Apr 292017
 

(Photo source here)

The production of Caligula I saw  recently has been on my mind on-and-off for the past few weeks.

In the play, Caligula is always there, always speaking. He acts and defines the actions of the people around him. While I was watching, I focused on what he said, what he thought about, what he discovered and did. How could I not? I also took his preoccupations as if they were synonymous with the play, and as I thought back to the play later, I continued in the same vein.

But I’ve decided Caligula isn’t Caligula.

Caligula gives us a character who achieves a point-of-view and is convinced of its essential rightness as something greater than simply himself. Thanks to his position (as emperor, as protagonist), he has the power to push that view beyond himself and onto his subjects (the Romans, the spectators). Over the course of a performance, we watch as the people around him are slowly erased from their own lives and made less than human. Some become converts (Caligula’s certainty in his vision is not non-religious). Others die. Everyone suffers miserably.

I don’t know what Camus has said about his text, but with time to reflect, I see more clearly its preoccupation with moral certitudes, both religious and secular, and with the suffering they inflict. I also think that the play invites misrecognition of it’s concerns as part of its poetic strategy.

Which obviously brings me back to that set I hated so much in the production I saw—the one that hid all the bit players under a black box or pushed them to the front of the stage where Caligula was pacing and raving—I’ve begun to think it’s an elegant and expressive engagement with the problem I now think this play is presenting to it’s audience. The cheaper your seats and the farther you are away form the stage, the quicker and more often the bit players disappear from view. The people sitting at Caligula’s feet won’t see this at all, even though they probably think they see everything clearly.

A set that makes not seeing visible and then comments on that not seeing in terms of both a spectator’s physical situation within the theatre and their proximity to the protagonist is operating thematically.

 April 29, 2017  Theatre Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 302017
 

This production featured incredible performances. By the dinner scene, Benoît McGuinnes had become a tour de force, and the other actors stayed with him straight through to the end. Over and over, I was caught off guard by natural effortless readings of lines that somehow struck me as unexpected or revealing. It was a great experience.

That said, I’ve never seen a show in which I hated the set more or felt more strongly that it was purposefully aggressive toward the audience.

The stage was empty except for a closed, black box that was raised up on row after row of construction jacks. This box was enormous: it was the same width and depth as the stage and it was high enough to take up half the available vertical space. As a result, it served as a roof over the actors’ heads throughout. There were only two places for action to be performed: at the very front of the stage (the only place where everyone was out from under the box) or further back, under the box. In the latter case, the actors were screened from the view of anyone not on the ground level, and for people in the balconies, watching the play often meant watching actors’ feet and hips.

So why was the box there? It’s tough to say because over the course of the entire production it is used in only two ways, both of them extremely brief. First, the box’s front wall opened during the first and last minutes of the play offering a brightly lit and blindingly white space where Caligula acted out his anguish and despair in private. The first of these moments was shocking and exciting. As it happened I thought it was effective. By the final moments, I’d changed my mind.

The second use of the box was more fragmentary. At three or four points during the performance, small panels opened in its front walls to reveal the dead Drusilla watching the action of the play silently from above. These moments were disconnected, distracting and largely without point. If I were to be less generous, I’d call them sentimental.

Neither of these two uses of the box—not even the first, which I liked initially—offers anything substantial enough to off-set the fact that it makes the actors act where most of their audience can’t really see them. As a result, the box feels hostile and arbitrary, a sense of things that makes me wonder why it was there at all.


One thought: the open box has proportions resembling those of a cinemascope frame; the panels opening onto Drusilla resembled video screens; the action only proceeds clearly when confined to the narrow (i.e. flat) space of the front of the stage. Are these hints that this stage is operating in relation to the cinema screen? It it inviting a consideration of mediation?

If so, the idea is too undeveloped to do any work.


Update here.

 March 30, 2017  Theatre Logs Tagged with: , ,