Monday, January 16
Friday, January 13
The Thing Itself
"I would like to help. But I am afraid I will feel, and make things worse."
I’m having some kind of once-removed, yet parallel reaction to what Kassys did/does in performance.
Listening to Patti Smith’s Gone Again, I daydream while biting my fingernails that the cuticles are attached to the skin of my hands, and I go to take a leak, and see in the bright bathroom that I’m dripping, bloody & stupid. Later, Nick Cave’s The Weeping Song is playing in the cab I call to take me to a Geraldine Fibbers reunion. I’m trying to put something back; return something that’s missing. This piece has pissed me off and unsettled me in a way I cannot locate, or name, just yet.
These performers have an astounding ability to withhold, and thereby generate, feeling. A rigidly enforced Fourth Wall — actors casually talking & drinking onstage as the house opens, yet utterly unavailable to the audience that is arriving & walking an arm's distance from them — establishes the pictorial, filmic ground rules of remoteness and dislocation that allow feeling to be treated here as a raw material; nothing more and nothing less. This treatment aggravates a conceit that I can’t let go of: namely, that real feeling in our theatre is an aim & a goal. Something to be fought for, because it is so shamefully lacking in Our American Lives, etc. Kassys is far beyond such sentiment.
Kommer (Grief) has a dreamlike, floating quality—an absence— that inhabits the entire piece. Kommer is not titled in the spirit of caustic deadpan that Todd Solondz embraced when he named Happiness, but there is a similarly an-aesthetic, clinical cool that informs, and illuminates, both works. It occurs to me, long after exiting the On the Boards studio, just how eerily accurate & truly evocative of actual grief this absence is.
Kommer’s entire second act, the video that initially annoyed me with its here/not here ruse, is Kassys Director Liesbeth Gritter’s no-nonsense achievement of a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt (or V-effekt), a way of intentionally discouraging an audience from identifying in real time with a character onstage, and thereby allowing a dispassionate, cerebral investigation of the topic at hand.
I was glad for the smell of soil.
Thursday, January 12
Kommer- Grief Moment by Moment
When I walked into this show, Lane (Czaplinski, the artistic director) said to me, “Remember, it’s Dutch.” I had listened to the description on the box office telephone while driving to see the show. The piece was to be about grief. When I entered the studio theatre there were people, actors I presumed, on stage sipping Perrier and speaking Dutch. A funeral? They must be at a memorial. They are gathering to remember someone. Like a bad tour guide, I was looking at an abstract and grabbing sense out of it. When the piece began, I slowly let go of all of my scenarios and what unfolded was a truly funny, moving and human exploration of loss.
What I loved about the play and the film that follows it was its commitment to an organic play by play of emotion. It was as if the playwright wrote from feeling to feeling rather than from plot point to plot point. We get little snippets of what could be happening- that woman may be the widow that is mourning this man (Holden I believe was his name), but really the text bounced between bumper stickers of suffering and absurd suggestions for making the situation better, “Your family will be there to support you in this difficult time” and “I’ll get myself a puppy”. Later, at the talk back, we found out that the lines were taken from the Dutch subtitles on As the World Turns. The lines were there in direct opposition to what the characters were doing with their hands, their feet and (I will not spoil one of the most delightful and true scenes of the night) the plant boxes. This exaggeration brought me truly in to the center of these characters- who hasn’t tried to distract the mind with babble while the body acts out what is really going on.
The film segment was lovely- I am usually not a fan of live actors going away and being replaced by their screen doubles, but the spirit of the piece remained fluid and the way they transitioned into the film left you feeling like the film took place in Seattle. When you see that you are in Holland- or some foreign city where the gas station drink cooler is named “dranks”- you can take the leap. I remembered they were Dutch when they spoke, but this company reminded me we are all not that different when it comes to our insides.
It's a crazy mixed up jumbled up world...
This uncomfortable, awkward, strange cute group of people in front of me. I am uncomfortable watching them -- laughing out loud at their awkwardness. Not very nice, right? but it's really, really funny...maybe because I'm really uncomfortable watching them being uncomfortable. Kind of like a psychological Quaker Oats box-man experience.
They leave the space one time, and we all sit waiting. I notice how thick our collective listening silence is...and the audience has instantly bonded in our uncertainty. After the actors leave the second time, in a real / not real transition, their story - more complex and simple - is a relief...sort of. So, this strange cute group of people are isolated in their busy worlds. But, I don't really believe she is a stewardess, although I love how she relieves her anxiety (I wonder about post 9/11) And the bingeing, and the dance club, and the robbery and the rest. I understand these feelings. I think of how they were in front of me, and I imagine who they are on film when they were in front of me. I am transposing them from "real life" to film and back.
The story is irrelevant in the end to me. It is the craft and manipulation of how I experience their experience. But, I gotta know....what is that edible blue goo?
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Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards...
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