I walked into the striking St. Marks Church grateful that the Fringe Festival took me there. The church is massive, and I needed directions several times before arriving at the upstairs chapel hosting playwright and performer Marissa Kennedy’s ‘Out of the Shadows.’ The stage in the center of the room had a circle of chairs surrounding it. A chandelier made of several mason jars, beads, and light bulbs mesmerized audience members before the performance began.
Out of the Shadows, a solo performance by Kennedy, follows three generations of women confronted with the question, “Who is Dinah?” The 40-minute show explores the nuances of the #MeToo movement from a “personal, spiritual, and historical perspective rooted in the African American experience.”
Daughters and sisters
Kennedy channels eight different characters throughout the piece, creating a story arc through the lens of the African American women’s lived experience, history, and relationship with Christianity.
The show is filled with content that is heart-breaking yet relevant, as many continue to come forward with their #MeToo personal accounts. Kennedy plays a character in shambles after someone violates her body, and states “my body is not my own.” She feels hopeless in her despair: “If I was the first or the last maybe I could feel peace, but my daughters and sisters are not safe.”
Faith, doubt, and paradigm shifts
Out of the Shadows is a complex story about faith, doubt, and shifting paradigms.
Music plays a major role in the show, and has historically been a way for marginalized communities to express emotion and provide comfort. The placement of each powerful song serves as a soulful underscore that connects the individual stories both in moments of sadness and joy.
Kennedy plays a preacher woman in the play, giving eloquent sermons admonishing how we have “cultivated a culture where it is okay to turn people into objects.” After decades and generations of mistreatment from men, Kennedy’s characters are ready to use their voice instead of suffering in silence.
From Dinah to the club
Another of Kennedy’s characters has a good time dancing at a club with friends until a man with wandering hands breaches her body’s protections. The scene depicts how quickly a fun night can turn into a nightmare when consent is not respected nor required.
In the style of impressive one-person shows, Kennedy transitions from several different characters and settings with fluidity, never losing her magnetic grasp on the audience.
By revisiting the story of Dinah in Genesis, Kennedy attempts to “identify ways in which women are silenced in our society and trace the subtle ways that part of our culture is passed on to the next generation.” She weaves a multigenerational tale that examines the plight of women in relation to the movement against sexual harassment and assault. Out of the Shadows is a solo piece laced with hope and humor for the past, present, and future.
What, When, Where
Out of the Shadows. By Marissa Kennedy. Through September 14, at St. Mark's Church Frankford, 4442 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
St. Mark’s Church Frankford does not have a wheelchair-accessible entrance and elevator.