Stories of the Body, a Search for Meaning

"If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of 'darkness.'  I will continually be absent from heaven, to light the light of those in darkness on earth." 

katie stimpson as theresa

katie stimpson as theresa

"The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

-Saint Teresa of Calcutta

It's hard to rehearse 4 shows at once.  There are multiple people in multiple roles in 2, 3, 4 shows.  Two different directors who need one actor at the same time.  One director who's acting in another show and so then actors acting to no one, in a makeshift bathtub, in the lobby of The Ready.  There's a lot of imagination necessary for this process.  Maybe every show, but particularly this one.  Which seems right.  That seems like a return to some kind of playing, to some kind of original notion of why any of us want to do this "acting" in the first place.  
Today, during one of the hard scattered-actors moments, instead of leaving when my work on Lina was done, I asked Kris to run through all the lines of Theresa with me.  She's really, super supportive, so she says yes.  We go out in the sun, in the back, by the alley, because we can now.  And I guess part of me is hoping that if we're warm and outside and breathing the breeze that then I won't be thrown into the visceral panic that I've found myself in 90% of every day for the last few months.  I don't even know if the anxiety is a result of Theresa or if it's related, because I've been here before. But then again it must be.  Because Andras Visky has this way with words.  They go right in and immediately come out like something I meant to say already.  And not because he cunningly convinces and so I believe, but because he somehow found a thing I was already talking about with myself and put it in this epic form that I'm supposed to embody.  Or, Melissa cast me in this role because she could see that conversation inside me.  Or I'm too method and I'm just becoming Mother Theresa admitting that maybe there's no God and maybe there's just empty and maybe we close our eyes and it's dark and that's it. And so I can't tell the difference between wondering what my life is and her wondering what hers is.  
So when I'm running my lines with Kris I feel all of this.  I feel the physical symptoms slowly build. Heart palpitations, dizziness, my tongue feels swollen, like I'll swallow it.  Is my throat closing? My head is cloudy and heavy. I make it through the end of the play. And thank yous.  And goodbyes.  But by the time I'm a block away from the theatre I'm in a full blown panic attack.  
So I seem to have the imagination to get to this place.  To die, every night.  And yet, I can't muster the image that brings me back.  
Today before rehearsal I took a nap and I had a....dream.  Just a flash, really.  I was floating above my body and through some clouds and I thought of the stars and thinking of the stars threw me to them, in deep space, where the they were incredibly sharp stars.  And then I thought, "That's death."  And then I got that sinking/up feeling that happens when you dream that you're falling.  And then I jolted awake. Except the sinking/up feeling lingered in my solar plexus for a long time and so I laid on my stomach and put my hand over the spot and fell back to sleep.

Katie sherman as artemisia

Katie sherman as artemisia

I walked home from rehearsal and called numerous friends and eventually talked to Katie Sherman, who's playing Artemisia, and we said a lot of things.  PTSD and religion and acting and death and anxiety disorder.  But she told me that she heard a comedian say, "Dogs don't understand the internet and humans don't understand what happens after they die."  And I thought this was really an excellent point.  

When I got home I opened up "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl and I was reminded of this quote by Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."  And I think of Mother Teresa; hunting for her why and attempting to do it in the most extreme of experiences.  And also attempting to spread this why to everyone in this extreme experience. I don't have to agree with her why or the way she lived and communicated it, yet, I realize I feel a profound appreciation for the fact that she was attempting to give a why to the most unbearable of hows.  She was not seeking money or fame or even personal satisfaction, she just wanted people in the lowest rung of life to have a reason to live, even if it was only so that they could then die in peace.  

Of course, I don't know if any of that's true.  But here, from the place where I think I know best because I pretend to be her, I think this is one thing she was doing.  

(Two days later I find out that Mother Teresa encouraged her novitiates to read "Man's Search for Meaning" as part of their spiritual formation.  I guess it's official, she's my teacher now.  I'm doing all the homework and everything.)

Laurie roberts as lina

Laurie roberts as lina

After I thumb through Frankl I pick up an old journal.  One from over a decade ago.  And I find words reflecting on past experiences that directly speak to what I'm experiencing now.  And more than speaking to the now, they use Theresa's words.  Visky's words out of Theresa's mouth, out of my mind years ago, the same conversation he tapped into and has now miraculously put back in my lucky mouth.  There's emptiness and love and absence and there's a even a train (where Theresa heard a call within a call) and there's also a call and there's even bodies bashing against the sky.

And it does bring some comfort.  But the fact remains, nothing I do will save my life forever.  And I suppose I'm still enraged that I have to die.  Even if it means I'm catapulted to the stars.  Even if when you're asleep you don't know you're asleep.  

The one comfort I've been able to find in the last few days is the idea that maybe all the lights don't turn off.  Maybe it isn't just nothingness and experience-less-ness.  Maybe we get flashes, like dreams.  Maybe I am a leaf opening to the sun for the first time and that warmth gives me a flash of consciousness or maybe I'm a part of an ant on a sidewalk working hard.  Maybe I get to feel wind from the wind's perspective for just a second, once every 6000 years. Maybe I'm there when aliens dance to Johnny B. Goode playing out of the record player on Voyager. Maybe I'm dirt forever and that's a thing too. Maybe we do get flashes of experiences when we're particles in the everything. 

And if there's no more perception, then let's not forget Frankl: "Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind."  

I can at least imagine now something besides darkness.  Which feels like a good start. And it feels like just what Teresa did.  She was a little flicker in the dark saying, sometimes, "This is what darkness looks like." Or sometimes, "This is the light."  It just depends where you turn your focus.

Journal, 10/27/2007

melissa lorraine as eva

melissa lorraine as eva

The span of night makes you forget the sun ever existed.
Love is all there is to give.
There is no over arching thing that demonstrates all eternity and then soothes me. Nothing that rubs itself through my hair tenderly when I close my eyes and see all the dashed lines and numbers and colors that move, always, and make up the trees.  
Though - not numbers.  Not a code in itself, just one to my human mind.  It all just is.  And I just am, especially when I see it.
Life has absolutely nothing to do with me.  
I was catapulted into the stars.  I was thrown to the edge of perception, hard.  I full body smacked against the end of infinity.  I belly flopped at the universal wall
and I shattered.  
I lay sprawled on a rock while smashed and smushed and stretched by the stars.
I wept and laughed and wept and laughed.
There is nothing but love. 
Love is all there is to give.
I kept saying it.  And they would say, say it again!

