Stage Raw: Comedies About the End of the World
Poland's Theatre ZAR rehearsing Gospels of Childhood at St. Giles-in-the-Fields parish church in London, where they performed it last month. That piece is the first third of the Tryptic they're bringing to UCLA Live/Royce Hall on December 1-2. They'll be in Los Angeles in late November, conducting workshops with local theater companies. Photo by Ken Reynolds
Wroclaw, Poland -- If you're looking for an incubator of new forms as a measure of what really matters in the theater, Poland is where it's at, and has been for some time. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, Wroclaw is throwing a great international theater festival this month (Dialog - Wroclaw, curated by Krystyna Meissner, of Theatre Wrolczesny). It's the second such festival in this mid-size city in six months. (In June, The World As a Place of Truth Festival, curated and administered by the Grotowski Institute, was yet another big party of great performances.) Once more, a slew of critics from Russia, Britain and the U.S. has flown in to see the likes of Buchner's Woyceck (Handspring Puppet Company, Johannesburg, South Africa), literally animated by puppets and by director William Kentridge's black-and-white film of backdrop settings, unfolding as child-like drawings as though from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
There was also the grungiest Baal I'ver ever seen (RO Theater,
Rotterdam) - in which Brecht's titular poet was played by a sneering,
androgynous woman (Fania Sorel) who depicted her character's gender by
drawing a phallus onto her jiggling stomach with an ink-marker. I heard
that in a post-performance discussion, the stunned Dutch troupe was
ripped a new rectum by the hostile crowd. One reported response, "If I
want to see garbage, I can look in my trash can," seems to me a little
over-the-top in terms of drama criticism - especially for a production
that, with its Johnny Rotten aesthetic, was so well acted and carefully
designed. The Poles, like Angelenos in the film industry, are a slender
people. I guess that flab shown so unapolagetically is not a sight they
take sitting down. In a play about societal indoctrination, the Dutch
may well have made their point.
Last night, I saw a fantastic one-man show, Looking for a Missing Employee,
from Beirut, Lebanon, that a few people walked out on. One of the
walkouts was a Moscow journalist I'd met a few days earlier. Haven't
seen her since, but I suspect the cause of the offense was the play's
assault on our ability to know anything in general, and on our reliance
on newspapers in particular. (When I speak to her again - I've got her
card but no telephone here -- I'll let you know if my theory holds)
Mroue, a slender standup comedian, performed in quite good English a show about
his fetishistic concern with missing persons. His style was very
easy-going, and there's no way on Earth he was going to get all pious
on us about this terrible issue. His approach was more like a cross
between Franz Kafka and a Lebanese version of Jon Stewart.
stood at a podium in the back of the theater, while we saw his
televised face on a large screen - which is the smart theatrical
conceit about how we receive information (and misinformation) through
mass media. There were two smaller screens on either side of the main
screen: One showed his fingers rifling through albums of newspaper
clippings he had so fastidiously glued onto the album's pages; the
other showed hand-drawn diagrams following the plight of one man who
disappeared from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance while walking home.
Mroue tracks the newspaper accounts, article by article, and the facts
start wobbling like drunks staggering out of a bar at 2 a.m.
the day the subject disappeared, $3 billion (Lebanese dollars) was found missing from the
Ministry, the first article reports. In the next article the amount
stolen as shot up to $40 billion. Next, his car is discovered with
money in the trunk, while his forlorn wife pleads in the next article
that her husband is/was not a thief. Next thing, she's been arrested
for conspiracy. An article or two later, the missing amount is down to $10 billion. There's
a sub-plot about fraudulent stamps in the city. It goes nowhere, which
is part of the delight. Co-conspirators get introduced and not a speck
of information is reliable, despite the continual reference to "trusted
Least reliable of all is our narrator, who, in order
to dramatize several days of no new articles, takes a three minute
break during which we all listen to Chopin. (That's when a few in the
audience walked out; it's particularly rude to walk out on Chopin in
Poland.) Later, depicting with faux suspense a frenzy of
misinformation, he apologizes for losing his place, and for having
accidentally glued one crucial article face down into his album. By the
time he discovered his mistake, he pried the article from the page,
he explains. All that's left (which we see on screen) is distorted half-sentences
on tattered strips of paper, indecipherable in dried glue.
Aside from its generalized surrealism, the piece offers a cautionary tale for relying on media that, for too many reasons to enumerate here, have such a sketchy relationship to the truth.
Check back here Monday afternoon for the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Stacy Sims' As White as O, at Road Theatre Company; Cirque du Soleil's Kooza at the Santa Monica Pier; the world premiere of Ruth McKee's Stray,
presented by Chalk Rep and the Black Dahlia Theatre, which is also the
venue; Seaglass Theatre's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World at the Victory Theatre; From the Ground Up's production of American Grind, co-written by E. Yarber, Tracy Lane and Cheri Anne Johnson; Scott Martin's new musical, Children of the Night, presented by the Katselas Theatre Company a the Beverly Hills Playhouse; Steven Dietz's Private Eyes at the Raven Playhouse; and Lee Blessing's Chesapeake, presented by Syzygy Theatre Group at GTC Burbank.
ED ASNER ON KPFK
Asner is performing in the world premiere broadcast of a radio play,
It's Up to Us Alone, a domestic drama swirling around the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friday, Oct. 16, 5 p.m. on KPFK, 90.7 F.M.
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