Like an Abstract Painting

A Review of “Don’t you Weep: The Story of a Passionate Woman” at the Balch Street Theatre

by Josy Jones


Picture yourself walking into an art gallery and seeing a group of people standing in front of a painting. Each person in the crowd is statue-still, giving their full attention to the work of art before them. As you approach the piece, the colors materialize and you find yourself standing in front of pigments, textures and lines without a readily identifiable figure. You love it.

It’s what the artist calls “abstract,” and although it does not display a recognizable image, it has somehow elicited a concrete, emotional reaction from you. You feel angry, confused. You look to your neighbor, and she is smiling at the painting as if she has been reacquainted with an old friend. What does she see?  

photo of Debora Totti by Terence Cranendonk

“Don’t You Weep” is a moving abstract painting that flickers into powerful, visceral images, keeps you mesmerized by its rhythm and features only one actor, Debora Totti. Totti, who created the piece in collaboration with Terence Cranendonk for New World Performance Lab, enters the frame and her presence demands your attention. The fourth wall is shattered as she invites you on her journey. She’s out there alone commanding the entire space, walking you through anger, self-doubt, heartbreak and even occasional humor.

All of these emotions are strung together as symbols and images, as if you’re flipping through a book of photographs. But she’s not telling a story and this isn’t a narrative covering Mary Magdalene. It’s about your connection to Mary as a human being.

This piece exposes Mary. It allows you to experience her vulnerability. Mary and Debora become one in exposing themselves to the audience. They are passionate in all of the ways I think a human can be: intense, spirited, wild and excited. They are unabashedly sensual with the female form, using their hair and their bodies and their voices and their struggles to seduce the audience. They are exposed so much that it allows you to see yourself in them and realize that you share Mary’s struggles, both the ideological and emotional struggles.

I am mesmerized by the performance, and then it is suddenly over. Totti has taken my hand, introduced me to Mary Magdalene and now she is gone. All that is left of her is an empty chair. I don’t have any answers and it leaves me immobile. I sit there feeling as if I’ve missed something.

I turn to the other members of the audience and they have just as many feelings as I have. We had become attached to Mary. We wanted her to be happy and we wanted her to have redemption.

The woman sitting next to me seems oddly satisfied. She feels that Mary had found redemption and the will to carry on. “How could you possibly come to that conclusion?” I want to yell, “Why are you so satisfied?” She’s gotten her answers and is happy for Mary.

photo of Debora Totti by Terence Cranendonk

I am feeling a lot of emotions, and I’m not sure which is the right one to feel. Then, Debora comes out and is greeted by one of the audience members:

“You made me sad,” she says, to which Debora responds, “Good.”

I chuckle, and then realize that her response isn’t just for the sad audience member, it’s for me too. I don’t know how to feel. I’m confused. I’m upset. I feel attached to Mary, and all of these things are “good.”

After the night is over, I slowly continue to fall in love with this piece. No, there’s not a bunch of fancy lights and the props are few, but the experience is worth it. The connection you will feel is worth it. Similar to an abstract painting, it’s not going to tell you how you’re supposed to feel. This piece lets you meet Mary Magdalene and see her as more than just the stories and labels we attach to her. She had demons cast from her, she was a prostitute and she was an overlooked follower of Jesus. But she was more than that. Mary Magdalene was a woman who felt loneliness, who felt pressure, who felt doubt, who had triumphs, and this piece reminds you that she is worthy of being seen.

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(Featured photo of Debora Totti by Terence Cranendonk)