Last month I participated in a play, Gardens Speak, part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar festival, that I'm still thinking about. Here's what I remember:
In an outer room, the guide instructs you to take off your shoes and put on a light raincoat.
In the next room, you sit on one of two benches along two facing walls. In the middle of the room is a rectangle with grass, dirt, and ten wooden tombstones--the garden.
You are given a piece of paper with a name in Arabic.
You step into the garden and look for the tombstone with the name matching the one you hold.
When you find it, you brush the dirt off a plaque at the base of the tombstone to reveal the name in English.
You lie down with your head at the base of the tombstone, and the voice of the deceased whispers his or her story in your ear, as if coming from the grave beneath you.
These are all victims of the Assad regime in Syria, many of whom were secretly buried in gardens and parks.
When you're done listening to the story, you cover the name, return to the bench, where you find a small notebook in which you are invited to write a letter to the martyr whose story you heard.
You go back to the grave, this time to its foot, and sit a while, as you learn is the custom in Syria. If you write a letter, you bury it there--perhaps you find letters that others have written.
The letters will eventually be shared with the families of the victims.
Finally you return to the anteroom, where you can wash your feet in a foot bath.
It has been only 45 minutes.
You wish many, many others could share the emphathy-inducing experience you had in that room.
Gardens Speak is the work of performance artist Tania El Khoury, who is based in London and Beirut.