LEWISTON — Giving dramatic readings from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” six professional actors delivered a disturbing performance of domestic violence Wednesday night at the Franco-American Heritage Center.
Their acting showed the damage and complexities, spurring questions, comments and some answers from a panel and the audience.
The acting group Outside the Wire brought the Tennessee Williams' scenes to life as part of its Domestic Violence Project, sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council.
In the play, abusive husband Stanley, played by Bryce Pinkham, bullied and beat his wife, Stella, played by Sally Wood, in front of friends at a poker game. When Stella left, Stanley cried and screamed until she returned. He then professed his love, said he was sorry and gave her money.
Shocked and calling her brother-in-law “a mad man,” Stella's sister Blanche, played by Juliana Francis Kelly, insisted her sister leave him. Stella refused, saying she loved him.
After the performance, Bryan Doerries of Outside the Wire turned to an expert panel and the audience and asked what they recognized.
The scene was too familiar, said panelist Desiree Michaud, a Lewiston police officer and domestic violence coordinator. “Part of my job is to get people out of those situations,” she said. Relationships are complex.
Gerald Cayer, executive vice president of Franklin Community Health Network, said he saw judging, rationalizing and empathy, emotions that happen in domestic violence. Blanche judged her sister for staying, while Staney's card-playing friends rationalized why he beat her. To end the cycle, more men have to step forward, he said.
Fellow panelist Kelly Glidden of Safe Voices, formerly the Abused Women's Advocacy Project, said the play showed complications of domestic abuse, how Stanley showed love and sorrow. “It's not black and white.”
One woman in the audience said she and her sister are survivors of sexual abuse by their father. Years later, her sister ended up the victim of domestic abuse by her husband. The woman said she felt anger and disbelief toward her sister for becoming an adult victim. “I connected with Blanche. I was not able to understand the dynamics.”
The character Stanley reminded one man of a student he had years ago. The boy had been moved from foster family to foster family, was abused and beaten. In turn, the boy beat fellow students. “One day I grabbed ahold of him and held him. He cried.”
The audience talked about what role a bystander of domestic abuse should play.
In Boston on Monday, bystanders rushed to assist when bombs killed or injured people, Cayer said. But with domestic violence, often “we are frozen,” unsure what to do.
Not acting when seeing domestic violence is condoning it, one woman said. “It's not OK.” Another said people don't react because they're afraid.
“I'm not afraid,” another woman responded. She told how she saw a mother slap a little child in the face. She spoke up to the mother saying, “'I don't want to see you do that again.'” The mother told her it was none of her business, but the woman said it happened in front of her, “and it is my business.”
The audience and panel also talked about how Blanche's stern talk to Stella backfired, and drove her back to her abusive husband. Someone asked if there was a better way to talk to her.
Yes, officer Michaud said. Tell her you're concerned. Instead of telling her what to do, ask “about how she feels.” Share that you are concerned about her safety, then listen to her. “Tell her you're there for her.”
Domestic violence victims need to be given control, not have more control taken away, she said.
Cindy Cronkhite, president of the Board of Directors for Safe Voices, said there are lots of ways people can help reduce domestic violence.
It could be people who attended Wednesday's performance talk about it to five of their friends, spreading understanding. Other ways to help include donating money, or participating in the June 15 Safe Voices walk to end domestic violence.
One woman in the audience said she grew up with abuse, but had strong aunts who helped her. She said people need to have hope, love “and lift each other up.”