Journal, 11/29/2007, on the train from Denver

I tell myself I'm unable to make connections in order to keep from budging or walking toward anyone while I ride the train, in November, after a tour, beside a cave, that is now passed.
I tell myself I completed something, and the train wobbles.  When we're all jolted, we remember what we're doing together.  
And I'm still not talking. 
As I go east winter happens in my body.  Everything retracts inward, away from the cold, and I welcome it.  My inner mind welcomes my outer mind.  My heart eats my sternum.  But the skin stays.  And gets thicker.  Elephant skin.  You'll have to touch me with force.  What is not already in will have a hard time entering.  I study my own surface.  What you see, for now, is what has not sloughed off yet.  It's what has already died.  There's a seed inside.  And the seed eats the outside and the outside dies and protects.  And I welcome this.  
Snow on the ground is the same as my body.  And when I breathe? The earth shudders.
Being vulnerable. The fear.  The calling.  The coming home.  All of it is the coming home.  Is it that I can't wait to be home, or that I can't wait to be at my destination?
Eventually I will get where I'm going and I'll be there, carefully and easily.  
Love me with all.  Love me.  Love with all of me.


- Katie Stimpson


Yerma directed by Max Truax

Katie Stimpson as Yerma

Katie Stimpson as Yerma

When I was in college I hated John Cage.  It was contextual. I hated him in comparison.  We had just learned about the Nicholas Brothers, two dancing brothers who revolutionized tap.  They exploded on stage; flung their bodies against the ground repeatedly in flying split after flying split, down stairs, off tables. They both needed double hip replacements at a relatively young age. The brothers were black and this was at a time when black entertainers performed for all white audiences and had to use the colored only entrances. I saw the Nicholas Brothers as part of an arc in history, coming out of the practice of "dancing for eels," when former slaves would dance for their lunches for wealthy whites in Katherine Square, NYC. This all seemed to me a part of a desperation to be seen, a desperation for their bodies to be valid in a racist, slave society. This era is, unfortunately, not over. And the Nicholas Brothers seemed to approach this desperation with an especially intense fervor. 

Then we watched John Cage sit at a piano in a park and play nothing, just sit while a completely rapt audience watched and waited and watched and then praised the commentary he was making, admired the stunt. And while I can now appreciate his place in the pantheon of music and performance and see this moment more thoroughly, at the time I just saw someone with the privilege to do nothing while black bodies were hurling themselves into existence; breaking their bodies against a system, dropping to the ground broken and exhausted, and then being shoveled into mass graves, barely noticed, and missed only for their entertainment value.   And so I hated John Cage. 


["I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world." Aldous Harding]


My body. Hers. It's become impossible to tell the difference. Before every show I stand backstage in a little circle holding hands with an elderly Yerma (wearing a head scarf and shuffling) and a little girl Yerma (dirty knees and chewed fingernails).  I just am the Yerma in between the two.   They convince me of this even when I fight it.  How could my body not become hers?  How could I not give mine up into her? 

Her voice in me like this has taken a hammer and a chisel to every part of my life, even the parts I thought were solid, or secure, or known. 

She has sent fissures through my form and through my formed identity and through the life I've formed. Every compartment has split in at least two parts and I, Katie, have fallen into the space(s) between.  I often experience Yerma as a body filled with the night sky. The dark parts are even darker and the parts of light are dripping and pulsing, threatening to explode the darkness with their desire to shine. And sometimes, instead of embodying this picture, I'm just swinging in it - a semi-formed body, a fully formed one, a disappearing and reappearing body, maybe some bones, some eyes, some womb, hers, mine, none, all. 

But always in this space throbs an intense and pure emotion, named, maybe, Desire.  Or longing. Or love. And a desperate need to express it.  Beyond a need. Something involuntary. Something uncontrollable. And so the actress playing Yerma throws her body against the ground, against the air, her chair, her castmates, the audience, the words themselves.   

Before every show I pray I won't die. I've thought I'll have a heart attack. I've thought I'll throw myself so hard I'll break forever.  I beg Yerma to say only as much at I can handle. And every night she thinks I can handle more. And Lorca's there, telling me he died for this. Telling me he knows where the line is and I can go further.  And so I try. 

Every oppressed group has a double consciousness. A term first coined by W.E.B. DuBois to explain the experience of being black in America. 

It works something like this:

There's my consciousness and all that it's made up of (this would include all of the aspects of consciousness that any psychologist or philosopher has ever referred to), but then, for minority peoples,  there's a split. In my case, in a woman's case, another consciousness that is wholly male. It polices the other side. It knows how much I can get away with. It knows when to shut up,  when to wear pants, when to take a taxi, when to smile and nod, when to stay home, when to run, when to beg, when to fight, when to face forward, when to run, when to run now.  This split is necessary for survival. 

I add to this double consciousness a sense of ancestral obligation. In me is every woman before me, showing me the possible consequences for not adhering to this split and listening to the police within.   The consequences range anywhere from spinsterhood to riddled with STDs to burning at the stake to just, simply, betraying your kind. Because freedom has a grave cost. This is what the system needs every person involved to believe. 

I think the fissures in me caused by Yerma accentuated this split. And when I saw my many selves divide and reveal a universe of desire behind, I thought, "Why do I want what I want?" "How do I know it's me who wants it?"  "What do I want?"

"I went out to look for flowers and I ran into a wall. And over and over again I keep banging my head against it.  And I can't stop!" Yerma screams this at a wall of men who will never understand and who will never ask what she means, because they don't need to know. 

Lorca wrote in another time. Rural Spain. Arranged marriages. Orthodox Catholicism.  Fascism. It's terrifying, terrifying, to watch the gap between Yerma and myself shrink. Especially when I acknowledge that even given the cultural inflation of time, and that I have far more freedom, she is so much stronger than I am. I have nothing to teach her. Nothing to add. I can only beg Katie to stay silent enough for long enough, to not save her own body, to know nothing and assert nothing and listen intently. Since I'm certain, because I know this feeling deeply, all she wants is for someone to listen. 

MACBETH directed by Georges Bigot

Let's start with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. What makes them different from each other, and when are they indistinguishable? Lighting, lamps. A lot of the critical commentary I'm reading suggests that Lady is surpassed in imagination by Macbeth, and they're interestingly named too, aren't they? It's not Lady Macbeth and Lord Macbeth. It's like it's Macbeth and the lady version of Macbeth, and what's that like? There are Oedipal comparisons to make, with Duncan as father and Lady as Jocasta, but like Georges says, this is pre-Freudean. That makes everything devastatingly real for them, though. These aren't symbols from a story. These characters are having visions of hell, an actual place that is murky and has foul and filthy air where night is predominate,  and they believe with their whole hearts that they're going there because of the actions they took that cannot be undone, that stopped the sun.

The reason the critics are suggesting Macbeth's imagination surpasses Lady Macbeth comes back to two mirroring actions or reactions. At the time of the murder, Macbeth says, "What hands are here? Ha: they pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red." which is a magnificently powerful piece of poetry. It brings to mind Moses turning the Nile into blood, and incarnadine is perilously close to incarnation. It is a miraculous vision and it is followed by much more; it's also a Messianic delusion. Lady, on the other hand, at the time of the murder (and without having done it herself) says simply, "A little water clears us of this deed." Yet when she's sleepwalking (what is Lady Macbeth like during the day? How does she conduct herself around her subjects and servants, knowing as she does and suspects that she is married to a murderous lunatic?) says, "Here's the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" still without appearing to have the same type of fatal, miraculous vision that Macbeth does. It's followed by nothing, but O, O, O. Oh but women do make some O sounds, though. It's all prose and it's almost all monosyllabic. They're almost labor noises. Or something like that. This coincidentally, is when the doctor and the Gentlewoman lose their shit, by the way. She's not only condensing an already hyper-condensed murder horror story into the middle of one scene, the way she does it, is by telling you the kinds of things that must go on when they're in bed together. You're aghast. You're stupefied, zombified. The Doctor, THE DOCTOR literally has his own "Throw physic to the dog" moment when he says "This disease is beyond my practice" and begs God's forgiveness. These people's worlds are turned inside out by what these two are doing together.


