As if there weren’t enough nonsense in my life…
This morning, at around 7:30, I was woken up by what sounded like light tapping, as well as muffled voices. The tapping I almost shrugged off as probably coming from my neighbor – a musician who I have heard rustling about at that time of morning – but the voices were decidedly not coming from the same source. After lying half-awake for a few minutes, it occurred to me that given how repetitive it was, perhaps the knocking was not coming from my neighbor, but from my front door, though that would not explain the voices. Slowly, I get out of bed – by this time the knocking had stopped but the voices were becoming more distinct and…childlike – open my bedroom door, and discover that my television is turned on to some cartoon program.
I can say with 100% certainty that I did not turn on my television last night before going to sleep and forget to turn it off. So either there was a weird electrical glitch that caused it to turn on (which would explain why the oven clock keeps resetting), or my apartment is haunted by an asshole ghost.
Needless to say, after checking every nook and cranny in my apartment for possible intruders (unlikely since, you know, top floor/no elevator, and I verified that my door/windows/shutters were locked), I headed straight back to bed and slept until 11. Thankfully, I had planned on doing my reading from home today, so the day was not entirely wasted.
And things did pick up in the evening when I went to another performance, this time of Genet’s Haute Surveillance (Deathwatch) performed at the Studio Theatre of the Comédie Française. There’s an almost delicious sort of irony in the fact that Genet’s work is now part of the repertoire at the C.F., and to be frank, I was a bit worried about this show at first because of the institutional weight that’s attached to the venue (and also because the C.F. can be a bit too nice, or ‘clean’ at times). Turns out, my worries were, for the most part, for nothing, and especially compared to whatever it was that I saw last night, this performance made for a very engaging evening of theatre. Again, going through every single detail is slightly pointless, especially since the show is closing soon, but if I had to pinpoint one or two elements that, in my opinion, contributed to why I think it worked so well, I would have to attribute it to the lighting design as well as the use of space. With regards to the former, there was a point during the beginning of the show where the three principle actors – playing Lefranc, Maurice, and Yeux Verts (Green Eyes) – were standing downstage in a line, engulfed in darkness save for a small square of light sharply ‘cutting’ the left sides of their faces, bringing them into bright focus. The result was that it seemed as though those parts of their faces were at once part of and a-part from their bodies, existing both as concrete parts of a body as well as small floating ‘screens’, or windows into the prison cell where the play is set. In any case, it’s an interesting way to think about translating Genet’s manipulation – and later destruction – of semiotics/the sign into a theatrical medium that is not necessarily rooted in the individual actors’ performances, or even the text itself.
As to the use of space, the Studio Theatre is a bit odd in that instead of an almost black box style that one would expect from a studio, the room consists of a shallow and almost squat stage, with narrow stadium seating for the audience (and by narrow, I mean there were probably no more than 10 or 12 seats per row, and perhaps at most 15 or so rows themselves). Even before the performance started, the space itself felt very imposing, almost claustrophobic, and once the lights went down and the actors appeared – and I’m not sure whether this is due to the shallowness of the stage, the layout of the house, or both – , their bodies seemed to be almost too big. They were imposing, engulfing the space, just as the darkness and shadow was always threatening to engulf them. In some of his later works – notably The Balcony – Genet made explicit reference in his show notes to the use of cothurni (a kind of platformed shoe worn by actors in Ancient Greece) to elevate the actors and make them appear almost larger than life (or larger than human in any case). Whether that reference was on anyone’s mind when the show was being designed is a mystery, but the coincidence would not leave my mind as I watched these giant-like bodies move about in deliberate gesture on stage. Then again, that impression may have just had to do with where I was sitting (three rows from the back, house right).
I will say though that this confirms what I thought last night, namely that yesterday’s performance was going to end up setting the low bar for this season’s theatrical excursions. Hopefully, there will be more Genet to come as well.
Now I just have to deal with this potential ghost problem.