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
accompanied by a score and sound effects.
On Sunday afternoon, upstairs in the brick-walled Grotowski Institute, Theatre ZAR’s project director Jaroslav Fret and his actor-singers offered a demonstration of the vocal techniques employed in Tryptich. Fret explained that the theater is seeking a form of storytelling based less on images and traditional language, and more on listening, on primal “vibrations” that come from this ancient music — rendered with gorgeous solemnity by an ensemble of 11. The open question about ZAR is whether their work, so clearly lifted from the tonalities of a church service, performed in churchlike confines and avoiding dramatic conflict with meticulous refinement, is actually theater or simply a church service.
If only UCLA Live had snagged The Roman Tragedies, a six-hour epic commingling Shakespeare’s Coreolanus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, presented by Amsterdam’s Toneelgroep. That description might justifiably fill you with dread, but the event was an untethered delight. Set on a huge sound stage, it was performed like a telenovela in corporate-chic style, with multiple large-screen monitors broadcasting the live action, as well as snippets of news clips through the decades. Below the screens a ticker tape sometimes popped up with helpful news bites, such as “60 minutes until the death of Julius Casesar ... 180 minutes until the death of Cleopatra,” and these prophecies were as true to their predictions as a NASA launch.
Every 20 to 30 minutes, the beautifully performed action would cease and the audience was invited onstage to buy coffee, juice, beer and wine, and pastries, while the monitors dutifully broadcast a countdown to the start of the next scene. If you didn’t get back into the audience bleachers in time, no problem: There were couches onstage and backstage, where patrons sat with munchies, watching the action in front of them, in full view of the main audience, or watching it on one of the monitors backstage. Furthermore, if you were bored, tables with magazines and computers were set up on the side of the stage; you could read at any point during the action and check your e-mail.
This is how we receive our information: From literature and history to tweets, everything from the trivial to the epic is a kind of diversion, something we do while waiting for something else.
Theatrically and conceptually, it was a stroke of genius. Somebody must bring it here, just to show us what theater can be in the 21st century, and how it can so uniquely reflect our lives. If August: Osage County is what we now call great art, our theater is in retreat, seeking refuge in the shadows of Eugene O’Neill; European theater is going in exactly the opposite direction — into the blinding light of the future.
TR Warszawa’sT.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.: November 18-19 at 8 p.m., UCLA’s Freud Playhouse
Theatre ZAR’sTriptych: December 1–3 at 8 p.m., UCLA’s Royce Hall