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Destroying the Light

March 10th, 2012 No comments

Went to Ensemble Theatre last night at Coventry to the Colombi New Plays Festival. I have to first say that I’ve never been in the school, which is disappointing because that is the school to which I thought I would be sending my daughter and son. But whomever closed it down, most likely to sell it off given it’s location. Instead, it sat empty and has slowly eked to life being variously a University Hospitals training facility, possibly a new site for the Music School Settlement, the location of Family Connections, and now Ensemble. The theater space is fantastic. It was set up in the round, almost, with one wall being the skene. Also, it’s location is fantastically close to all that is going on at Coventry: La Cave Du Vin, Winking Lizard, Grog Shop, etc.

There are three shows in the Colombi Festival, of which I went to see Destroying the Light by Sasha Thackaberry, whom I had met previously whilst wearing my work-a-day hat at the university down the road that laid me off. The play, directed by Peter Voinovich, is described as being a “modern reinvention of the myth of Persephone” and a “dark tale” that “explores Kora’s deeply personal fall to hell and her journey back from the brink.” Thackaberry definitely succeeds. Modernizing myths is at once popular and tricky. And I’m glad that Thackaberry gave a shout out to Joseph Campbell in her play. The trick in re-tellings is that so much that was attributed to gods now has to be attributed to the motives of man–in this case, woman, of course. In the myth Persephone (also known as Kore) is kidnapped and raped by Hades who takes her to hell. Demeter, Persphone’s mother, being quite pissed off about the whole thing refuses to allow crops (or anything) to grow until her daughter is returned–in effect kidnapping all of man and the gods. Hades, in the end, is forced to relinquish Persephone, but not before tricking her into eating a kernel from a pomegranate, thus forcing her to spends some months of the year in hell. This all is a partial explanation for the seasons of the year, especially winter and spring.

Thackaberry does a great job translating the essence of the myth into a human situation. For instance, there are varying ways that one could interpret the relationship between Demeter and Persephone, the route that Thackaberry goes is that of tension, rebellion, and hostility–which works. Kora (Rebecca Frick) is a young woman looking to become her own woman in the world. Clearly a precocious young woman, Kora has attempted many times to break out on her own only to have her oppressively attentive mother, Rita (Anne McEvoy) undermine her confidence and second-guess her all the way. The consequence is that Kora has taken to binge drinking, self-loathing, and increasingly reckless behavior. Through her father, Zackary (Bob McCoy), a talent agent, Kora meets Havier (Daniel Mcelhaney–who is a scene stealer in this piece) the lead singer of a rock band “Laudanum,” and the two agree to go on an epic bender to end themselves. This marks the terrific descent of Kora into the underworld of unending drugs, sex, traveling, etc. A dream for some a nightmare for others. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, at some point it would become exhausting. The question facing Kora is when this would happen and where she would be when it does. Given the mythic overtones, you can imaging where she ends up at the midpoint. The dark and heavy character of the play is balanced and broken up nicely by the use of three weird women–a combination of fates, furies, and Kora’s friends. They dance about, frame the story, lighten the mood, move the set pieces, and fill-in as various other characters throughout.

I’m not going to retell the entire play, to see how it all comes out you’ll have to go to Ensemble. Using the school provides ample parking and a convenient walk down the sidewalk to the side entrance. You can hit Coventry for a before show meal or check out Steve Presser’s Big Fun–and, of course, you can find a nice place for an after show drink.


September 15th, 2017 No comments

Went and saw Rhinoceros last night at convergence. For those of you unfamiliar with this play, you can read about it on Wikipedia. What is of most interest is the background experiences of Ionesco as he grew and became a man, specifically, his Jewish ethnicity, an ethnicity which the Radical Right in Romania would begin to attack in 1930s under the guise of “illegal immigration” and “fraudulent citizenship.” These themes and ideas should be familiar, as, today, it is clear that they come from a very old playbook.

Convergence puts up a timely play, to be sure. What is an ostensibly sensible, refined, and cultured town (country? USA?) supposed to do when a rhinoceros appears and begins smashing things, killing a poor kitten, and destroying everything in his path? What, further, should said town do when its own sensible and refined citizens begin turning into rhinoceroses? They all begin to fit in, play along, and do what everyone else is doing. But events take a more ominous tone as the entire town begins to change. The arguments should sound familiar:

BOTARD: I never believe journalists. They’re all liars. I don’t need them to tell me what to think; I believe what I see with my own eyes. Speaking as a former teacher, I like things to be precise, scientifically valid; I’ve got a methodical mind.

BOTARD: Please forgive me, Mr. Papillon. But you can’t deny that the colour problem is one of the great stumbling blocks of our time.
DUDARD: I know that, we all know that, but it has nothing to do with …
BOTARD: It’s not an issue to be dismissed lightly, Mr. Dudard. The course of history has shown that racial prejudice …

BERENGER: You shouldn’t reject medical advice.
JEAN: Doctors invent illnesses that don’t exist.
BERENGER: They do it in good faith-just for the pleasure of looking after people.
JEAN: They invent illnesses, they invent them, I tell you.
BERENGER: Perhaps they do-but after they invent them they cure them.
JEAN: I only have confidence in veterinary surgeons.

Throughout, Ionesco uses syllogisms from a few side characters to expose the absurd logic that comes into play when people attempt to discuss what they believe and why. The insertion of these sections creates a meta-dialog with the audience as it can begin to see the nature of the conversations regarding sensible people transforming into rhinoceroses:

LOGICIAN: [to the OLD GENTLEMAN] Here is an example of a syllogism. The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot both have four paws. Therefore Isidore and Fricot are cats.
OLD GENTLEMAN: [to the LOGICIAN] My dog has got four paws.
LOGICIAN: [to the OLD GENTLEMAN] Then it’s a cat.

