By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
And so it goes: It was such physical and psychological sadism by his father that led Michael Jackson to test his limits with dance moves and vocal finesse that transformed him into a demigod on the stage, which was precisely Grotowski’s goal for his actors.
In a festival that included works by Peter Brook, Pina Bausch (who died as this festival was closing), Eugenio Barba, Richard Schechner, Theatr Zar and Song of the Goat, among others, the production that stood out most for me was Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki’s staging of Elektra. Using Kabuki percussion accompaniment (performed by Midori Takada with Sumo intensity), the play opened with a row of bare-chested men in shorts, black sneakers and an array of clown hats ranging from bowlers to fedoras. They all arrived in wheelchairs in formation, rolling across the stage, flinging legs in perfect synchronicity. As they tried and failed to wheel themselves through a wall, we heard grunts, like the sounds of some collective bowel movement. Some in the audience started giggling — this is Greek tragedy? More laughter erupted when the men’s chorus exited sounding like a choo-choo train, with one clown — having spiraled away from his comrades — chasing the team like a lost caboose.
That’s when Elektra (Yukiko Saito) arrived, brought in by a nurse. She glared forward in silence, solemn. It was clear now that we were in the nuthouse, and the primal, guttural sounds of the play recited in Japanese reached out to grab the audience by the throat, and wouldn’t let go.
It might seem that this is a long, long way from touring productions of Dirty Dancing at the Pantages, and Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Ahmanson. But is it really? Suzuki’s Elektra has been touring since 2001. Among the reasons that the stagecraft is so pristine is the time this company has been together. Suzuki has turned Greek tragedy into a touring musical.
Years ago, my Russian wife, trained as an actress at the Moscow Art Theatre, saw a touring production of Phantom of the Opera at the Ahmanson — one of the first American shows she’d seen.
“It was magnificent,” she exulted at a dinner party after the show. “Nobody can do musical theater like you Americans.”
We all thought she was out of her mind, but she was finding herself located in the opposite of everything she’d studied and grown up with.
Even if Suzuki insists, as he did during a lecture in Wroclaw, that he starts with the sanctity of the spoken word, his Elektra is commercial theater. And the Polish festival in which he appeared was a product of marketing expertise we could learn from. They even had Gen Y lining up outside to get in.