Saturday, January 30, 2010

Elemental Theatre and the Holy Go.Go

I cannot say enough about the Elemental Theatre Company, whose "Father, Son, and the Holy Go.Go," the most recent iteration of their extremely popular, annual "Go-Go" plays, is showing at Perishable Theatre for one more weekend. Their work brings a rich humanity to the stage; a fineness of vision; and terrific sense of humor. I can't review the plays - there are three; like the trinity from which the work borrows its name, they somehow cohere in a single entity - but I can strongly urge you to see them. They will reassure you that people of great heart, dedication, and talent are still writing for the stage.

Catch them tonight at 8:00 and tomorrow, Sunday, at 2:00.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"4:48 Psychosis" Review Round-Up

The reviews of Gamm Theatre's production of Sarah Kane's "4:48 Psychosis" are in, and they are, superficially at least, unanimously positive; but they are also, it appears, deeply ambivalent.

My own review, in Motif, is short and timid. I acknowledged Kane's sense of purpose and the performers' persuasive powers, but I did not ask, "To what end?" What does "4:48 Psychosis" try to do? It has tremendous intensity (you'll see that word a lot in discussion of Kane's work) but little direction; it feels furtive. And of what do the performers intend to persuade us? That depression is a terrifying tribulation? After seeing the play, I believed it - but I didn't feel it. I had been persuaded, not convinced.

Channing Gray, in the ProJo, serves up a backhanded assessment of the script - "It reads as a long rambling poem" - before concluding that the show itself is "likely to linger in the memory for a long time." I agree, but I also wonder what sort of appraisal that is. It's safe, in that it's value-free; a lot of things linger in the memory for a long time. The comment's neutrality makes me think that Gray had reservations about the production that he didn't explore.

Bill Rodriguez, in the Providence Phoenix, calls it "so intense. Strident." He goes on
Drama is about maintaining the tension of conflicting needs or desires. And what could be more fraught than the either-or, no-middle-ground question of suicide? Yet, by all rights audiences could be expected to withdraw from empathy soon after entering this woman's ranting display of pain and suffering. Compassion fatigue is not a challenge dramatists often face. But thanks to the playwright's canny structure, director Tony Estrella's well-timed easing of the anguish, and Kim's every-moment focus, the center does hold, at least for us as witnesses, as the terrified woman's internal anarchy is loosed upon her world.
What does this mean? Rodriguez's frayed and tangled language seems borne of uncertainty: he doesn't know himself what he's trying to say.

The standard that Susan McDonald of the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle invokes to gauge the experience of watching "4:48 Psychosis" is comfort:
To say it pushes past the comfortable boundaries of the modern theater is an understatement. It obliterates them. It is not a comfortable show to watch but it is a compelling show, an educational show, an absolutely breath-taking hour and 12 minutes.
One wonders if the boundary through which Kane bursts isn't just comfort but pleasantness. A lot of modern theatre is intimate and cathartic; but not all modern theatre so strains the sympathy of its audience.

Dan Aucoin, in the Boston Globe, has the guts to note the clumsiness of Kane's script; "It should be said that there are some stretches of bad writing in '4:48 Psychosis,' wince-inducing lines like 'love keeps me a slave in a cage of tears,' when Kane was clearly straining to poeticize her suffering." He credits Casey Seymour Kim's performance with "astonishing intensity" and authenticity.

But he also reveals the submissiveness only euphemistically expressed by the other reviewers: he describes the audience leaving the theatre "after watching - or should that be surviving? - '4:48 Psychosis,'" as though endurance in the face of aggressive art - no matter how middling - were something to be proud of. A Theatre of Cruelty needs an Audience of Masochists. Tony Estrella, the Artistic Director of the Gamm, should be heartened to know that the audience is out there, demanding to be educated through punishment. Art about suffering does not have to make its audience suffer, too; but these practical times call for educational theatre, and there is not better educator than experience. So we suffer, but only for the sake of accuracy - or so we're brazenly told. Through her main character, Woman, Kane observes, "Some will call this self-indulgence (they are lucky not to know its truth)." What is most true, of course, may not be what makes good art; any of us can tell the truth, but the artist tells the most truthful lies. For Kane, in her last play, the truth was enough. When we are convinced that accuracy is the sole measure of artistic accomplishment, we get the theatre we deserve: authentic, I suppose, but dull.