These absurd arguments become all-too-real as Berenger begins to see his own friends and co-workers transform into Rhinos.

JEAN: I tell you it’s not as bad as all that. After all, rhinoceroses are living creatures the same as us; they’ve got as much right to life as we have !
BERENGER: As long as they don’t destroy ours in the process. You must admit the difference in mentality.
JEAN: [pacing up and down the room, and in and out of the bathroom] Are you under the impression that our way of life is superior?
BERENGER: Well at any rate, we have our own moral standards which I consider incompatible with the standards of these animals.
JEAN: Moral standards! I’m sick of moral standards ! We need to go beyond moral standards !
BERENGER: What would you put in their place?
JEAN: [still pacing] Nature!
JEAN: Nature has its own laws. Morality’s against Nature.
BERENGER: Are you suggesting we replace our moral laws by the law of the jungle?
JEAN: It would suit me, suit me fine.

One only need recall Charlottesville and the “fine young men” and their torches to see that greater numbers appear to be turning into rhinoceroses right in front of our eyes. Morality begins to unwind and transform to the Hobbesian “bellum omnium contra omnes”.

And soon, we see people begin to change what they believe, through the simple constant exposure to the ideas, accommodating things that were abhorrent:

DUDARD: What if you do? You only have to keep out of their way. And there aren’t as many as all that.
BERENGER: I see them all over the place. You’ll probably say that’s being morbid, too.
DUDARD: They don’t attack you. If you leave them alone, they just ignore you. You can’t say they’re spiteful. They’ve even got a certain natural innocence, a sort of frankness. Besides I walked right along the avenue to get to you today. I got here safe and sound, didn’t I? No trouble at all.
BERENGER: Just the sight of them upsets me. It’s a nervous thing. I don’t get angry–no, it doesn’t pay to get angry, you never know where it’ll lead to, I watch out for that. But it does something to me, here! [He points to his heart.] I get a tight feeling inside.
DUDARD: I think you’re right to a certain extent to have some reaction. But you go too far. You’ve no sense of humour, that’s your trouble, none at all. You must learn to be more detached, and try and see the funny side of things.
BERENGER: I feel responsible for everything that happens. I feel involved, I just can’t be indifferent.
DUDARD: Judge not lest ye he judged. If you start worrying about everything that happens you’d never be able to go on living.
BERENGER: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, and blue-stockings and artists and people. And the ordinary man in the street, as well-it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you’ re involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against the brutal facts you can’t help feeling directly concerned-the shock is too violent for you to stay cool and detached. I’m frankly surprised, I’m very very surprised. I can’t get over it.
DUDARD: Well I’m surprised, too. Or rather I was. Now I’m starting to get used to it.

Things become more ominous, as Berenger and Daisy become the only humans left.

BERENGER: [darting to the radio] Let’s turn on the radio for the news!
DAISY: Yes, we must find out how things stand!
[The sound of trumpeting comes from the radio. BERENGER peremptorily switches it off. But in the distance other trumpetings, like echoes, can be heard.]
BERENGER: Things are getting really serious! I tell you frankly, I don’t like it!
[She is trembling.]
BERENGER: [very agitated] Keep calm! Keep calm!
DAISY: They’ve taken over the radio stations!
BERENGER: [agitated and trembling] Keep calm, keep calm!
[DAISY runs to the up-stage window, then to the down-stage window and looks out; BERENGER does the same in the opposite order, then the two come and face each other centre-stage.]
DAISY: It’s no joke any longer. They mean business!
BERENGER: There’s only them left now; nobody but them. Even the authorities have joined them.
[They cross to the windows as before, and meet again centre-stage.]
DAISY: Not a soul left anywhere.
BERENGER: We’re all alone, we’re left all alone.

Berenger attempts to save the world with Daisy, but even Daisy turns in the end, leaving Berenger all alone.

BERENGER: How can we save the world, if you don’t?
DAISY: Why bother to save it?
BERENGER: What a thing to say l Do it for me, Daisy. Let’s save the world.
DAISY: After all, perhaps it’s we who need saving. Perhaps we’re the abnormal ones.
BERENGER: You’re not yourself, Daisy, you’ve got a touch off ever.
DAISY: There aren’t any more of our kind about anywhere, are there?
BERENGER: Daisy, you’re not to talk like that!
[DAISY looks all around at the rhinoceros heads on the walls, on the landing door, and now starting to appear along the footlights.]
DAISY: Those are the real people. They look happy. They’re content to be what they are. They don’t look insane. They look very natural. They were right to do what they did.
BERENGER: [clasping his hands and looking despairingly at DAISY] We’re the ones who are doing right, Daisy, I assure you.
DAISY: That’s very presumptuous of you!
BERENGER: You know perfectly well I’m right.
DAISY: There’s no such thing as absolute right. It’s the world that’s right–not you and me.

To the end, when Berenger realizes that he alone must fight:

BERENGER: People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end! Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole of them ! I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating !

Once again, a timely play from convergence that was well-directed by Jonathan Wilhelm, with a fantastic set by Wilhelm as well—stark white set-pieces with black and white costumes, which stand in contrast to the muddled mess that humans make of belief and logic. Tom Kondilas is wonderful as the increasingly frantic Berenger, and he even rocks a ‘fro like Gene Wilder in the movie. It’s a long show, but definitely worth seeing.

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