a conflict country, is pathological and systemic.
My ambition is that the play will inspire a frank and open discussion about gender-based violence. This play is not so much about violence as about how violence multiplies and deepens when we look away.
Limited seating remains for the December 4 performace of “Neda Wants to Die” at Vital Voices headquarters. If you wish to attend the performance, click here for more information and to RSVP.