How is it that, although ever-present, domestic violence still sits in society's peripheral view? Unless we get to exploit it for drama, we don't necessarily care about what is going on in the realm of day-to-day incidents. Sure, we see it every day in the news, on late night television, played out in the tabloids -- women (and sometimes men) beaten, stabbed, scarred, choked, sent to the emergency room or the morgue. The stories abound about restraining orders violated, women -- or women and children and even the family pet -- murdered in their homes. We read it, we hear it, yet, from the drone of repetition, we grow numb to this ongoing stain that's part of the dialogue of sexual partnerships. Unless someone like Chris Brown takes a swing (or several violently brutal ones) at a lovely, young, pop star we all admire, (Rihanna), the event doesn't spark public attention or outcry. But even then, polls, surveys, public opinion, show a hearty fan base supporting Chris Brown and wondering, what the hell Rihanna could have done to provoke him.
This cycle, not unlike the cycle of domestic abuse, continues, despite the harsh reality of U.S. statistics. Nearly one-third of women report experiencing violence from a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in their lives. More than 1,000 women are murdered each year by a current or former intimate partner. Two million women a year sustain injuries. What's the ongoing effect of such attacks? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who have experienced domestic violence are 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 60 percent more likely to have asthma, and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than women who have not experienced intimate partner violence.
Domestic violence has been a frequent visitor in entertainment, yet it hasn't necessarily been recognized as violence. On television as far back as the Honeymooners, hitting a woman to enforce a husband's authority for the purposes of humor was not considered outlandish. It's difficult to see the value of this as comedy when it is happening to you. In film, slapping a woman around continues to be a "manly" thing to do, not only to silence the classically perceived "hysterical" woman or subdue a woman to a man's will, but also to romanticize and eroticize said violence. Using violence and domination for entertainment purposes is a go-to classic tactic, allowing the viewer to observe what's going on from a safe distance, providing a vicarious thrill to the observer.
I want to eliminate that comfort zone by placing an audience in front of these events, just like the view of neighbors who might have to watch such violence unfold before them, but then -- bring them in even closer with music. Theater and music have the power to open up an issue in a way no statistic can. Shows like Next to Normal, which addresses the stigma of mental health, and Scottsboro Boys, which opens up the social injustices of racism in the south, shed light on dark issues or taboo subjects. They touch and engage in a completely different way. Music reaches people on whole other level. It works on a different part of the brain, one that remembers and repeats the emotions of that singular moment on stage.
Like the above-mentioned shows, Candy Hearts is the first of its kind in the musical theater genre. So, even without a public opinion poll I don't think I'll call it Wife-Beating the Musical. Candy Hearts shows human beings, male and female, straight and gay, caught up in the struggle to have control within relationships, from the most intimate aspects -- sex; to the simplest aspects -- what's for dinner? There's no doubt that domestic violence is a complex issue, far beyond the scope of the question that's almost always asked about the abused: "Why don't they just leave?". Candy Hearts makes it clear that these struggles stem from influences of culture, religion, economics, and the cycle of heredity. Sometimes that struggle leads to enlightenment, sometimes to an end the people involved never imagined. Yes, Candy Hearts is at times slap-in-the-face raw, but it intends to offer insight into the various ways two people can be trapped in a relationship and, on occasion, how they can find their way out of that trap together.
Book & Lyrics by Amy Buchwald
Music by Robert Maggio
A free staged reading of Candy Hearts takes place July 22nd @ 2pm at St. Luke's Theater 308 West 46th Street in Manhattan
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