Someone is Sure to Come. Will That Someone Be You?

Tara Coughlin ’19
Contributing Writer

A group of professional actors and Smith alumnae performed Ellen Kaplan’s “Someone Is Sure to Come” in the Neilson Browsing Room on Nov. 4. This original work examines – with urgent criticism and poignant sympathy – the plight of the imprisoned in a legal system that not only refuses to hear their voices but also tries to permanently shut them off through whatever means possible. Giving these imprisoned a voice and sense of humanity, Kaplan wrote this play with contributions from Robert L. Cook, Jr., William Basemore, Albert Jones, Christiane Buchanan and other inmates on Death Row that she spoke with.

To me “Someone Is Sure to Come” seemed more like a character study than a story, as it consisted of monologues, quotes and poems. It’s interesting that the play never specifically states what the characters are imprisoned for. This allows the audience to listen them without any preconceptions about them or their past.

Most of the play is centered around the fictional character, “Girl with Braid,” a woman in solitary confinement who appears to be losing her grip on reality. Supporting characters include the philosophical Cush, the poetic William Basemore and the hopeful Christine. Each gives personal and unique soliloquies on hope, determination and self-integrity.

While each character’s experiences differ, they all share the universal longing for freedom and redemption. Cush’s monologues are indicative of a man whose years in solitary confinement have given him the air of a wise sage. Basemore’s poems on love have an earthy, sensuous feel that is aided by the actor’s sonorous voice. Christine has a wonderful feminine urgency in her monologues. It is heartbreaking when she proclaims “Merry Christmas” after she is rejected for a re-trial in December.

The only non-prisoner in the play is the Guard, who is refreshingly three-dimensional. Instead of a brutal authority figure in a uniform, the Guard must justify to the audience as well as himself that he is simply a man “doing his job.” In his interactions with the “Girl in Braid,” he alternates between rage and sheepish justifications for his methods. His tone and words are aesthetically different from those of the inmates and reflect a harsh reality when juxtaposed with their personal musings. This difference helps the audience identify with the prisoners as opposed to the civilian.

If I had one complaint, it’s that the lyrical narrative is interrupted in the middle by an ancient legend that is orated by certain characters. When asked about this sudden narrative shift, Kaplan said she felt the story was an important metaphor for the experiences of the prisoners. This is because the legend features an unknowing hero who discovers courage when he needs it in order to become a warrior. Kaplan believed this paralleled the inmates’ journey to find their own courage to be warriors and heroes. While I can understand this artistic decision, I found it to be a somewhat jarring tonal shift from the monologues and poems.

Nevertheless, the original and submitted works blend seamlessly together to create a powerful and topical piece that deals with the brutal truth of isolation and dehumanization in confinement as well as the optimism and self-discovery one can find even in such experiences.

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