“Brokenness” can often function as little more than a buzzword on the Calvin campus, a neat category for the hurt and pain in our world. But in David Ellens’ new play, “This Is My Body: Stories of Brokenness and Communion,” the concept is presented in the form of human faces, not in easy Christian catch phrases.
The show’s set is a simple one: a three-legged stool topped with a clear goblet and a clay bowl. Blood-red thread, flowing from the ceiling, spills into the goblet and strings of wafer-thin paper cascade into the bowl. Six chairs encircle the objects, and, when the actors finally seat themselves, each conversation occurs around this evocative symbol of communion.
Director and “script-shaper” Ellens began his work on “This Is My Body” not long after his show last winter, “Here I Am: Stories of Connection and Disconnection in a Modern World,” ended. As with that previous piece, he constructed the script from interviews conducted with the Calvin community.
In each act of the play, Ellens asks questions and responds as he had in the original conversation, and the actor responds with (to quote the show’s playbill) “verbatim sections of transcript from a single interviewee.” As the concepts of disability, illness and loss distill into real stories, the experiences begin to intertwine and interact with one another, bringing a fuller picture of the meaning of embodiment.
In a talkback after Saturday’s show, seminary student Doug Chu spoke of his approach to portraying John, a student confronted with both personal and worldwide tragedy. By “bringing his voice to life and honoring him in that way,” Chu hopes to promote vulnerability, a quality the interviewee identifies as lacking in many Christian communities.
Junior student McKenna DeWyn similarly longs to address the fears that torment the woman she portrays, Hailey.
“We need to see triumph [as] being a place of stillness,” she said, alluding to the struggles many face in revealing their stories to others.
Ellens describes the process of creating “This Is My Body” as a series of unexpected “yeses” from the interviewees, cast and even crew. In a very everyday way, as he commented in the talkback, “this is how grace has shown up in my life.” And, in the play itself, grace appears in a multitude of ways: in the reflective introduction of music, the comments of interviewees and even, perhaps, in the conversations of the audience afterwards.
Performances of “This Is My Body: Stories of Brokenness and Communion” continue Feb. 25-27 at 7 p.m. in the Lab Theater. A 15-minute conversation with David Ellens and the cast will follow each show.