November 26, 2018 City of Unrest Diva Theater Productions Olde Brick Theatre 126 W. Market St. Scranton, PA 18508
City of Unrest is a Diva Theater Production that is a part of a triology, which spans the history of the labor movement during the late 19th century based on historical events in NEPA. City of Unrest, written by Margo and Marnie Azzarelli and directed by Paige Balitski, is a sequel to the first play of the series, The Bristol. City of Unrest takes place in Scranton during the labor riot on August 1, 1877, which characters from The Bristol, such as Michael Logan, coal miner and activist, and new characters, such as New York based journalist, Phoebe Gibbons, become embroiled in the riot caused by W.W. Scranton’s letter to decrease coal miner’s wages yet again.
As for the playwrights, Margo and Marnie’s mission is to convey the stories that were passed down from generations, not of the rich, but of the every day person. They hope to continue their story of sharing local history in their next play, which will take place in the 1880’s. For this project, Margo and Marnie stated that City of Unrest is unique, because it is a part of a triology that is “lead by bad ass women!”
This is a play you won’t want to miss!
City of Unrest will be performed at The Olde Brick Theatere, located at 126 W. Market St. Scranton, PA 18508 (rear entrance). These are the following showtimes:
Friday, December 7: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, December 8: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, December 9: 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Friday, December 14: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, December 15: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, December 16: 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Tickets are $12 for General Admission and $10 for Seniors.
There is really only one thing that scares me in life (besides spiders, getting kidnapped, being an adult, and zombies) and that is ghosts. As a kid, I thought that a little girl ghost lived right outside the doorway of my room and even cried when I’d close my door, much to my horror. Obviously, I had a wild imagination when I was little, but since I’d watch episodes of “Are You Afraid of the Dark” and the movie “The Ring” on repeat, there is no wonder those thoughts of ghosts (who can show up anywhere…they’re not usually limited to time or space so I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have a spirit pop up while I’m on the toilet) were usually revolving around my head. I remember the time when I was 8 and I thought the “Princess” from “Thirteen Ghosts” was following me around, I still can’t imagine anything scarier than a female ghost— especially when she wants revenge.
The vengeful female ghost is an enduring character in film and TV. “Supernatural’s” first episode featured “a vanishing hitchhiker” (whose story ended up being more like La Lorona’s or the Crying Woman) while numerous (low budget) movies have been dedicated to the American legend of Bloody Mary and the Japanese/South Korean legend Kuchisake-onna, or the slit-mouthed woman. Even creations like the angry Victorian ghost in “The Woman in Black,” and Kayako Saeki of the “Ju-On” and “Grudge” movies are based off the trope of an angry, female ghost. Articles before have mentioned what it is about these ghosts that make them scary, which I will get into in a minute, but I am going to write about why they are still popular and still important today.
It all starts with urban legends.
Urban legends, folktales, and campfire stories all have the same thing in mind. Most of them, especially some of the older ones, started out as ways to easily scare someone.
Saying “Bloody Mary” into a bathroom mirror three times (or sometimes more) with only a candle as a light is a classic sleepover and party game that started getting popular around the 1960s, but possibly started in 18th century Britain. After saying her name, Mary, a disfigured ghost would pop up and either grant you a wish, gouge your eyes out, or cut you to pieces, depending on her mood.
The origin stories for Mary (her full name was supposedly Mary Worth) are as various as the ways that she could kill you. Some say she was a witch (or an herbal healer) who was mutilated and hung during a witch hunt in her town, while others say she was a young girl who got into an accident that tore apart her once beautiful face. Before her accident, Mary was constantly looking at herself in the mirror, but after, her family warned her to never look at herself again. This didn’t last long as curiosity overtook Mary and she looked at her reflection. Terrified and angered about her appearance, Mary, somehow, went inside her mirror and swore to attack anyone who spoke her name.
Either way, Bloody Mary almost always wants revenge on the people who call her name for the shiggles. Also, the only way I ever found of successfully stopping Mary is by breaking the mirror when you start to see her face after repeating her name. Although other reports claim that if you break the mirror, you only release her into the real world faster, so how ‘bout you don’t say her name into a mirror three times, okay?
Another Urban Legend about a vengeful ghost is that of Kuchisake-onna, also known as the slit-mouthed woman. This legend dates back to (possibly) the Heian Period (794 to 1185 AD). Apparently a married woman cheated on her samurai husband with another samurai and as a punishment cut her face (which was profoundly beautiful) from ear to ear and asked her “who would find you beautiful now?” before she died. These are some great stories to tell your kids before they go to sleep, right?
Anyway, once this woman died, she came back as a vengeful spirit who would roam around town with a cloth over her face, and randomly walk up to people to ask them if they thought she was pretty. If they said “yes,” she would lower the cloth to reveal her new “smile” and ask again if they thought she was pretty. If they said “yes” or screamed, she would slit the victim’s mouth from ear to ear, just like she had. If they said “no,” she would disappear but then would return to kill them when they were sleeping. Like all other urban legends, this story isn’t the only one told about Kuchisake. Modern tales say that she was once a woman who chased and followed children during the 1970s. As she was running after some kids, she was struck and killed by a car, which resulted in a gruesome wound that ripped her mouth in half. Another story is that she was a mental patient who tore her own face apart, because she was bored.
