By Mehr Gunawardena
“Being-On-Stage” is a philosophical play about the meaning of being, what it means to be a philosopher, and potentially what it means to be an actor. I say “potentially” because I am not sure if that is what Tara Turnbull was trying to do. I am still slightly confused about it; however, I think that was the point.
Ms. Turnbull takes on the persona of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and reads from his book, “Being and Time,” in German. She later translates passages and discusses the fundamental question of her performance: do we know the meaning of being? Ms. Turnbull breaks into song, with an almost Mary Poppins tone to it. She tells us that “a desk is a philosopher’s stage.” She then changes personas, using various impressive accents, and states some fleeting and vague thoughts: “He had a paper tongue,” “I want to mirror your reflection to the fall,” and “Fingerprints look like ripples.” Finally, as herself, she says, “I was born on this desk with the word ‘Aleathea’ sewed into my vest.”
She sings throughout the performance, which sometimes felt relevant and natural, and other times not. However, her singing voice is incredibly dexterous and malleable. She jumped from sounding like Mary Poppins to Alicia Keys to Billie Holiday, and so on.
Ms. Turnbull then discusses the naming of our species, homo sapien. She tells us the myth of how the Roman goddess Cura formed the first human being. Cura used muddy clay from a riverbank and molded it into a figure, then asked Jupiter to breathe spirit into her mold. Jupiter did so, but was angered when Cura wanted to name this figure after herself. Jupiter felt that this honor should be his, as he gave the figure life. As this debate escalated, Earth emerged and insisted that the creation be named after her. To resolve this issue, the three of them summoned Saturn, who provided a solution. Jupiter would take the soul after death, Earth would take the body after death, and Cura shall possess it for as long as it is alive. With regards to the name, Saturn pronounced that it shall be called “homo” because it was made from “humus,” or earth. And that was the birth of the homo sapien, the beginning of our being.
She refers back to the philosopher’s desk, and calls it a cage and a cave. She contemplates the loss of philosophy, and suggests that “only a god can save us.” She ruminates on our relationship with God, how “God speaks to us when he makes us,” and then sends us into the night. That is why we live the way we do, “always saying goodbye.”
Ms. Turnbull returns to her seat and resumes reading her book. Her performance for us has ended. “Being‑On‑Stage” was a confusing yet highly thought‑provoking piece. It required some research after the fact, but it left me wondering: what does it mean to be alive, and what are the circumstances of my life? Ms. Turnbull’s performance was good, but her singing and vocal skills were exceptional. “Being‑On‑Stage” will leave you questioning the very thin line between being and living.
Written and Performed by Tara Turnbull
Nov. 7 at 7:30pm
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MEHR GUNAWARDENA is a writer from Sri Lanka who pursued her education and ambition in the United States. During her time at Clark University, she began experimenting with form and structure to make her writing as accessible as possible to all readers, while keeping true to her voice. She enjoys writing poetry and other fictional pieces with political and societal nuances, and is therefore drawn towards art with similar intentions.