121 – 126

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Nanterre

 

Yes, yes, I know. Another week with nary a daily update. Once again, the week got the better of me.

 

But, I’m not really complaining either because if anything, this week was absolutely packed with theatre.

 

Let’s start with Tuesday night.

 

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Unlike pretty much everything else I choose to see, this play was a pretty straightforward drama, but I will say that as far as 3+ hour plays go, I can’t remember the last time one went by so effortlessly.

 

And really, you have to give a show credit for being able to draw you in for that long, but given that the subject matter was a story that travelled back and forth between the last days of the French colonial occupation of Vietnam to the country’s eventual reopening in 1996, it’s almost amazing that the show was only three hours long.

 

Also, one side of the stage was set up as a real, functioning kitchen run by one of the characters. And by functioning, I mean that they were actually making and serving food to some of the other characters/restaurant patrons. There are only so many steaming bowls of pho you can see being consumed before you really start to lament the sad little sandwich you grabbed at the last minute because you knew otherwise you would not be eating until incredibly late that evening.

 

Yeah, I got home pretty late that night (thankfully there was chocolate cake at home!) and I had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day. 8am teaching everyone. It’s real.

 

Right, on to the next thing:

 

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Imagine mixing theatre, cinema and radio together into one cohesive show, and you’ll get this. The premise: while poking around at a rummage sale, the troupe – La Cordonnerie – stumbled across a script for a never-produced re-imagining of Don Quixote  centered around a library worker – furiously trying to digitize the catalogue before the Y2K bug ‘hits and deletes everything’ – imagining himself as Cervantez’s titular hero. What results is a projection of the film the troupe made from this script, yet what becomes very clear from the start is that, although the film was clearly produced with modern cameras, it is otherwise silent.

 

Yeah that’s right everyone, the actors on stage were also acting as foley and voice-over artists, the stage slowly filling with gadgets and knick-knacks that by the end made the whole space look rather like a garage right before a yard sale.

 

What’s more, at a certain point, after it becomes clear that the actors on stage not only appear in the film, but also provide their own voice-overs (using a rather clever trick of holding a mirror up to see the screen behind them as they remained facing forward), the otherwise very frontal space begins to take on a sort of stratified depth. Maybe it had something to do not only with the simultaneous – yet also temporal-crossing – appearance of certain actors’ bodies on stage and screen, or even with the displacement of voice that although it resonates from the body present on stage is difficult to disassociate from the image of the actor on screen, but I wonder if one could consider this a way of using frontality that otherwise avoids a regression towards a flattening mimetic representation.

 

And speaking of mimesis…

 

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I’m not entirely sure how well I can describe the trip into uncanny valley I took last night with Susanne Kennedy’s adaptation of Fassbinder’s Warum Läuft Herr R. Amok? at Nanterre, but here’s an attempt anyway.

 

First thing’s first: the play, as mentioned, is based on a Fassbinder film, but to be more precise, it is a literal word-for-word staging of a film that, as emphasized by Kennedy, was largely improvised. Imagine, then, the process of taking improvised text – text that is by nature not only impulsive and fluid but also firmly anchored in a present sociotemporal situation – rehearsing it and codifying it to a point where it loses almost all semblance of humanity to become merely an approximation of it. This reduction of ‘natural’ or ‘ordinary’ behavior to its bare-bones, its ‘skeleton’, its ‘codes’ extended into the movement and gestures of the actors, who seemed more like avatars on the SIMs, aliens behaving in ways they assume a human behaves than – I don’t want to say ‘real’ bodies, at the risk of seeming to promote a realistic aesthetic that I am quite frankly…not a fan of for the most part – an actual….body…if that makes sense. This SIMification extended into the costume and makeup design. The banality of the costumes made it so that several characters were switching characters back and forth, with everyone playing either the lead male or the lead female at least once. As to the makeup, the photo above doesn’t really do it justice, but this is where the uncanny element was incredibly evident. Instead of traditional makeup, the actors wore latext masks that were designed to mold to their natural faces, while, once again, only producing a surface-level approximation of all their individual characteristics, bone structures, wrinkles, dimples, etc. The end result of all this, other than the previously mentioned inescapable presence of the uncanny, was an almost agressive mimesis, made even more so by the fact that on the rare instances in which unmasked actors did appear, it was – with the exception of a moment at the end – via video projection, corporeality and materiality rendered flat.

 

There was a point to the whole rendering strange of otherwise banal, quotidien speech and gesture (the play closes with the titular Herr R (Mr. R) killing his wife, son and an unfortunate neighbor), but one thing that’s still itching at me is the question as to why there was a need to tell this story about a man who, driven mad by the aggressive mundaneness of the everyday, ends up releasing his frustration in an act of violence, at this present time. Not to take away from the staging itself – there is something to be said about the use of frontality, the literal screenifying of a stage with a wooden frame, in the creation of a simulation of human interaction – but as I was walking in Ménilmontant afterwords on the way to meet people, I couldn’t help but linger on this question.

 

Anyway, I’m going to be returning back to this thing during my seminar on Tuesday, so we’ll see if my thinking changes at all.

 

Some final highlights:

  • Friday was another house party at a friend’s place where I once again confirmed the difficulty I have with staying away from really good cheese.
  • Technically today, I was supposed to have a tutoring session with a student. Unfortunately, this student did not choose to tell me about a tournament they were attending this weekend until after I not only crossed to the other side of the city, but also waited outside their building trying to contact them for twenty minutes. There’s a reason that, back when I still took private voice lessons, my teachers insisted on charging for any non-emergency cancellations less than 24hours before an appointment. Ah well. Not to be discouraged, I took advantage of the fact that not only was it not raining, but it had also been a while since I had a nice long walk to trek all the way from Porte Maillot to Ten Belles for a gooey, cozy croque monsieur and a noisette. Oh and also a pasteis de nata from the Portuguese bakery next door. Silver lining, everyone.

 

 

 

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