Macbeth is brutal, Lady is beguiling - Together they’re powerful and seductive, to whatever audience. Lady could be a murderer, too, but Macbeth is the confirmed killer, because we're with him almost the whole time. What she does, is she shows herself a witch (unlike Macbeth, who needs to be shown one, or three). She knows chemistry, sifting drugs in her posset to incapacitate the guards of Duncan in swinish sleep, occult and heavy-doomed. There’s a character in the Odyssey, the witch-goddess Circe, who invites half the crew of Odysseus’s VERY LAST BOAT to feast on cheese and meal sweetened with honey, and wine laced with a potion that turns them all into pigs. Only Odysseus’ lieutenant escapes to tell him, and Hermes warns him on the way to the rescue that she’s not to be trusted and will try and take his manhood, but can be resisted. Circe is impressed and promises to turn the beasts into men if Odysseus will make love to her. In another book of the Odyssey, Odysseus is captured by the sea nymph Calypso. They make passionate love for seven years. Then Odysseus leaves her to go back to his wife. They maybe have some kids, somewhere along the line. So Lady Macbeth almost certainly knows more things, a greater number of things, than her husband with the dull brain. Whether that means she knows MORE than Macbeth, is up for debate and worth discussing.

She initiates the plan, she sets Macbeth on, and she begins its final act. And then she disappears, and it's the apocalypse. Which makes Young Siward's death such an interesting opportunity for an actor. It's the only murder that occurs in the play after Lady Macbeth is dead. And once he dies, Macbeth says "Thou wast born of woman." Which is a strange and awful way to taunt someone as you kill them. It's a very brief moment, but they have a relationship in death. And we get to determine the dynamic of power between them.

The progression of our protagonists really is fascinating. Lady starts out in a full-on demonic possession unsexing herself to achieve the murder of a king, but when we leave her, there is something childlike and delicate and fragile about her, which humanizes her in an unexpected and overwhelming way. Whatever those O, O, O's end up being, they contain the wrought and wrung out total of Lady Macbeth's humanity. Birth, Suffering, Death, Petite Mort. Macbeth has a similar effect, although in some ways himself reversed. He STARTS OFF quasi-childish, but with an outsized vision of the world, which includes trumpet tongued angels and all the rest. As the play goes on, he becomes more virile, no longer requiring his Lady's spur to action, but it's almost as if the expansive space his imagination granted to us and him has declined, or been poured out over the course of the play. To the point that the very firstlings of his heart become the firstlings of his hand. Again, there's something admirable and impressive about this zealous decisiveness and the strength of his will, but we get less and less nuanced examinations by Macbeth of his increasingly brutal murders. It's almost as if he's become a hostage to his desires and imaginings. Imagine having the kind of power where anything you envision is instantly realized in the world. There's something horrifyingly vertiginous about that. And the Macbeth we watch becomes LESS conscious as the play goes on, as he's increasingly cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in by what he sees as the necessities of his circumstances.



Regarding Malcolm, I wonder how important it is to disambiguate Malcolm (or Donaldbain). Not necessarily as an actor but as an audience member. He doesn’t really have much to recommend him. At the murder, he speaks five lines of questionable emotion, feelings conflicted, and then runs away. He’s the rightful heir because Duncan said he was Prince of Cumberland before he was killed, but that’s about it. In this sense, saying he’s the man for the job is a rather low compliment and hardly worth the trip to jolly ol’ England.

But give him the chance to talk, and he’s got a tongue on him. 4.3 is the reverse of 3.4, the Macbeths’ hell-banquet which is the last scene in Act 3 that really makes sense, so it might not be a coincidence. The rest is Hecate and Lennox-whispers. The scene has a gilded or golden sheen to it. We’ve had trouble determining if it’s a Holy Light or the reflection of the crown, I think. But that is baked into the character. He’s an equivocator, equally convincing as the rogue or the saint.

It’s a very elaborate bargaining scene, stirring one another to action. Qualifying Kingship. Confronted with self-comparisons, point against point. Raising the stakes until it’s become the sacrificial mass of MacDuff and his entire household, a male witches’ Black Mass that scours and cures Scotland of Macbeth’s diseased presence.

“Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.” Is he talking about Duncan or Lucifer? “Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, Yet grace must still look so.” Not be so. Even his most striking image, “Nay, had I power, I should Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell” has a double meaning. He could be speaking of casting all harmony into the riot of tyranny, but he could also be pouring the sweet milk of concord, the milk that Lady Macbeth had taken for gall, into hell to neutralize it and quench its flame and furies. But if it’s good, why would it “Uproar the universal peace, confound All unity on earth.” ("If ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success, Commencing in a truth?" Malcolm may be thinking, of these men offering to make Malcolm king) What if commencing in a lie, which later you recant and abjure?

‘Tis hard to reconcile.

And then we come to Macduff, in many ways  the warlike Apocalyptic Christ to the meek and humble Lord Jesus. The Word (Malcolm) made beefy, Scottish flesh. (Gross.) There are other parallels, though. We're more accustomed to Sweet Surfer Jesus in our day and age, but in the times in which Shakespeare wrote and Macbeth lived, their vision of Christianity was much different from ours. It was a militant faith, from the Crusades to the religious wars of succession that contextualize Shakespeare's life and work. 

The folklore of that more medieval time was that when Christ was crucified, he descended to the gates of hell where he met a devil porter named Rybald, whom he of course rebuked and burst the gates of hell open, to free the souls of your various heaven-worthy personalities from the underworld. Abraham and the lot.  Pretty similar to what happens in 2.3, except by opening the door to hell, we have to stay in hell until Macduff delivers Scotland.

And he does do it by a certain image of crucifixion. The soldiers he and Old Siward bring into England cut down the trees and rush to "memorialize another Golgatha." There's even an early Church tradition before the "Four Gospels" were canonized that Jesus was rejoicing in being crucified and does a whole dance with all his disciples at the Last Supper. That it's the great, transcendent fulfillment of his life and the cross is just the ladder to divinity. For all intents and purposes, riding off into the sunset shooting his pistols in the air. This is the kind of blood tradition a race of warriors might make meat out of. 

