Sunday, January 23, 2011

PuSh Review #4: In the Solitude of Cotton Fields at Performance Works

PuSh Acting Managing Director Kent Gallie said to me just before the Festival that he thought In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, which ended its run at Performance Works last night, might be this year's White Cabin. In other words, edgy, surreal, sensorially and emotionally extreme in a suitably Eastern European way. He was right.

In the Solitude is rising young Polish director Radoslaw Rychcik's bold new staging of a 1986 play by the late French writer Bernard-Marie Koltès. His generation's answer to Genet before his AIDS-related death in 1989, Koltès's work is known for the brutality of its themes and the lyrical poetry of its language. And, indeed, one of the extraordinary things about this production is how that poetry translates simultaneously via the actors' spoken Polish and via the projected English subtitles. Those subtitles were sometimes obscured by the puffs of white smoke billowing across the stage--including, unfortunately, during the final exchange of dialogue--but one is easily able to discern the broad parameters of the relationship unfolding before us.

Two men meet for some sort of illicit exchange. One, The Dealer (Wojciech Niemczk), has something to sell; the other, The Client (Tomasz Nosinski), wishes to buy. However, the object of this exchange remains unnamed. Is it drugs, sex, something else? It doesn't really matter, as the text informs us that the real subject of the play, and what both men are themselves subject to, is desire itself. Or, to put things in the proper psychoanalytical context, the desire to desire. The two men are bound together in terms of what each can give the other, but paradoxically their relationship is sustained only to the extent that their desire remains unfulfilled. It is this space of lonely, needful encounter--the cotton fields of the title, presumably--that this play explores, where the boundaries between men and beasts dissolve and where the requisite poses of humility (on the part of The Dealer) and hauteur (on the part of The Client) need to be adopted in order to maintain the fiction of reciprocity and an equal exchange of power.

All of this might appear tediously pretentious were it staged in a conventionally naturalistic way, and a production of this sort in 2002 in New York was savaged by the Times. However, Rychcik adapts the posturing and swagger implicit in the characters' competing monologues to the punk concert setting (a mini-theme at this year's Festival, what with Hard Core Logo: Live opening next week at the Rickshaw), complete with live musical accompaniment by the band Natural Born Chillers and dual downstage floor mikes into which the performers bark, scream, and hiss their lines, and in front of which they strut, dance, and pose. Dressed in matching mod suits, and with kohl-rimmed eyes (Nosinski) and eventually ruby-red lips (Niemczyk), the two performers were riveting from the moment they stepped on the stage and started to shimmy, groove, and bust to the music. The energy was electric, the atmosphere was loud, and the tension in the room did not let up until the performers' climactic embrace.

This is precisely the sort of performance that would not come through Vancouver without the PuSh Festival and, in this specific case, our wonderful co-producers, Pi Theatre. The enthusiastic reception by last night's audience is in part a recognition of this. That In the Solitude's concert/cabaret-style setting also inaugurated, to a certain extent, Performance Works as the venue for Club PuSh before its official opening next Wednesday was an added bonus. To that end, the Natural Born Chillers came back on stage after the performance for a late-night set to celebrate the end not just of this show's run, but an extraordinarily successful first week of the Festival.


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