The anguish that accompanies a loss of life is all-consuming and often undeniable. Like many visionaries before her, actor and artist Candice D’Meza has transformed her own grief into an inspired project that’s both cathartic and eye-opening for both artist and audiences alike.
Her multimedia, one-woman show, Fatherland, explores the concept and experience of bereavement, and the very specific grief that comes from family disconnection, culture, and homelands.
In April of 2019, D’Meza—a familiar face to Houston theatergoers—received a call with the news that her long-absent father had died roughly 1,500 miles away in his birthplace of Haiti.
“I wrote all of Act One while in Brooklyn, New York, during the three weeks I was planning my father's funeral,” D’Meza tells Houstonia. “I felt as if my father's spirit told me, ‘I want to write with you,’ but I was pretty hostile to the idea at that time.”
It wasn’t until returning to Houston that D’Meza began to picture the show in her head.
“The writing was already a vulnerable process, but the rehearsal process was quite brutal emotionally,” she says. “The piece, being a memoir, was very raw as I'm still on my own grief journey. Having collaborators … who could hold space for me personally and artistically, became critical to the success of this piece.”
Originally meant to be a live, in-person community grief ritual, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic meant Fatherland had to be adapted for online delivery. Stages, D’Meza says, became instrumental in that process.
The full-length visual film, directed by Houston native Nate Edwards, includes stage direction by Eboni Bell, and merges Haitian spirituality, song, dance, and theatrics. D’Meza reveals that the recorded audio of her text for Fatherland came first; even before the team began filming or crafting the live performance itself.
“It's the grounding; it's the true story of it all,” she explains. “The film is the spirit realm's conversation with the text. The performance is me finally coming into sync with the spiritual elements and the story elements.”
With every piece of the theatrical puzzle in place, the project premiered at Stages’s fourth annual Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival in February, and now Stages and Houston Cinema Arts Society have come together to copresent both its free, virtual run and its outdoor screening at the Gordy (the June 5 outdoor screening is sold out).
“I'm still surprised at how it all came together; surprised and quite pleased,” D’Meza reflects. “I feel I honored my ancestors and my father's complicated story, and that is very important to me.”
Screen thru May 31. Free. Online. More info and at cinemahtx.org.