Now, I'm not bringing up this stuff to suggest that Macbeth is a Christian allegory. There's just as solid a framework to make for a Pagan Nature fable, as one for instance, with us following Macbeth from the dawning of spring to the height of summer until he becomes ruinous Old Man Winter. I'm suggesting the Christian interpretation because it places the drama onto a larger backdrop than that of an individual tyrant's rise and fall. Shakespeare's stage was full of morality plays, where an individual's nature is fallen through sin, and then is redeemed or punished by God. Start to finish, complete in its trajectory. Which is a simplified reduction of the Christian religion. If you go further and look at the larger Judeo-Christian tradition, though, it's much more cyclical and problematic and lacking a solution that doesn't involve discounting human nature, and pride, and vaulting ambition. The Chosen People sin, God visits a calamity upon them until they repent and return to the faith. God delivers them and then they sin again. 

This cyclical progression-without-progression (again suggesting the natural cycle of the seasons) underlies the entire structure of the play and, I think, adds to its nightmare quality. I remember being actually disquieted when I watched the Patrick Stewart version and after they show the cleared sets once it’s over, they cut to Macbeth and Lady, hand-in-bloody-hand descending an elevator, and I thought, “Oh no, they’re back.” The beginning is STRIKINGLY similar to the end of Macbeth. The murderous traitor is dismembered, the King gives out titles (English titles, too. Presumably, everyone was a Thane, a cousin, a kinsman, until Duncan named Malcolm Prince of Northumberland. Henceforth, we’ll all be earls.), and we await the next calamity. 

That sounds pessimistic. Well, it is a tragedy.


Now, how do I think all this academic nonsense should inform our performances? I have no idea, but I think it may allow us to draw back and imagine for ourselves roles that are not just characters who strut and fret their hour on the stage, but as eternal actors who shift and contend with each other always, and we’re just showing you a little bit of it here tonight. With enough breathing room to ask whether we think Macduff or Malcolm see a difference between justice and vengeance. 

There have always been both courageous and cowardly messengers. Likewise for the doctors in the different courts, one facing a tyrant, who must know full well that doctors don’t fare well in tyrants’ courts. Jews and Doctors. The members of the intelligentsia, they’re the first to go. And what kind of Soldier are you, after all? Or to try and find in yourself which part of you is Lennox the spy, because we all have a little bit of a spy in us. We know how to act like a spy, because we know what a spy is, and so he or she is already in our head. Now we just have to perfect it, on the stage.


I've been reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, which is one of the sources we know for certain that Shakespeare drew inspiration from. And you can absolutely tell. The style of poetry is very reminiscent of his, I was really shocked to discover.  I came across this passage that I think might be illuminating for our witches , so I thought I'd share it with y'all, because it echoes Shakespeare's presentation of the witches/Hecate, but in a way that, I think, may even be more horrifying. It takes place in the Greek/Roman pantheon, but in some ways, Kali is similar to Juno, who is Zeus/Jove's much maligned and very vengeful wife. When she wants to attack some married devotees, Ino & Athamas, of the rival god Bacchus, she descends into the Underworld in order to rouse the Furies to drive them mad. Just as a note, Latin doesn't have articles, so the translation can seem kind of stilted, but after reading it for a while, you get into the rhythm and it actually feels very natural, almost primal. 

So! Juno just gave the snake-haired Furies their mission, and the leader Tisiphone, is getting ready to embark.

at once nasty Tisiphone takes torch soaked
in blood, dons robe dripping gore, & snake-wrapped
leaves house: Mouring & Fear, Terror & Madness
(face twitching) accompany her; she stands on threshold:
the Aeolian doorposts tremble (they say); dullness infects
the maple doors; sun abandons sky; horrors
scare Ino; Athamas, terrified, tries to leave,
can't: Fury, awful, blocks exit; arms
twisted with snakes reach out; hair shakes
making snakes hiss; down shoulders, on breasts,
snakes: sibilant, spitting poison; tongues flashing

Fury tears two from hair, tosses them (hands
contaminated) onto breasts of Ino & Athamas: sliding around,
exhaling heavy breath: no bites on body:
only minds feel bit: monster-poisons
added: froth from Cerberus-mouths, Hydra-virus,
illusions, dark-minded forgetfulness, wickedness, tears,
madness, the urge to kill; all mixed together
with fresh blood, stirred with green hemlock
& cooked in bronze pot

pours fury-venom on both chests (terrified)
deep into hearts; then, in circle of fire, she swings
fiery torch back & forth quickly, continuously;
successfully; job done as ordered, she returns
to great Dis hollow realms; & ungirdles snakes

suddenly Athamas, in place & mad, yells:
"Nets out here, guys, in woods: seems
I saw lioness & two cubs here";
crazy, tracks wife's steps as if she were beast;
grabs son Learchus from mother's lap, little
arms outstretched, smiling: swings him like sling
& smashes baby head hard against rock;
mother, disturbed by grief or poison, howls,
runs, hair flowing, deranged, holding
you, little Melicerta, in bare arms
& yelling, "Hey, Bacchus!" 

There's obviously the parallel (plagiarism!?!?) with the reveal of a baby's head being smashed emerging so shockingly and suddenly from the poetry, and the list of ingredients used is reminiscent of the double double scene. Even the "sun abandons sky" places us in the same atmosphere as Macbeth and "no bites on body: only minds feel bit" really reminds me of "Full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife." So I wanted to share it with you to shine a light on what's similar and what's different between this presentation and our witches, and in case it opens any new doors for you (or honestly, for Lady Macbeth, since these are the types of powers she's invoking and communing with, and she does end up going mad in a similar fashion), and also to bring up the unexplored possibility of the witches having animal companions. Snakes are the obvious choice, but throughout history and folklore, witches are almost always seen with some kind of animal familiars. Black cats and the like. I'm not sure how we could make that possible in our theater, but even some kind of suggestion or representation of it could be very powerful or off-putting for our audience.

Who are the murderers?  The question is never answered, directly. They’re never given names, never given a motivation, never given any more of an identity than the worst deed that they perform onstage. They’re portrayed in different productions variously as pathetic and coerced by Macbeth out of fear or want, stooges manipulated out of their own stupidity, or cartoonish villains who simply enjoy the ghastly act of killing. All of these are supportable by the text, mostly because they have so few lines. They are shrouded by their reticence.

But we do receive a psychological profile, for lack of a better term, of these two in the scene with Macbeth, or at least a self-conscious projection: 
“I am one, my liege, / Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world / Hath so incensed that I am reckless what I do / To spite the world.”  
“And I another, / So weary with disasters, tugged with fortune, / That I would set my life on any chance / To mend it or be rid on’t.”
I use the following language not to indicate a religion specifically (these guys would obviously all be as “Christian” as anyone else in 11th century Scotland) but because of its proximity to our circumstances “in the real world” and because it seems like Georges is listing in this direction for these characters as well. But that is exactly the psychology of the jihadist and the suicide bomber, respectively. Rage and Despair. If we were inclined towards them politically, they could be called Freedom Fighter and Martyr, but it’s very hard to apply to them any high-mindedness or nobility when we’re in their presence.


And why not? Well, the answer is obvious enough: they kill women and children and Banquos. And the latter not on a battlefield, as soldiers, but in a nighttime ambush on the way to a feast.  So they are evil men, yes? Well, yes, but in order to make it interesting, we have to wonder HOW they are evil and, more globally, what the nature of that evil is.

