1,2,3. This isn’t a call to action, but rather the names attributed to the three characters in Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s psychological play, that doesn’t so much pose the question of ‘what if?’ but journeys through it. This recent translation by Frank Parry whirs with questions and fragments, but the play fails to offer any philosophical lucidity on the existential vein which runs through the piece.
Florence McHugh’s clinically white set consists of a living room, white boxes stacked to the side, a stairway to a ledge, and a collection of books and rags strewn around the stage – items which define a life – all connected by a thick, fraying rope.
The three women, who refer to themselves as “we,” belong to three different generations. Holding hands, they take the stairway to the ledge, with the intention of ending their lives. At this pivotal point, the question of regret arises, prompting the decision to start over. With the prospect of life playing out differently, they opt to live their lives once more. 2 embarks on an abusive relationship with Arthur (played by 3), 1 is keen to engage in the political struggles in Darfur, whilst 3 travels alongside them, interjecting their angst with the wisdom acquired through a life lived. A steady flow of questions and fragments of memories, become entwined with new events, creating a surreal interplay. Only, it soon transpires that 1, 2 and 3 are the same woman; representing different stages of their lives and the personality traits that appear to accompany them.
The play appears to highlight the multiplicity of our personalities; of being in a constant state of conflict – torn between rebellion, caution and quiet acceptance. But there’s rigidity within the characterisation. Frustratingly, the three women become archetypes. 1 is young and restless, 2 is caught between stability and desire, whilst 3 is balanced and at ease. Is it so easy to categorise those character traits? Are those characteristics so easily confined to a generation? The piece for me, in that respect becomes problematic.
The cast approach their roles with such vigour and zeal. The energy that emanates from Ida Bonnast (1), Katherine Manners (2) and Karen Archer (3) fuels the piece.
There’s a noticeable existential quality to The Hundred We Are. It’s is a complex, cerebral play, that becomes submerged in the psyche, but fails to travel beyond the constraints set by the three archetypal personalities.