Whatever the reason, people in South Korea have claimed to encounter Kuchisake since around 2004. Now she wears a red surgical mask, and if you tell her she isn’t pretty, she’ll cut you in half with a pair of scissors. Fun fact: there is no way to escape her. She will follow you until you give her an answer. For both the older and newer versions of the tale, there is very little in the way of escaping Kuchisake. Some say you have to throw her candy or money. Others say that you have to answer her indecisively to escape her bloody scissors, and escape having to tell people how you got those scars for the rest of your life.
One more famous, vengeful ghost is La Llorona or “the crying woman.” As with the others, her origins are long and dark, dating from at least the 1500’s. Her span of sightings also reaches from the western United States, all the way down to Central America. What’s her tale and how is she going to kill me, you ask? Well, let me tell you. La Malinche, an Aztec girl, was enslaved by Hernan Cortes (the Spanish Conquistador) in the 1500’s. She soon gave birth to two children of his, but was tortured over the fact that Cortes was basically trying to wipe out all of her people, and that she became a part of it. Meanwhile, the Spanish Monarchy at that time was afraid that Cortes was growing too powerful and would betray him, so they asked him to return to Spain. He refused until a beautiful woman was sent over to entice him from the new world. He then was going to leave and take his two children with him, leaving La Malinche in dire straits. She prayed for an answer and supposedly heard from the gods that one of her children was going to return from Spain and destroy her people. The night before Cortes left, La Malinche sneaks away with the babies and kills them at the lake, which Mexico City now stands on. In some versions, she then drowns herself, but in others she dies of natural causes not long after. Since soldiers witnessed how she killed her only children, they came to call her La Llorona for the way she cried when they died.
Again, this is another heavy and dark tale that resulted in an unrestful and sometimes vicious spirit. The many variations of her story (which are always connected to bodies of water) have spread far and wide, but one thing is certain: if you’re a kid walking alone at night, or an unfaithful man, La Llorona will find you and take your soul.
Are you freaked out? You better be, but did you learn something? You better have, because these legends are not only used to scare the bejesus out of you, but are also used as a lesson. These tales are warnings (and reminders) of how scary and ruthless the world can be. Unless you want La Lorona to rip you a new one, don’t cheat on your wife, same goes for the Sihuanaba, a shapeshifting ghost from Central America who targeted unfaithful men. Other stories like Bloody Mary and Kuchisake-onna warn against being too vain, or in Mary’s case, might be an allegory for the terrifying changes we go through during puberty. Also don’t say a spirit’s name three times into a freakin mirror!
What is lost in some of these female-led urban legends is what happens in most, if not all, urban legends: we don’t bring the creature into account. Besides their tragic and brutal backstories these murderous, sometimes animalistic, ghosts barely seem human anymore, but there is something in them that many women don’t ever feel like they have: freedom to do whatever the hell they want! This is agency to nth degree. These women can be everywhere and anywhere and unless a Winchester brother comes along with his shotgun full of salt rounds, nothing can really stop them.
Like some mythological goddesses, these women want you to know how unstoppable they truly are. Unlike most goddesses though, they are tortured and twisted from their former lives, which lends some people to sympathize and even believe that they’re actions are justified. Since many of them gave birth to creatures like Sadako of Ringu fame, Anabelle, Bathsheba of “The Conjuring” fame, and Mama from the (vastly underrated) movie “Mama,” it’s obvious that stories like Mary’s, Kuchisake’s, and La Malinche’s have staying power.
That power has kept their own legends going for hundreds years, as well. There’s just something fascinating about a woman untethered from whatever originally held her back. Yes, there are reasons to be scared of them (they’re unstoppable and murderous), but there are also reasons to praise them for not giving a crap about societal restraints and for also teaching us some important life lessons (I swear to god, do not talk to your mirror!). So the next time you see Kuchisake-onna in the streets, don’t run and hide; shake her hand (not the one holding the scissors) and tell her how great she is for questioning conventional beauty standards. Then throw some candy and run the hell away because she’s going to kill you.
Self-styled as fiction writer, activist, amateur historian, union member, and actor, Alex Lotorto does it all. We spent time together in the Electric City recently to talk about his novel, his plays and his philosophy.
Why Historical Fiction?
A history fan, Alex has always been fascinated by what happened in the past. Growing up in Pike County, stories of the Underground Railroad, the labor movement, and famous people passing through Pennsylvania have piqued his interest in the beginnings of Northeastern PA.