I just finished reading a book called Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (very highly recommended) which is a collage of interviewees speaking about their lives spent in Communist or Post-Communist Russia. One of the storytellers, a young man, describes a night spent drinking with his future father-in-law while he was visiting his fiancée’s family. His father-in-law, after many rounds of vodka, reveals to his new family member that he had been a torturer in the Soviet prison camps and took delight in enumerating his methods to his son-in-law until he was physically sick and fearful. He wasn’t sorry, he said, because fear, fear of the power of the State and what it can do to punish disloyalty, is the essential ingredient for peace. The terrorizers and executioners are able to view themselves as good people, are able to answer the old question “How do you sleep at night?” not because they think of themselves as innocent of any crime, but because they truly believe that although they voluntarily discard their own humanity and deny it to their captors and victims, the fear that they induce in the People makes possible the very conditions on which humanity itself is reliant. 

Now, that’s just one way that “evil” can manifest, and it may be asking a bit too much of our murderers to be so socially minded (although, again, maybe not). And not to suggest that our murderers must have a Russian soul, but Dostoevsky explored murder in a more general sense with Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. He kills an old woman, a moneylender, for a piddling sum of money which he then buries under a rock to avoid detection and never makes use of. He’s a brilliant young law student before he drops out of college and isolates himself in the tiny, cramped bedroom apartment where he plans the crime. His justification for it when asked by a rival, is that there are some individuals who are so great that the laws of ordinary folks simply do not apply to them. That, in fact, they are invited to break these laws in order to usher in the advancement of a new age, made in their image. Is that self-perception at the core of the murderers, a murderer, any murderer?

Macbeth, it goes without saying, is a murderer. But is he the same kind of murderer as these two? He only kills Duncan and Young Siward in the text, all the rest of his many killings are performed by the murderers. And how many murderers are there, anyway? In our production, of course, the murderers will be played by the same actors throughout. But is murdering contagious? When it’s placed as the foundation of order in a society, can’t we expect it to spread to more and more people? A quick look at history, a quick look at Syria or any other society engulfed in civil war, points to that being the case. (edited)

There’s a concept called Stochastic terrorism:
“Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.  In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf. This is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.”
People were accusing Trump of this tactic as well when he made his “Second Amendment People” comment (He said that second amendment people could maybe “do something” if Hillary were elected). I bring up Trump to compare him with Macbeth. I don’t think Act 3, Scene 1 is exactly that kind of tactic, because it’s very clearly directed at these two characters, not just sent out as a mass communication to anyone who’ll listen. But the more I read it, the more I think something truly strange is happening, in a hypnotic/mind-control/subliminal messaging sense. Were these two characters murderers before they walked in the door, or did Macbeth turn them into murderers with his rhetoric? They don’t seem terribly experienced when they botch Banquo's and Fleance’s killing, although they certainly seem to have found their stride by the time they reach Macduff’s castle. They enter and Macbeth speaks in prose, and the murderers confine themselves to one line responses until they say “We are men, my liege.” At which point Macbeth has his long monologue about dogs in poetry, and the murderers respond in multi-line poetry, as well. Are they imitating his style (the way we were talking about Seyton, his most loyal follower, doing in our last rehearsal)? The speech, too, is a strange simultaneous debasement and elevation, like Make America Great Again is. You are awful, mongrels, because you deserve to be better.

Dramaturg:  Matthew James McMullen / Photo Credit:  Devron Enarson



"To live, and not know why cranes fly...": 3 Sisters and the art of escape

The unhappy are egotistical, base, unjust, cruel, and even less capable of understanding one another than are idiots. Unhappiness does not unite people, but separates them...
— A.P. Chekov

In preparing for this blog post I examined the poetics of Chekov, delved into a bit of Russian history, took a couple of detours into currency differences between one year and another, Gold standards, and even the significance of voluminous facial hair in the Russian literary canon. But of all the books I’ve read, articles I’ve scanned hastily in the moments between work and trips down to Pilsen, the above quote seems to encompass Chekov’s characters more than anything else I’ve found.

And maybe this is why our new production of 3 Sisters creates such an interesting dialogue with the original work: Ultimately it’s about happiness. Adapted by Andrej Visky, myself, and an enigmatic bearded fellow who offered his services for a couple of beers and an arcane, dusty box I found in my grandmothers basement, full of broken chess pieces and several black and white photographs of medical anomalies; the work pictures the titular sisters wading through a mass of memories at the ending of Chekov’s play. Suspended between total emotional annihilation and perpetuating their lifelong delusions, the sisters work through the implications of their past and a means to break free from it. It’s a theatrical event horizon; circling round and round a singular future point, they prod at the edges of escape.  

But these are not merely Chekov’s three sisters, doomed to repeat the same performance over and over again. This is perhaps one of the most basic truths I have learned through my years in the theatre; repetition is not necessarily the creation of the same scenario but the ability to find something new within that sameness. In this way by returning to past events our sisters come to realize “why they are alive, why they suffer”, by directly contending with their collective trauma. They attempt to step forward from our Chagall blue set into a real life, with agency, force, and above all a desire to find happiness. Unable to accept the crushing verdict at the end of Chekov’s original, our sisters discover the condition that he identified in them but did not, because of the naturalistic nature of his work, change.


Like it or not, art always regards life as a celebration.
— Kertesz Imre


Maybe the biggest difference between what we’ve done and a traditionally staged, Moscow Art Theatre Chekov, is to make our sisters thoroughly theatrical creatures. Even before Andris came up with the concept of repeating the text, which makes the sisters actors in their own lives, this was integral to the project. Andris interviewed each actress about her life, and I transcribed the text. The original intent was to use the text as part of the play, and though they only inspired parts of the final process, they blended into the way we saw each character. Each sister became a composite, both actress and acted, though sometimes it’s unclear which is which.

This ambivalence manifests itself in play. Chekov’s text is already opaque, but taking away all the men and creating a scenario where this is the second time around, creates a Swiss cheese of a text where nearly anything can happen, and has to, to fill in the holes made by our little acts of textual violence. Masha converses with a whining dog in place of her husband. Andrei has a cameo as a huge yellow exercise ball that hides underneath the folds of the set. The sister’s dance at first with each other, and then an orange-gelled ERS spotlight they call ‘Vershinin’. It’s all wonderfully absurd, and if asked if it was fun to make, I’d respond that it was a joy. It may, or may not, succeed. That’s the danger of all experimental art. But it is these wonderful moments of absolute ridiculousness within the process that signify we’ve actually caught hold of something.

Joy is, against the diagnosis of many critics, what the Prozorov sisters most need. Most see the mental vista of Moscow as a manifestation of their hopelessness, Chekov’s cynical commentary on the false utopias that we create for ourselves. Forever striving for something that is both unrealistic and unattainable, we allow the image of the future blind us, and so, like the sisters, seal ourselves off to a life of egotism, of unhappy marriage, and the inability to realize any form of agency besides the cultivation of bitterness.

