Sometimes I feel as though I get into these sort of slumps where writing feels more like a chore than something I actually really look forward to doing. Maybe that explains why I felt like I had to drag myself to update this thing today. Granted, I did come off just finishing a preliminary bibliography – including small (and large…very large) paragraphs to accompany each text I read – so the thought of typing out anything didn’t exactly seem very appealing. Thankfully, weekends exist to help with the whole recuperating process.
I’m one of those grad students who basically treats what I’m doing as my job and, as such, I hold weekends – particularly Friday nights and Saturdays – pretty sacred, as in, I’m not going to touch anything related with my work unless I absolutely have to. Experience (and let me just take a minute here to process the fact that I’m currently in my sixth, yes sixth, year of graduate school right now) has sort of taught me that the best ideas come after I shove everything to the side for a minute and think on other things. Or simply just try and be in the world instead of thinking about it from an ‘outside’/theoretical perspective.
Friday night thus found me back at Lulu White’s where I discovered that they occasionally play live music. It’s kind of surprising to think that they can pull this off to be honest, given how small the space is, but let’s be honest, if your Friday night doesn’t occasionally involve you cozying up to a three-piece jazz combo (as well as one or two small clusters of individuals who, immediately after admitting they aren’t experts on jazz, try to offer their opinions on what is happening to everyone else within earshot while taking on an insipid air of ‘expertise’…) are you really living?
Honestly though, the music was a really nice addition to the night. Coincidently, so was the hurricane cocktail that I ordered. Nice and rather potent.
Saturday was a bit more chill compared to Friday, in part because a good chunk of my afternoon was spent at the theatre (my one exception to the no work on weekends ‘rule’ – going to see a show…because it’s fun). This was my second time at the Théâtre des Abbesses, and I think I can honestly say that I’m not incredibly keen on seeing a show in this space again, unless I happen to be sitting in the orchestra. I was talking this over with my companion for the afternoon, and we both agreed that we were right to take the opportunity to move to the orchestra from our original seats in the mezzanine, mostly because even before anything started, the distance between our section and the stage coupled with the fact that the proscenium arch – and thus the stage itself – is not particularly tall, made it feel as though we were too far removed from it all. Honestly, I think the space would be better served with keeping things relatively intimate, but then again, theatres – even ones supported by the State – need to survive somehow. Capitalism…
Moving on to the show itself, the reason why I wanted to try and squeeze this one in to my rather full March schedule is mostly because it is a partial retelling of the Orestia, and I’m due to attend a conference around notions of power and theatrical representations/retellings of the Agamemnon myth throughout history. The fact that the show is not only a coproduction between CalArts and La Comédie de Saint-Étienne – and cross-cultural theatrical collaborations interest me – but also is a production of a text written by a female playwright of color (Alesha Harris) kind of gave me the last convincing push I needed to buy my ticket.
At its core, the play tackles the question of what makes us a society through the examination of two different families: the Halburtons, a political family lead by a matriarch with ‘lofty’ aspirations (and I mean this literally because her dream, as she lays out in her opening speech, is to build a great tower that will house all of society), and the family of Agamemnon (here portrayed as a military general recently returned from war), his wife Clytemnestra and their son Orestes, a very shy, awkward fifteen year-old. There’s no direct mention of any of Agamemnon’s daughters (Iphigenia and Electra), though at one point Clytemnestra does evoke a female baby that she remembers holding in her arms before it disappeared (could we say a reference to Iphigenia perhaps…?). The play opens, however, not with a presentation of the two families, but with one of the actresses from the ‘chorus’ delivering a soliloquy on memory, the dead, and the evocation of ghosts.
I’m going to be upfront and say I was *slightly* disappointed in this production, but only because my expectations were so high after this first monologue. As the play was performed entirely in English – though the actors were a mix of French and American performers – the expectation was that there would be a screen of some sort set up for the surtitles in French. Imagine my very pleasant surprise when, instead of just a rectangular screen with ordered lines of text, the words were projected directly onto the curtain behind the actress, sometimes with print so large that the projection crossed over onto her body. These were not static words, they were rhythmic, lively playful words, words that appeared and disappeared in a rhythm evoking the spoken-word pace of the text being voiced. Call it an addition of vocality onto an otherwise silent form, or a way to create an active form of reading text. I almost expected this to be brought back again, but unfortunately, instead of being a sort of throughline – and I should be specific here, I mean this in the case of both the alternative surtitles and the spoken-word style of the text itself – all this manner of approaching speech and translation was reserved just for this opening prologue, though the themes of ghosts and reviving the dead came back again briefly. Instead, the overall structure returned to a slightly more traditional approach with regards to the surtitles, clean orderly lines replacing active and bordering on musical playfulness.
I will say though that the set design was probably my favorite overall element of the show. Created in a way so as to both keep a trace of a fourth wall – one thing that stood out to me as I was reading the dossier pédagogique before going in to see the show was set designer Carlo Maghirang’s comments that he wanted the space to evoke that of a prison, with the cells stacked atop one another – as well as imagine the existence of possibilities beyond said fourth wall, the action was confined to two floors of the aforementioned tower, each one representing an apartment of one of the families. Verticality, I find, is something that is often not quite taken advantage of as much as it could be, and it was interesting watching the constant up and down shift of focus from one apartment to the next, making moments in which someone did actually cross the stage horizontally that much more impactful.
The rest of Saturday consisted of a long walk home – the weather had finally taken a turn for the better so there was no way that was not happening – followed by a dinner featuring very smelly cheese (aka the best kind of cheese). I had originally intended to stay in on Sunday and spend the day tackling one or two chores that needed doing, but then the morning of, a friend put out the call to grab a coffee and given how nice it was out (sun! Finally!), I really could not resist.
And so I spent the day in the great sunny, yet still a tad crisp, outdoors walking. Oh, and eating the above ice cream cone.
Have I mentioned I’m really ready for spring and summer to get here? Because I am.