His novel in progress, The Deliverance of Charles Ball, touches on many of these historical occurrences, and builds on them with other issues and personages of the past. You’ll be surprised though—while the title references Mr. Ball (a former slave originally from Maryland who eventually made his way north to freedom) the protagonist of the book is Rachel, a young girl who lives with her sheep-herding family. When I asked why Alex had chosen a woman, he explained that he wanted history to be from a new perspective, and not the mostly male and autobiographical examples usually encountered in sources. His desire to give a new voice to history is refreshing and well-orchestrated. The novel begins in 1842—a pivotal year for Pennsylvania in many ways. Debtors’ prisons were banned in that year. The ban on slave catching was struck down, making Pennsylvania a sanctuary state no more—a similarity that makes one think of current immigration issues even today. But Rachel’s story and its parallels to today don’t stop there. Rachel and the town dwellers learn about Charles Ball’s plight through his writing and take on other conflicts of the day as well, such as labor unrest in the region and the question of the feasibility of utopia (with a guest appearance by Horace Greeley, who actually visited Pennsylvania around that time, and attempted a utopian socialist colony, Sylvania, near Shohola).
The three main topics of the work include these, according to Alex. In addition, in his work he wants to give the experience of the American slave, to show the plights of workers in the dawn of American capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, and to explore the treatment of women in this time period of national patriarchy. His narrator is written to have readers question, as she does, could people of these marginalized groups have been treated in a more humane way? Alex, through his characters, asserts that they could have, and that we need to be vigilant of these issues as history always comes back around again.
The Play’s the Thing
Novels aren’t Alex’s only genre. Acting and the theatre are in his blood, too.
After the Shots Were Fired—a play co-written by Alex in coordination with the mother/daughter duo of Margo and Marnie Azzarelli—is being performed throughout the area this fall. It tells the story of the Great Strike of 1877 in Scranton, featuring imaginations of several strikers in the riot that occurred on Lackawanna Avenue.
Alex has a screenplay in the works as well—and while a bit more light-hearted in nature, it still pulls from actual Commonwealth issues. Its working title is The Herd and it, too, focuses on Pennsylvania working heroes who save the rest of our citizens—this time not from coal bosses or slave catchers, rather the unfortunate villains are the State’s cervidae—the deer and elk.
To try to do it justice, Alex shared this summary of the trailer he envisions for the work:
A hunter, a bit hungover, is out on Opening Day of deer season. He drifts to sleep on his deer stand in the State Game Lands. Two does run by. He awakens—readied—and the buck is coming and faster than he expected. With no time to even grab his gun, the big-racked buck appears, honks, sniffs at the hunter, and then proceeds to charge right at him. Black out. Then, we hear a call from a worried wife telling the game warden about the hunter, her husband, who never made it home for dinner.
Not to give it all away, let’s just say the deer are not well, and a dark comedy in the vein of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Independence Day,” and “Snakes on a Plane” ensues.
Just remember—don’t feed the deer.
Parting Comments and Sage Advice
Alex’s enthusiasm in his work is contagious—I can’t wait to hear and see more from him. His passion is evident in all of his characters, and it’s clear that fiction is his strength. He knows this himself and says, “Fiction lets you do the things you couldn’t do in real life.” Who wouldn’t want to live it up like that?
Alex has advice for new local writers—get out there. Join a writer’s group such as NEPA Creative Writers or Ink and find all of the other writers in the area who are willing to help get you started and “talk up” your confidence. He says that they’ll give you the accountability you’ll need to continue. He states that writer should capitalize on the area itself, too. “NEPA is a great micro-laboratory for the human experience and existence,” and adds that there is “untold content” waiting to be written about from local history to current events in our region.
Alex truly has no shortage on storytelling and he wants to encourage others to take up the cause, too, because “there’s not a person anywhere who doesn’t have a good idea to share to help make the world better.”
Want to hear more from Alex Lotorto? See him in After the Shots Were Fired at Pittston’s Riverfestthis month. He’s also a featured writer for the Writer’s Showcaseat the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton at the end of September. He says don’t be shy about contacting him on Facebook or at the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) meetings at Café Sevda in Scranton the last Saturday morning of every month. He’ll be happy to help share ways he works to make Pennsylvania history—and more—accessible to all.
Whether they wield a knife to avenge their (kinda) dead son or rip you a new one for sending “nudes”to another woman at 3 a.m., women can be a force of unstoppable nature.
Mere centuries ago, goddesses were not only hailed as life bringers but as life takers as well. Take Hera for instance. The Greek goddess of matrimony had a soft spot for animals and nature, but even her husband, Zeus, was terrified of her tantrum, mostly because they were caused by his rampant unfaithfulness. She would often take out Zeus’ cheating out on him or his demigod children. Or look at the Hindu goddess, Kali. She’s known as both a creator and a destroyer, who (with her signature red eyes and lolling, gruesome tongue) ripped apart a spawn of demon clones then danced on their corpses. And she’s considered one of the good guys.
Again, women are scary.
This concept has not changed through history, folklore, and even modern pop culture either. Who knew that Madame LaLaurie in Season 3 of American Horror Story (played brilliantly by horror queen Kathy Bates) was based on a real, vicious, inhumane woman who was never caught for her crimes? I did.
As I sit at my desk next to books about female serial killers, Mary Shelley’s real life monsters, and an in-depth account of the Salem Witch Trials, it is safe to say that my near decades long obsession takes a distinctive lean. And I’d like to share that with you.
Be it through real life history or online myth, I am going to delve into the darker side of the formerly called “weaker” sex and show you how scary women can be.