Our production disagrees with this interpretation, or at least I do. The tragedy of the Three Sisters occurs when they give up hoping for a life beyond their current situation. When they decide that they will never go to Moscow, a pronouncement that’s even more ridiculous than Irina’s statement at the end of act three that “nothing on earth is better than Moscow.” They are horrible at enacting their hopes, it’s true. But that does not necessarily make those hopes detrimental. It is only in the end of the play that hope falls deflated to the ground. Ironically, it is here, where they abandon the specter of Moscow, where they have the greatest possibility of going. Moscow is not symbolic of foolish hope, but hope long deferred and then abandoned just when the potential for upheaval is the greatest. It is perhaps the best example of anticlimax in theatrical history.

Our deconstructive reversal which makes the Prozorov’s all run away and become actresses, is entirely unrealistic. It seems to tell of the spiritual and emotional journey of our actress’ more than their characters. But it is our way of injecting Chekhov’s sisters with an antidote to the diagnosis of unhappiness, of giving them another Moscow that they can actually pursue. For most of us, an economically sound career in the arts is just as elusive as the semi-mystical city that the sisters remember from their childhood. There are more failures than there are success, and more faults in us than we can name.

But for those of us who choose this life, giving up is just as unthinkable. We have to have our Moscow, because without it we have nothing. 

Ensemble Building

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about the workshop Theatre Y hosted with Georges Bigot, about our plan to produce Macbeth together, and the seeding in our minds of an ensemble based company, a utopian dream that we were going to bring into reality. It was partially Georges’ fault, partially our own. In a sea of actors and theaters who shout “compromise with the system,” we raised our tiny voices and responded “No. A new theater is needed. A new system.”

Unfortunately, utopia is quite a bit easier to think about than enact. Mental assertion is easy, but the effort and time needed to convert idea into reality is not a resource everyone has. Georges’ production of Macbeth will open in October of this year. The ensemble’s training begins a month after he leaves, three day long intensives, from ten in the morning to ten at night each month, to familiarize ourselves with the text. We repeatedly improvise different staging of proposed scenes, argue hotly about the text, and, of course, dance.

The dancing is, by the way, an extraordinarily rich process that I will write more about at length later, from a more objective, analytical perspective. These progress blogs, however, are an attempt to bring the reader along with us, give a ground level picture of the process as it happens.

Not everyone can commit to a yearlong ensemble and play building process. When it is time for the second intensive, a good five members of the initial cast drop out, for various reasons. Some live in the suburbs and are too inconvenienced by the drive.  Others dislike the fact that we won’t be cast until Georges gets back in May.

A week after the second intensive, we get word that Georges is flying back, on his own dime, to check up on us. We scramble to memorize lines, remember exactly the rules that he taught us for working with him. But while we work, Georges wants to talk, mainly about practicalities. Are we going to do this? Are we sure, really sure, that we understand what we’re getting into?

Maybe we don’t. But we each nod our assent anyway, assuring ourselves that we soon will. This is what Georges has taught us. To present the proposition and find our way through it as best we can, working through each moment of the scene until it is true. If we lie, it is because it’s impossible to proceed without lying. It is an act of faith, rather than truth. 

 Georges reiterates before he leaves, over and over again, that thirteen people is not enough to stage his Macbeth.

By that time the next month we’re down to eleven.

I miss auditions. I have my own reasons, but it feels like the hinge that either holds, or snaps, sending all we’ve built tumbling into that subtle in-between of failure and not quite success, which is a worse fate than either of the two extremes. And I won’t be there to set it swinging.

So I get to the first intensive in February fifteen minutes before it starts, at Voice of the City’s performance space. It is a serviceable site to do our work, a black-ish box with lime green walls and a bar at the end that I’ve run into dancing more than once. But it has heat, unlike some of the other spaces we’ve been using, so none of the new actors will get scared off or turn into popsicles before the first day ends. “Never neglect the little things of life,” as Beckett once said.

My leg jiggles uncontrollably as the newcomers trickle in. The alien faces are timid, finding seats apart or in clusters. The older members of the ensemble sweep in and sweep up greetings and hugs. Already a gap is forming. It is an unintentional gap, to be sure, but it will be one we’ll have to close as soon as possible. In an ensemble, it’s not possible to have people who are in the loop and people who aren’t. If we want these twenty-four actors to stay with us, we won’t be able to show such preference.

I collect my hugs with all the rest. It’s contradictory, but I don’t care. 


The first weekend of intensives is designed to simulate what the year, with and without Georges, will be like. We throw everything we have at them as soon as introductions are through. Weird French pop songs, extemporaneous Macbeth monologues, and an exercise appropriated from a couple of Serbian choreographers called “Making Manipulation,” which requires an actor to lie absolutely still while strangers manhandle their limbs.

Within the work itself, we make some progress. The work is perhaps more experimental than Georges tends, and we harbor many different propositions for specific scenes as the two weeks roll by. It is especially difficult as these are some of the hardest scenes to ‘find’ the characters in named thanes, that Shakespeare has ripped from the histories arbitrarily for the construction of his plays. No one knows who, or what, a Menteith is. Caithness sounds like he should be fighting in a dystopian reality show, not in some random Scottish war at the turn of the last millennium.

The second week comes with more certifiable success, though it takes a tremendous amount of time to find. The final fight between Macbeth and Macduff poses a huge challenge to get through without choreography. We abstract the scene, have the witches come in and fling water at them, to symbolize blood. This version is horrible. In between one run and another I suggest that they get down on the floor and do some Indian leg wrestling. No one seems to take the suggestion at face value. Finally, we discover that perhaps Macbeth doesn’t fight Macduff at all. Perhaps he’s so deranged, so far gone, that the scene is not a fight but instead a slow execution, revenge for Macduff’s wife and children that Macbeth ignores because he believes he is invincible. The last blow leaves me shaking.

The actors take to the work more quickly, I feel, than we did at the beginning. It is difficult to know what Georges would say in this situation. None of us have his fire, his abruptness, his expectation that you get it right, and get it right now! We wait patiently while everyone has finished their exercise and then give our critiques. It is difficult to prepare everyone for something that even we ourselves don’t know, or quite understand. WWGS (What Would Georges Say) has become the motto of the day. One of the new members even comments that he feels this is a sort of “second coming situation,” the disciples of the master, practicing their technique in secret until he finally arrives to reward them for their long, loyal struggle.

“He’s coming,” Melissa retorts, almost angry. “He’s no Godot.”



This is a place marker. A complex process which, when started, has no single end, but only small ones that spark off and die by themselves as the greater mass rushes forward. At this point I do not know whether we are a spark or a mass. I do not know which way we are turning, whether we are facing up down, east, west, or if, in this space, those directions even have meaning. After two intensives, we still have twenty two new ensemble members ready to meet Georges. Like minds, that desire the same thing we do.

But there are no guarantees, as with anything. Even less so, teetering as we are on a precipice like this. It may be odd, but I actually think this is necessary, now. That we be allowed to fear, and feel it, take it with us onstage, but make it heel.

