THEATER REVIEW; Delineating the Human Predicament With Almost Total Silence
As three women walk in file from a street into their homes in the closing minutes of ”Rooms” — it is a 20-foot stroll that has the majesty of an imperial funeral procession on a grand avenue — an unspeakable sorrow of hopelessness spreads through the theater like the shadow of death’s wings. Yet it is such a triumphant moment of theater that it brings cries of admiration and a thunder of hands from the audience. People seem as puzzled by their reaction as by this play, and the tribute is fitting.
Not one of the characters speaks a line to define herself; the only words, recited usually in unison or as fragments of chant, are four brief sentences about logs in snow from a Kafka story. But in the hour they appear onstage the women reveal powerful personalities; longings that are draining life from them; an awareness of one another and of the audience before them that is harrowing to feel; and relentless energy that spends itself on boredom. Yet they are anything but boring. You want to get inside this story and embrace its inhabitants, but find yourself as locked out as they are locked in.
The play is the invention of Elia Schneider, who also, with infinite cunning, directs the performances at La Mama in a brief run that ends this weekend. Ms. Schneider, artistic director of Teatro Dramma-Caracas, has been creating drama out of ideas harvested from Kafka for 20 years and has presented several of her works at La Mama since 1980. Here, she distills theater almost entirely into form and image, with some striking help from sets by Maitena de Elguezabal (three rooms in shades of gray that make you think of brilliant colors, all boxed by soaring walls of wire mesh) and lighting by Jose Novoa, a filmmaker who makes the rooms shine, brooding boxes Fritz Lang would have loved. Latin American theater often seems to aspire to opera, and the music composed for ”Rooms” by Juan Carlos Nunez sometimes suggests that an anguished soprano might be ready to cry out. (There are also times when it sounds distracting.)
Judgment on a Gray Beach
“Judgment on a Gray Beach ” is one of the most visually striking theater pieces I’ve seen in a long time. We’re presented with highly sophisticated absurdist humor combined with wink and nod Kafkaesque literary references.“Judgment on a Gray Beach”
Developed and directed by Elia Schneider
La Mama ETC, Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East Fourth St, NYCMarch 6-15, 2015
Reviewed March 7, 2015 by Larry Litt
The majority of my deeply focused attention was spent in awe watching a mostly mimed play by actors in highly regimented direction playing out an all too common dance of doom. Director Elia Schneider captures Kafka’s whimsical paranoias that peak with his own brand of little ecstasies. Live and recorded music break the trance of highly controlled incarceration for both the audience and the actors.
The almost barren stage is electrified with blinding light reminiscent of late Winter afternoons when the cold sun is focusing on us, making us long for the nostalgic memories of happier summer days. Lighting designer Joseph Novoa flashes light so bright and pointed
that we become two sided, shining and shade, glowing day into ominous night, simple goodness confronting looming omnipresent evil. We can turn either way hopefully to escape our fates or spin interminably, not making a commitment to a path. But of course outside prison the sun always goes down. These formidable beams of light in this hard edge prison of surreal dreams stay on permanently. There’s no escaping the harsh glare of surveillance in this human zoo.
Joel Daavid’s set design forced me via the acting ensemble into a psychic transportation to a beachfront prison for inappropriately costumed characters. The country that holds them captive is either too poor for standard uniforms or likes to see beautiful young women wearing almost nothing as they live, work and play their days and night in this place where nothing is allowed except what is ruled. Numbers are tattooed on their shirts or bare backs. Wearing costumes seems to pass the time in detention as do pop/rock song musical interludes.
Only “K” the newly arrested citizen is without a number or direction. He wanders into the courtyard of light beams like a small boy lost in a wild bar filled with sad women. They don’t even notice him. He’s nobody until he’s either incarcerated or free. Judgment is limbo on the Gray Beach. Judgment is anxiety and confrontation with the forces of ultimate uncaring power. His dance leads to the great sacrifice for the state and his soul. But even that is perverted by the voices of authority. It’s the topical irony and eternal comedy of frustrated fascism affecting the feckless individual.
The ensemble company, with admirable, understated acting and movement skills, endeared me to their plight. I cared about their horrors and pleasures. Especially Daniela Mandoki, the ‘Accordian Girl’ who sent shivers down my spine with her deadpan acting, singing voice and musicianship.
Daniel Damuzi as “K” and Will Rhodes as The Judge gave well matched comic performances in their dance of judgment.
This normally somber political topic and its infinite tragic variations is so wildly, enthusiastically acted and directed that I left the theater with a huge grin. Normally I’d be grudgingly depressed by yet another reminder of the omniscient, repressive powers that lurk in the dark holes of cruel bureaucratic governments. Instead Elia Schneider made me laugh and think differently about the candidly disorganized human side of that horrendous power. It was well worth my sit down time.