Ocean Oration

Ocean Oration : Gloss

Lights up. Surf’s up.


The first waves of letters surge onto the stage. Mixed with them are garlands of glistening seaweed, clusters of clattering shells, and multicolored tendrils of micro-degraded plastics.


The letters are no longer in envelopes. They have been opened, unfolded, and their folds smoothed out. They have been heavily annotated: some words are underlined, a few words are circled, and many words have been joined together with arrows. The margins are covered with signs and inscriptions: some are shaped like fish, a few look like humans drawn in stick figures, and many contain shapes like waves. The annotations are written in an ink that changes now that it’s exposed to air and sun: the inscriptions—signs, lines, circles, arrows, figures—boil on the surface of the letters. They sizzle. They spark.


Blackout. Lights up. Surf’s up.


A second wave of letters arrives. They come in dribs and drabs this time—no surges, no sizzle. Each letter has a single marking on it: a sign that looks like a double wave. Some of the double waves have another symbol following them: a circle with a horizontal line through it.


What does it signify? Wave, wave, two halves of a whole? Bye, bye, hemisphere? Goodbye to half the world?


The letters begin to dissolve. The paper they are written on becomes mushy, the words on it blur together. The double waves and half circles float away from the pulp. They grow in size and begin ranging themselves in rows, rising until they form a barrier in the place where, in an old-fashioned theatre, the curtain would have been. The waves undulate. The divided circles rotate.


At first, both waves and circles move simultaneously, and a sound like a muted roar can be heard. Then the movements take turns: first the waves, undulating. Then the circles, spinning.

The undulations make a sound like gentle questioning; the circles, like urgent whispering. The dialogue goes on and on…


Questions: soft, hopeful, wheedling, impatient, fearful, hopeful again, hopeful again, hopeful . . .

Whispers: quick, insistent, sibilant, staccato. Desperate?


Blackout. Lights up. Surf’s up.


The eleventh surge of letters washes up on the beach. Each one is inscribed with two words, followed by a simple drawing of a container of some kind: a gift wrapped box, a vase, a casserole, a beer stein, a kettle, a hookah, a goblet, a lantern, a tea cup, a martini glass, a pitcher, a cocktail shaker, a salad bowl, an umbrella stand, a waste bin, a string bag, a dumpster, a paper sack, a tureen.


As for the two words on each letter, the first word on each one is “Dear.” That’s followed by a name, a different name on each letter: Dear June, Dear Alia, Dear Vikash, Dear Ivan, Dear John, Dear Angel, Dear Lise, Dear Jeong, Dear Guillaume, Dear Juanita, Dear Marina, Dear Youssef, Dear Ondine, Dear Hari, Dear Chen, Dear Sumitra, Dear Joy, Dear Maryse, Dear Velma, Dear Yu, Dear Dionysios, Dear Fatima…


Yes, of course your name is there… But you may pick any letter, and open any container. The contents are intended for you, you alone.


Blackout. Surf’s still up.



About the Author

Una Chaudhuri is Collegiate Professor and Professor of English, Drama, and Environmental Studies at New York University. A pioneer in the fields of eco-theatre and Animal Studies, she published books in both these fields in 2014: Animal Acts: Performing Species Today (co-edited with Holly Hughes, Michigan), and The Ecocide Project: Research Theatre and Climate Change (co-authored with Shonni Enelow, Palgrave Macmillan). Chaudhuri participates in several creative collaborations, including the multi-platform intervention entitled Dear Climate.