Our new ensemble members are some of the best adapted actors for this work I have seen in this city. But I still keep my fear with me.

Fear in art is the lingering scent that you are on to something interesting. 

Lolita - Young Matrix, Unknown Heart

“Please, reader: no matter your exasperation with the tenderhearted, morbidly sensitive, infinitely circumspect hero of my book, do not skip these essential pages! Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me; try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity; let's even smile a little. After all, there is no harm in smiling...”

Vladamir Nabokov- Lolita

This is a confession: I am exactly the kind of person who Humbert Humbert wants to reach in his self-described confession. Intoxicated by the mere sound and visceral feeling of words on the palette, I willingly overlook the crimes of Nabokov’s narrator and am not, as ethicists argue I should be, entirely disgusted with him. Instead, I marvel at him. I inhale the delectable images, the depth of his passions, and find myself drawn in.

I find myself admiring a pederast, because he loves beautifully.

When Peter Steeves, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul, and President of Theatre Y’s board of directors, asked us if would perform a twenty five minute rendering of Lolita for his “Making the Novel Novel” series, I jumped at the chance. The name of the book inspires such division that, despite my limited knowledge of the novel, it was exciting to be part of the discourse.

I also fully understood Peter’s reasoning behind his presentation of the book. That H.H.’s real crime is not his rape and imprisonment of a 12 year old girl, but his misogyny. Replaced with a woman of legal age, his crimes would be no less appalling, and in fact reveal behavior that is fairly common. He hurts, and then attempts to make himself more lovable by showing how hurt he is by his own actions. How regretful he is. This is the language of a circular, abusive relationship, of codependency that sustains itself not in spite of, but because of abuse. Remorse covers up, and allows the pattern to continue until it ends, often brutally.

Lolita play 2.jpg

Nabokov also uses the language of traditional, romantic discourse, whose passion often covers up the questionable behavior of its writer. By transferring this language to the love of a girl under the age limits of what is societally acceptable, he stoops under our defenses. He problematizes this discourse, but also brings H.H’s actions down to a level where they are more acceptable, because we are allowed to feel with him.

However, this was obviously not Nabokov’s intent. In fact, when he was alive he made it very clear that he balked against any piece of literature in which he detected a social or moral lesson. “…Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only in so far as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, in that sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”

Lolita play 4.jpg

An author’s intent, as Adorno, among other 20th century philosophers have pointed out, has little to do with the context or content of an artistic work.  And yet I think it is important to dwell on his objection. Lolita is one of the most contentious novels of the past century, and it is so because it allows so many different interpretations. It is about pedophilia, it is about poetry, it is about normative sexual relationships, anarchy, and even about America. None of these are mutually exclusive. To argue for an interpretation can clarify certain aspects of the text. But to argue that there is a single interpretation does violence to the raw text. H.H.’s self-condemnation gives Lolita a moral slant. But the pathology of the meta-novel, its obvious fictionality, obscures it. Nabokov distances our moral condemnation through his mastery of the poetic form. Thus, the novel rests in ambiguity.

Lolita play 3.jpg

As a theorist, I do have a preferred interpretation of the text. But as an artist, my task as I saw it was to create something that aped the novel, while at the same time bringing something new to the table. Instead of making a piece that favored one particular interpretation, I decided that formal novelty was the best option. Lolita Remixed in the form of a textual collage, sampling significant portions of the novel and of Kubrik’s film adaptation. With the text in hand, Evan (playing H.H.) and Melissa (Playing Lo) have created a performance that is at once utter blasphemy to Nabokov’s technical structure, but simultaneously retains the novel’s emotional heart and poetic imagination.  By inverting, scrambling the novel, we hope to do what Humbert Humbert, with his beard and his putrefaction, could not: apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys… 

Georges Bigot Workshop

As recounted by Theatre Y's new Dramaturg Dan Christmann
Georges Bigot performing at the Theatre du Soleil in Helene Cixous nine hour epic    The Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk King of Cambodia

Georges Bigot performing at the Theatre du Soleil in Helene Cixous nine hour epic

 The Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk King of Cambodia

What is my text?

Make some sort of proposition.

For my text?

Sure, why not propose something, that’s all there is. It’s for the work. It’s the base to begin. You’ll rewrite the whole thing again in fifteen minutes anyway. So make something. Propose it.



“What do we want to say about this Bigot thing?”

Evan Shrugs. “I don’t know. Its. It’s not even a thing at this point, as far as I know.” He reaches over with his fork and spears a piece of French toast from Melissa’s plate, just as she takes a sliver off of the duck tacos on his. This exchange has been going on for the past fifteen minutes without anyone realizing it, or at least no one is mentioned it, and so it seems like there is some sort of unspoken equilibrium between the two of them that always has to be balanced, scales weighed, justice measured. Evan wipes his mouth on one of the many suit jackets he always wears, and keeps right on going through the food, his hands flowing through the air as if to demonstrate each nonexistent point. “We might be doing Shakespeare, we might be doing something else with him. But anyway, there’s a workshop Melissa has going with Georges at the end of the month or so, so maybe he could come to that?

He glances over at Melissa. Her face lights up. “Oh yes, of course, that’s perfect Buddy!” I like talking with these two, but it’s especially entertaining to watch Melissa’s face when an idea strikes her. You can almost see the process from consideration to unrestrained joy, from zero to fifty, from seed to blossom.

“Sure.” I nod. Probably I am unconsciously pulling at my facial hair. Laconic, as always. Do I have any questions about the workshop? A few. Do I have any thoughts about my role? Maybe. But, because I am a kind, affable soul who tends to acquiesce to everything, all of the answers satisfy me. We go on to talk about other projects, which excite me more at the time. A new Andràs Visky play, an integral role in organizing the company’s season. I do not even know who Georges Bigot is, and the Theatre du Soleil I have heard of maybe once or twice in passing, and, since I do not remember much about them, don’t interest me particularly. If I don’t remember, it must not be interesting, right?


 But I am off of my text.

“Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face?”

No, by the rood, not so. But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture…


 Monsieur Bigot, when I first meet him, reminds me of what would happen if Peter Lorre and Sean Connery had a love child who, estranged from his famous fathers, grew up in France, and developed all of the quirks and verbal habits that a Frenchman speaking broken English inevitably develops. He is shorter than I imagined, and balder too. But his face is remarkably plastic, and the wrinkles around his eyes emanate a kind of effortless grace that has characterized his entire acting career. I shove my hands deep into my pockets as we walk from the airport terminal to Melissa’s car, and keep my thoughts to myself. I am a hermetic sphere bobbing through velvet black of the benthic zone.

By and large this characterizes my interaction with Georges, even throughout the workshop. But you can’t remain an impenetrable singularity in work like this, even if it is your job, more than anything, to sit and absorb. Little by little, you participate whether you want to or not, contribute and are permeated. Georges, I think, takes unresponsive introverts like me as a personal challenge.

