These Walls

libretto by Matthias Hope Naroff

cover_for web
Rhonda Belle Martin was a 49-year-old waitress from Montgomery, Alabama when she was convicted, in 1957, of committing heinous crimes against her family. She married five times—the last, to her stepson—and had five young children with one of them. In many ways, her very existence was at odds with the growing silent majority of what the American family was supposed to represent. These Walls explores the interior monologue of a seemingly-remorseless, self-centered woman over the course of a few restless night hours. — Kyle Tieman-Strauss


Excerpt, last 8 minutes (Part V): “Give and it will be given to you!” / There’s no more time now / Can it be?

Emilia Donato as Rhonda Belle Martin
Frank Capoferri, saxophone
Adam Holmes, percussion
Johanna Wienholts, harp
Aimée Niemann, violin
Aya Terki, cello
Kyle Tieman-Strauss, conductor

Who lies responsible for a soul in chaos? The indistinguishable hours between dusk and dawn wither swiftly by in a maximum security solitary confinement unit in Montgomery, Alabama. Outside these walls, the 1950s meets a new decade, a new America: conceptions of gender, race, family, and American values rapidly changing by the day. Rhonda Belle Martin inhabits two worlds, her limited present and unspeakable past, but to the world she is already dead. A fleeting and forgotten distraction in the local newspapers. A woman who spent the majority of her life slowly and painfully poisoning her mother, two husbands, and all of her five young children. A serial killer. Can Rhonda’s choices teach us anything?

Whether or not she realizes her time is soon to expire, Rhonda experiences the full scope of her emotions and most treasured memories within a cramped and lonesome cell, vacillating fiercely between devoted tenderness and crippling pain. The unbearable weight of Rhonda’s past is caused by a multitude of sources, but now, it is all her own. In her final moments, she is resigned, content, with nothing more to say or do. The electric chair silently waiting around a corner, Rhonda finds acceptance of impending death. Whether she accepted her years of life, we will never know. — Matthias Hope Naroff

I weep to think of what a deed I have to do
Next after that; for I shall kill my own children.
My children, there is none who can give them safety.

— from The Medea, Euripides

instrumentation soprano; tenor saxophone, percussion (vibraphone, children’s glockenspiel (2 octaves), almglocken, timbale, padlock, chain, kick bass drum, simantra), harp, violin, violoncello
premiere May 15, 2017, NYU Blackbox Theatre, NY, NY; Emilia Donato as Rhonda Belle Martin
conducted by Kyle Tieman-Strauss
directed by Georgia Mills
written July – December 2016
duration 60′

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