FOUR naked adults writhe in mental anguish on the floors of their separate closet havens. Painful memories of robbed childhoods fraught with psychological and physical abuse imposed on them by family members keep them trapped in these closets of shame which, for some, will become prisons of the mind.
The two men and two women tell their wrenching stories in a series of overlapping monologues and choreographed movement in the premiere of "Closets," a new work-in-progress by the Splitting Image Theatre Company being presented on the Mainstage Theatre at Towson State University.
The 70-minute theater piece is part of the Baltimore Theatre Project and Towson State University Experimental Theatre Festival.
Conceived by Splitting Image's artistic co-directors Harvey Doster and Binnie Ritchie Holum, the production is based on workshops the two conducted at the Sexual Assault Treatment Program of Baltimore's Department of Social Services.
Doster directed "Closets" and Holum wrote the text and choreographed the body motions.
The company, which deals mainly with sociological issues and the problems of the dysfunctional family, uses dialogue, original music and movement to effectively present these concepts.
"What we do is develop what we call 'choreopoems,'" says Lori Kranz, managing director of Splitting Image. "The music that accompanies the play has been composed by Brian Packham to convey the message of the wounded child within the adult."
The quartet of personal stories range from a young woman's memories of rape by her mother's boyfriend to another young woman's devastating recollections of being fondled by her grandfather and her own father's escape into alcoholism. A young man, raised by a mentally disturbed mother, is confused about his gender.
"We are giving the victims a collective voice," says Doster during a rehearsal break in the TSU Mainstage Theatre. "The number of children who are sexually abused is greater than anyone imagines. But children who tell about this are often not believed or advised not to talk. They follow the adult authority in their lives."
"Closets are their shame and defense," says Holum. "It is a shelter and a prison. It does not allow for growth. The suppression of the abuse leads to compulsive obsessive behavior, which can take the form of religious fanaticism, alcoholism, eating disorders and other unhealthy outlets."
"In order to get well they have to give up the compulsive behavior," says Kranz. "Unfortunately child abuse occurs in all walks of life. It crosses ethnic and economic lines. Latchkey kids . . . the dissolving of the family structure . . . are big factors."
"The characters in the play represent 16 different people," says Doster. "There are so many levels to the theme that we wanted to be sure not to do something shallow but something in depth, more inclusive, to show the courage, rage and hurt of the victims. Their childhoods were stolen and cannot be retrieved."
The actors portraying the multitude of roles in "Closets" are Maria Broom, John Benoit, Bob Holum and Amy Wieczorek.
"Closets" will be presented tonight through Sunday on the Mainstage Theater at Towson State University. Tickets are $5, $4 for students, seniors and TSU staff. For more information, call 830-ARTS.