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Melinda Given Guttmann
Rha Goddess in "LOw: Meditations Trilogy Part 1". Photo by Jean Jacques Tiziou.

Low:Meditations Trilogy Part 1
Written, produced and performed
by Rha Goddess
Directed and Developed by Chay Yew
Carnival Studio Theatre
Miami Beach Florida May 7-9
Presented by Miami Light Project
and the Adrienne Arsht Center
Reviewed May 17, 2008

Rha Goddess' solo performance "Low :Meditations Trilogy: Part 1" at the Adrienne Arsht Center Studio Theatre in Miami urgently questions how the ordinary individual can remain "sane" in an "insane" global crisis. In an interview with me, Rha claimed that our national crisis of "poverty, corruption, traumatized Iraq war veterans, anorexia, murder, suicide, rape and torture" can be "healed" through the power of inspirational art, non-violent political activism, and "re-connecting with our "real selves." She believes that race, gender and class are cultural constructs, and beneath our false cultural identities we are all unified as One, because our "real selves are divine Soul." Her theatrical manifestation of these complex social, political, spiritual and institutional issues focuses on an examination of "mental illness" with a thrilling style which Rha terms "new wave black feminist artistry."

Rha explores these social issues through performing the life history of one ordinary African- American woman. She performs this as a monologue in the personae of a bright, rebellious, young black woman's nightmarish experiences from ages eight to eighteen. She skillfully embodies her character's tortured soul as she disintegrates into institutionally constructed "insanity" in an electrifying multi-media performance. The structure of her story is composed of short, terrifying scenes with ragged edges. The innovative text was written as a poetic monologue in a language which Rha calls "floetry." employing a wide range of diverse vocal and physical acting techniques, hip hop dances, and feminist hip hop songs, the story is punctuated by the invisible presence of other characters, music, and sound effects erratically emanating from visible amplifiers.

Rha presents her character "Louscretia" on a bare white stage with one white chair; wearing blue jeans and a blue sweater, her long, curly hair left natural and flowing. She uses only changes in her voice, body, and expressive in unexpected changes of facial expression, pace, rhythmic movement to represent her personae's age change and psychic states. Rha's character, Louscretia was mis-diagnosed as mentally ill as a child, over drugged with huge amounts and varieties of psychiatric mind poisons, hospitalized in the dungeon of a county mental ward. Her suffering is climaxed by a period death-like silence, lying corpse-like on the floor, after screaming out in excruciating pain, with her limbs wildly contacting by being unjustly tortured by crude electric shock treatment. Her mis-treatment by psychiatrists and the mental hospitals leave her wandering the streets crazed, mindless, violent, starving and homeless. Abandoned by her family, unable to work she becomes a victim of continual rape, abuse and social stigma. However, during the character's most intense suffering, she experiences euphoric out-of-the body experiences. She empowers herself with surrealistic images like flying through the universe on a red dragon and other supernatural visions. According to Rha, these experiences are not hallucination but the grace of divine love, during which she experiences the beauty and peace of being connected to her divine soul and nature.

Rha Goddess is not a self-aggrandizing name chosen compensate for the suffering of African-American women. Rha's mentor, Queen Faua, a khemic healer using ancient Egyptian wisdom, gave her what Rha calls a sacred name. "There is a dis-ease in our societal cultural water in which we are all swimming in," she recounted to me in our interview.. She also stated that poverty feeds this dis-ease we call "mental illness" through the false constructs of ‘race' and ‘identity' She is committed to the idea that the "power of art allows us to reconnect to our souls" and that "this nation is ready for progress through the authentic voices of the spiritual power of feminine political leadership" "How can we heal our intensifying personal and communal suffering an era of a Global epidemic of insane violence on all levels?," Rha Goddess posed as a rhetorical question in our interview. "We are alienated from our real selves through cultural "brainwashing"; and we must all reconnect to our true selves– our divine selves, our source, and nature. Through self-healing; self-transformation, we will transform the world!"

Rhea Goddess believes that the visionary power of art and non-militant community activism will inspire all peoples to heal themselves. With missionary zeal, Rha works as a motivational speaker, community organizer, and feminist Hip Hop artist, to increase the size of her audience beyond her theatrical performances Rha's multi-talented performance reinforces Miami's Arsht Center's commitment to present the highest level of avant-garde art; and to provide a forum for community political activism.

The performance was framed with audience participation under Rha's direction but without her presence. The University of Miami provided mental health professions before and after the performance to study the attitudes of the audience towards mental illness with questionnaires before and afterwards. After the performance, the audience was asked to divide into groups of eight and discuss the effect the performance had on them and whether the performance changed their attitudes. I was one of the few whites in the audience, and found the discussion in my group filled with fascinating and diverse responses.
The Arsht Center of Miami should be commended for supporting this experiment by a young visionary in intertwining artistic exploration, with communal and academic exploration of how we can inspire liberating changes in ourselves and our institutions. Although Rha has appeared in New York, and the show continues to travel, I thought this unusual experience should be publicized both as a theatre critic and for an amazing personal reason. Although I do not believe in Karma or meaningful synchronicity, after researching articles about Rha, in order to write this review, I was astonished to discover that she had also graduated from my beloved alma mater, Vassar College, twenty years after me. More astonishing, while some economists are predicting a slide into a Depression in 2008, the founder of Vassar's Experimental Theatre, Hallie Flannigan, was named the National Director of the WPA Theatre Project during the Great Depression of the last century. She became famous for creating the Living Newspaper. Unemployed actors performed the "real stories" of daily life and politics which the traditional newspapers left hidden or distorted.

Alternative journalism like NewYork Theatre-Wire guards the truth and remains fascinating and fresh while traditional journalism has lost its audience and its deadly prose in its death-throes.

NYTW readers may email Melinda Guttmann at: starnyc@aol.com

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