The Halfgod of Rainfall
What did you think of the show? can be improved upon. Kind of like, What did you do in school today? prompts the respondent to give one of two untrue answers, “I don’t know.” and “Nothing.”
Sometimes you don’t want to lead a person’s response to a play, so a big general question like, What did you think? or Did you like it? seems useful. I asked recent high school graduate and experienced theater-maker Kayla, to write a response to The Halfgod of Rainfall by Inua Ellams. That is basically asking, “What did you think?” She responded with an awesome list of discussion prompts and talking points for students — so when those broad questions fail, I have a whole wonderful arsenal of her thoughts to share.
There is no education guide to The Halfgod of Rainfall, currently running at A.R.T. in Cambridge, MA. Kayla’s response, below, is a great teaser and primer for the show. The thoughts of someone who has only recently left adolescence is an invaluable resource for those of us who want to hear students’ thoughts on life, art and theater. Please enjoy her essay and let me know whih of the ideas she presents resonate with you and yours.
Gosh, where do I start?
First off, what a refreshingly unique and just all-around cool story. A young half-god named Demi who, once cast to the side for being unable to control his intense powers, found their focus and forte in basketball, and it didn’t take long for people to catch onto his godly skill. So much so that his stardom demanded the attention of the power-hungry gods, as people were worshipping this half-god of rainfall instead of them. Demi found that other basketball players were also half-gods who were suppressing their powers (except for Michael Jordan, who dared to fly across the court!). Already there are so many reflections and conversations to be had, such as how kids actually grow and develop into their full potential when they receive consistent positive feedback and encouragement, and how praise and popularity can sometimes invite negative commentary and hate from people who can’t handle others’ success. Ellams gives a hilarious and well-deserved ode to basketball as a significant part of pop culture, and of many kids’ lives, who may also find that they shine in basketball or other sports/activities like Demi.
I often wondered why gods who exude arrogance and make others suffer for their enjoyment were worshipped and still had reputations of heroes and honorable figures instead of what they truly were, and I’m so grateful I am not the only one. Ellams skillfully sews in [what I saw as] a declaration of Zeus’ heinous acts of violence against women, where Demi’s mother, Modúpé, leads us through a powerful yet gut-wrenching monologue about her confrontation with Zeus, how he raped her, and how those who had the power to protect her did nothing, as well as her commitment to raising and protecting her child [who she had immediately after the incident] regardless of how he was brought to this world.
And then the justice this woman finally gets!! Zeus had no problem taking away more of her sanity, turning Modúpé’s life upside down once more after slaying her son. It is here where the audience really feels her rage, laced with the guilt of the Nigerian river deity and god of thunder, Osun and Sango, who stood aside when Modúpé was raped by Zeus, and again when he killed Demi. This time, they lend her their power and weapons, allowing Modúpé to confront Zeus. In their battle, it wasn’t just Modúpé fighting Zeus, but all the might of the women who were violated by Zeus, propelling her to the end of him. What a conflicting feeling, the sense of relief combatted by the heaviness of all Modúpé and these women have been through because of Zeus’ reign.
What a rich production. The conversations that can be sparked from The Half-God of Rainfall are endless: the impact praise and encouragement have to uplift and bring people to their fullest potential; the abuse of power, and what it means to be in power - what does a title of power mean, if anything at all?; the sexual violence against women that’s widely prevalent in greek mythology, and how these themes of violation and disrespect towards women continue to persist today? This seems to be a very important conversation to be had given children’s exposure to social media and certain influencers and media that promote this kind of aggression and violence towards women these days. This tendency of aggression some have towards others on the basis of gender is learned young, and Ellams’ words cultivated into this striking play serve as a stark reminder of how themes like power imbalance and sexual violence against women are embedded in the basis of Western mythology and thought.
This show had a summer run at the New York Theater Workshop and opened last Friday night for a quick 2 week run here. If you can make it to any of the remaining performances there will be ample rush tickets to every performance, none is sold out. Please go and bring a student or 12. Tell me how many student rush, and adult rush tickets you bought and I will send you free tickets for the next show at A.R.T. Real Women Have Curves.