Now that Communism is Dead my Life Feels Empty
Malthouse Theatre and Melbourne International Arts Festival
17 October 2006
Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse
There is nothing like the almost orgasmic feeling of being in a theatre when an audience applauds a show. The applause for Now that Communism is Dead my Life Feels Empty was NOTHING like that.
I listen to what audience members have to say about a show. This wasn’t the exciting extreme “lets discuss it” reactions caused by other festival productions – this was confusion, boredom and resentment. A complete stranger turned to me at the end and said, “that was excruciating”.
Now that Communism is Dead my Life Feels Empty is Richard Foreman 48th play and was first presented by Ontological-Hysteric Theater in 2001. The Kitchen Sink production is an original interpretation of the text. I read reviews, learnt about Ontological, spoke to people who have seen Foreman’s theatre and even downloaded the script. It took a lot of research to even grasp what this production was meant to be about. It’s quite clear in the original. This Communism included visual references to Foreman, but didn’t appear to reflect, resemble or resepct the original work.
Forman is known for his complex composition, his “turbulent ocean of multiplicity”. Robert Wilson (I La Galigo MIAF 06) is also known for his multiplicity. In a public lecture last week, Wilson described a production as being like a hamburger. All the elements can have opposing and differing textures, shapes and tastes, but together they are gratifying and delicious. Communism was like unsatisfying snack made from the leftover, stale, rotting and cheap ingredients found in a student share house fridge. It was the equivilent of a suburban musical society performing I La Galigo.
The direction and design did not reflect the complexity and multiplicity of the text. Director Max Lyandvert has worked with Romeo Castelluci (Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels MIAF 06). Castelluci’s positive influence is recognizable in the visual aspects of the work. However, where the visual language of Tragedia was powerful and layered with multiple interpretations, the visual aspects of Communism were cluttered and confusing.
Foreman doesn’t write narrative theatre. It is meant to be disorienting and non-senesical in a stream of consciousness kind of way. It’s also meant to be funny, being promoted as a “side splitting” comedy. I sniggered three times (I like the text), but I was alone. It is very strange to be the ONLY person in a full theatre who finds something funny. One actor resorted to visual humour. The pig nose of a face pushed up against perspex is always funny. It didn’t even raise a snicker.
Ben Winspear and Gibson Nolte both “performed” very well and I would like to see them in different works. What didn’t work was their a semi-naturalistic style. Grabs of naturalism made the audience want to search for character and meaning, instead of enjoying the flow of the script.
I am certain that the director and cast understand and love Foreman and his theatre, but they failed to share this understanding with the audience. I can hear them now saying that confusion, misinterpretation and alienation is what they were aiming for. Nonetheless, I read the New York Times review of the original production. It said how the audience faces reflected in the plastic screen on the stage were all smiling. The faces this night were grimacing. What is the point of theatre if you fail to share your stage world with the people sitting out front?
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.