Saturday, September 15, 2012

Someone Came to Claim Her

Despite the recent spate of books extolling the rise of singlehood, the tragic story of Joyce Carol Vincent, which Carol Morley explores in her documentary Dreams of a Life, remains not far from my thoughts. I am still incredulous that a beautiful once vibrant woman can lay dead decomposing in her North London apartment - no one noticing...looking... finding...her for THREE whole years. Years back, I may have laughed uneasily when Miranda voiced her fear of dying alone in her apartment and her cat gnawing on her undiscovered dead body in the comedy Sex and the City. But today as a single woman, the true story of Joyce Vincent stings and hits a nerve or more accurately a fear in me. Toss in the studies and articles about how living alone is associated with health problems and an earlier death, and admittedly, part of me is reeling. But today, while I want to share my fears for context, I do not want to focus on them necessarily. I want to focus on the concept of claiming the unknown.   

When filmmaker Carol Morley read about Joyce Vincent's death in the newspapers, she
knew immediately that she was going to make a film about her and spent five years tracking down Joyce's family, friends, and coworkers to produce the amazing documentary Dreams of a Life, which played at The IFC Center last month. As I walked out the theater after viewing the film one Saturday evening, I thought about how Carol Morley gave us a glimpse of the woman behind the skeletal remains, how she gave life to she CLAIMED Joyce Vincent. And how this girl from Brooklyn now knows more about her story.

This concept of claiming the unknown came back to me earlier this week as I experienced The Train Driver the third and final production by South African octogenarian Athol Fugard in Signature Theatre's inaugural season at the new Pershing Square Center. 

With her baby strapped to her back, a woman walks on to train tracks. Right before she and the innocent baby are pulverized by an oncoming train, she makes eye contact with the train driver Roelf Visagie, who tries unsuccessfully to bring the train to a stop in time. What remains of the woman and child are eventually turned over to Simon Hanabe to be buried at a squatter's camp in a graveyard for those with no name. Roelf haunted by the tragedy visits the graveyard searching for the anonymous grave of the unknown woman and her child. In a gesture of connectedness, he CLAIMS HER in The Train Driver, which is based in part on a true story and now playing through next week at Signature Theatre. 

How did Joyce Vincent die? What would make a woman take her child and stand in front of an oncoming train? No one will ever really know. But what we do know from Carol Morley as well as Athol Fugard when he read the story of Pumla Lolwana and created the character Roelf, sometimes we are not all alone. Sometimes, someone claims the those with no name...and claims those who die alone in despair.

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