I could be bounded in a nutshell and call myself the king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

 These dreams begin essentially as ensemble work. There are about twenty five of us in the workshop, though we are never all together at once. This Irks Georges. But nevertheless, he makes us get up and dance. First we do so individually, and then in groups, with a single person as the chorus leader, who the rest follow in movement. But he doesn’t want us to dance, not really. The intent here is to “follow the score, or the text”.  You move as the music interpenetrates you. It is a model of how we are to work with Shakespeare’s text, not to plan forward, but to react, along the contours of each line, to take each turn no matter how sharp or unforeseen.

We spend some time on other exercises as well. We group together and improvise soundscapes. We play games to keep us sharp. But soon it devolves into scene work. Georges is unforgiving in the way he side coaches, yelling out directions from the front of the house to move now, find the internal state, make a proposition, and for the love of god, don’t go home! He communicates as best he can, but there are communications issues that even Bob, the dramaturg and temporary translator, can’t get past. There are a specific set of rules that he has to pound into us before a scene will go forward, and he will sometimes stop a scene even before a word has been said if you aren’t following those rules. After the first week, many of us are confused and frustrated. Fewer and fewer of us show up consistently.


 But there are moments of brilliance. Breakthroughs occur, and for those of us who are there to catch those sparks, they illuminate a whole depth of technique and experience that we cannot see to the bottom of. A couple of us slip and fall as we struggle toward the bottom. An actor punches the floor and cries while doing a scene from Macbeth. You can tell from his frustration that, like in me, there is something that resists the way Georges works. We want to have a plan. We want to have an idea and be right. Georges couldn’t care less about whether an idea is good or bad, fair foul, or foul fair. Many of us don’t know which way is up because of this. We hover through the fog and filthy air.

 As the work progresses, more and more of us are able to find our way in the charnel theatre space. We grow more comfortable with Georges, and each other. But as soon as we reach a plateau, Georges Sweeps the rug from underneath our feet and tells us that we have to go deeper. You give him an inch and he wants a mile. Each scene goes through a hundred different versions of itself. The three witches from Macbeth dance in on the blasted heath to Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds, a do-wop band from the late fifties.

 Two weeks into the process, we throw a party at Chuck’s house.  Like in the scenes that we are creating, we collaborate to finish off sixteen bottles of wine between the twelve or thirteen that are able to make it. The night is a kaleidoscope of limbs that dance spiderlike across my memory, of profound conversation, and song. We all trudge to rehearsal the next day with the legacy of the sulfates still hammering on our skulls. But we go on.

 At the beginning of the process, many of us were intimidated by Georges and by each other. But now we hang to each other like drunk sailors on the risers, watching whoever it is gets to perform that day. Going on becomes an act of being present. If it be not now, tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. If you can free yourself enough to get through a scene without Georges stopping you, you will be rewarded with a small cry of “Yes!” as he leans toward the stage. He reminds me of man people in the evangelical tradition, who vocalize their assent during prayer. But to him, I think, Theatre is a sort of prayer. It is good that we are working, at least for now, in an old worship area in the back of St. Luke’s, where you can see the arched windows and a cross or two even underneath the black paint.

Georges Waiting.jpg

Georges decides, on the last day, that when he returns from France in May, we will begin rehearsal on Macbeth.  But even before then, he instructs us to rehearse, continue working together so that we can all reach by that time the place that only a few of us have been able to get to. Because, in the end, this workshop has to go beyond itself, and is designed to go even beyond this show. From where I stand, it means the creation of a new, or at least more collective version of Theatre Y. It means, even with the loss of the space at St. Luke’s, a new jolt of energy for us. The way we’ve worked, and the connections that we’ve made, should hold, and give us the ability to go beyond where we’ve been before. I’ve heard Melissa call it a new chapter, but I think that’s true in ways that even she couldn’t imagine. It’s the gift that Georges leaves with us.



 Yes. Well, what do you think?

It was not so bad. But Dan, You must stand straight when you walk. And do not make your feet all Charlie Chaplin.

But I am not shaped for such sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking glass; I that am rudely stamped and want loves majesty to strut before a wonton ambling nymph-!

Ok, is very good, but you are looking always at the ground, so I do not receive this. Try again. From the beginning, ok? 


An Interview With Dramaturge Zsolt Láng

An acclaimed Hungarian writer and editor, dramaturge Zsolt Láng accompanied director Éva Patkó from Eastern Europe to bring Penelope from the French text to the English stage.

AD - What kind of writing do you primarily do?

ZL - Mostly fiction. I’ve written six novels along with some short stories. And I’ve written six or seven plays, a few of which have been translated and published in English.

AD - What themes do you tend to write about most?

ZL - I love history in Eastern Europe. And I find the relationships between women and men very interesting and enticing.

AD - So, having written both novels and plays, what do you think theatre can offer storytelling that fiction can’t?

ZL - If a play is going to be produced into a show, then the text is very similar to fiction. But, live theatre can offer something that’s more tangible. And I develop a different movement and feeling when I write for the stage than when I do for fiction. Fiction is more speculative – you can imagine many characters and such. But theatre is much more present.

AD - What exactly is your role as dramaturge?

ZL - I’m here for the text. A dramaturge’s work is to know how the text works into the show, and how show works into the text. So, for this show, Éva and I began by reading the text in French, its original language. Since this show is a translation, a lot of my work was to help Éva interpret and transform the text.

For example, in French, the text focuses more on the love story. But in English, it’s more a story about conflict between Father and son; the English is more technical, the English is more dramatic. Maybe because it’s the language of Shakespeare? Who is very dramatic.

But, French is more poetic. And it was very interesting to see the focus of the story shift during the translation process. In French, it’s a love story with Dinah and Elias clearly as the focus. In English, the text is now more about the relationship between the mothers and their sons – Nuritsa and Elias and Dinah and Theos. It’s interesting.

AD - What has made Penelope worth traveling from Eastern Europe?

ZL - I’m very curious to see how the show will be. Not nervous, but curious. I like how Theatre Y works. The actors and crew are very talented and committed, so we wanted to work with them.

One message of the show is that many times in our lives we repeat the lives of our ancestors. And history repeats through generations and generations. The strongest power that can stop this cycle is love; when a man loves a woman, this power can stop these tragic cycles. In the play, Elias repeats the cycle of violence in war. But afterwards, he doesn’t want to murder any longer. And his son, Theos, has fallen into this cycle because of how badly he wants to kill Ante. But Elias, by loving his son, saves Theos from a criminal lifestyle. By killing Ante himself, Elias breaks the cycle of violence to spare Theos from becoming a murderer.

This interpretation of the show is very interesting. Éva has made some changes so that the same actor plays both Elias and Theos. This decision to make them the same actor is very important because this relationship between son and father now has another angle of complexity. We can now ask how the life of father can affect the life of the son. We can  more deeply see the love between son and mother, father and mother. In this show, because one actor plays both characters, we see that in a mother’s love for her son is a woman’s love for her husband.

These are a few complexities and details, such as these messages, that made us excited for the show, that made it worth traveling for and committing to.