play thirty eight: black medea

The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.
The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.

Author: Wesley Enoch

Published: 2007

Synopsis: “Black Medea is Wesley Enoch’s richly poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Medea. Blending the cultures of Ancient Greek and Indigenous storytelling, Enoch weaves a commentary on contemporary Aboriginal experience.” (Synopsis taken from here).

What moved me: The brilliance of this work is the deftness with which Enoch has insinuated the Medea narrative into the indigenous Australian landscape. Just as Medea helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, so here does Medea help her love gain mining access to the ancient land of which her community act as guardians.

I also loved the space Enoch creates for the theatre-makers to enter into this work, with significant chunks of text given in images instead of speech.

Also, the vastness of this image:

MEDEA: I had a dream. I dreamt I was staring into the desert and felt I would never be alone. In this dream my mother’s standing there smiling, her hair playing in the wind. She doesn’t say anything, she looks at me with a quiet smile. Beside her stands my grandmother. She looks just like my mother only she’s got more history in her face. Her hair’s tied back. This woman of law and language, standing ankle deep in the sand. Behind her another woman, looking at me, I can see my reflection in her eyes. She looks familiar. Her skin’s dark and weathered. Beside her another woman, and another and another, and then I can see an ocean of women stretching back out into the desert, stretching out to the horizon making the sand dark…standing facing me, looking to me.

play thirty seven: the spirits play

Kuo Pao Kun is often acknowledged as the pioneer of Singaporean theatre.
Kuo Pao Kun is often acknowledged as the pioneer of Singaporean theatre.

Author: Kuo Pao Kun

Published: 1998

Translator: C.J.W.L.Lee and Lee Chee Keng

Synopsis: Five Japanese spirits – a General, a Man, a Mother, a Girl and a Poet – recall their life experience in the Second World War. They are collectively thrown into turmoil in the process of recollection and recall, and in their wish to “make sense” of the war and its atrocities inflicted upon them, not only by the enemy but also by their own government and army.

What moved me: Many things moved me about this work, least of all the bolt of shock when I realised the freedom that comes with the representation of spirits onstage. Although they will ultimately by tied by the corporeality of the performer, it allows the easy transcendence of time and space, as well as other limitations that come with liveness.

As an example, this stage direction:

The series of questions shock the Mother, the Man, the Girl and the Poet, first into stillness; then the stillness turns into severe trembling – finally leading them to emit an almost animalistic cry – as if their inner souls have been stirred and a long-locked beast of the wild is finally unleashed. Instinctively, impulsively, they begin to undress, revealing bodies painted in primal, savage colours. They all look the same. Tattoos bear individual designs of a unified primitive style.

They show a lightness like spirits, an awesomeness like ghosts, an honesty like children, a savagery like beasts. And their personalities have been reduced to a basic commonality of primal instinct.

The devastating image of a woman looking for her husband amongst the many thousand skeletons and, failing to find him, committing a funeral ceremony for each collection of bones.

play thirty six: shopping and fucking

shopping

Author: Mark Ravenhill

Published: 1996

Synopsis: “The sexual violence of Shopping and Fucking explores what is possible if consumerism supersedes all other moral codes. To this effect everything, including sex, violence and drugs, is reduced to a mere transaction in an age where shopping centres are the new cathedrals of Western consumerism.” (sourced from good ol’ Wiki)

What moved me: I’ve just finished reading an article by VCA’s Alyson Campbell about the importance of affect theory for tapping into a “body-first” way of knowing to understand theatre both critically and corporeally. Although she explicitly references Crimp and Kane in this analysis, I inevitably read it through the prism of today’s play.

This work does not, I think, reduce language to have an equivalent expressive power to gesture (a hallmark of the Crimp/Kane style focuses on the materiality of speech). It does, however, generate an intensity of feeling that makes me aware that my revulsion to its depiction of sexual violence is shaping my critical judgement. Is it a bad play because it makes my stomach churn? I think it is perhaps the opposite. It is successful because my body tried to physically reject it.

Through rejecting the subject material because of the effectiveness with which it was conveyed, Ravenhill’s work has made me distinguish between content and form in a way I don’t think I have before.

play thirty five: fewer emergencies

fewer emergenciesAuthor: Martin Crimp

Published: 2005

Synopsis: “A group of people sit and tell stories. The first is about a woman who realises her marriage is a mistake but stays, colluding with her husband in living a public lie while wreaking damage and violence behind closed doors. In the second a Dunblane type massacre has occurred; in the third the couple’s child from the first piece is locked in a tower while outside violence apparently rages.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

What moved me: I have never encountered a script with so little authorial prescription. There are no characters given by Crimp, just numbered voices. Time is “blank”, as is space. The only directive in the first story is that Voice 1 must be female.

What to make of this ‘blankness’? It allows an inner space to expand that is almost a floating island, free of the specifics of material certainty. It lends itself more to radio drama than the stage. How, then, to translate this into the sheer materiality of a production? How to tie it down with bodies but maintain a sense of the text being a horizon-seeking missile?

It reminded me of Tow Holloway’s work. Both share a sense of a series of screens being lifted one by one as the narrative unfolds, each to reveal a new image that reshapes all you had previously assumed about the playworld.

play thirty four: hippolytus

Phaedra, please.
Phaedra, please.

Author: Euripides

Published: 428BC

Translator: Anne Carson

Synopsis: Aphrodite is furious for Hippolytus’ refusal of her power and his avowal of chastity to the goddess Artemis. She curses him by forcing his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him. Phaedra wishes to kill herself to be released from this illicit burden but her nurse is convinced she may swear Hippolytus to secrecy and make him understand. She fails, and Phaedra kills herself when she overhears the disgust of her stepson. She leaves a note claiming to have been raped by Hippolytus so that he may not reveal her desire to his father Theseus. Theseus finds the note and banishes his son, calling on his father Poseidon to kill him. Poseidon does so by calling out a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus’ horses and drag him to his death. Hippolytus’ dying body is brought to Theseus and Artemis appears to reveal Aphrodite’s trick. Theseus seeks his son’s forgiveness as he dies in his arms.

What moved me: What I love about this work is the mortality of its gods. Aphrodite is the queen of sass and Artemis might be a frosty librarian and both are equally governed by human desires. They experience the desire for power over others just as we do and are subject to the pettiness of rivalry, the pangs of longing, and the sweetness and bitterness of grief.