Friday, January 25, 2013

PuSh 2013: Testament

Testament, one of three Shakespeare-themed works programmed as part of this year's PuSh Festival (and the first of two based on Lear), opened last night at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. It was a revelation, a highlight among the consistently excellent offerings I have seen at the Festival so far.

The brainchild of the Berlin-based theatrical collective She She Pop, these "Belated Preparations for a New Generation based on King Lear" features three members of the collective--Sebastian Bark, Mieke Matzke, and Ilia Papatheodorou--acting on stage with their own fathers (Joachim, Manfred, and Theo, respectively), all of them retired, and none with previous performance training or experience. (A fourth member of the group, Lisa Lucassen, also appears, although sans paterfamilias.) What could have quickly become an exhausted gimmick instead turns into a moving exploration of the always complex bonds of debt and obligation between father and child--bonds that we cannot help but read through the lens of our own filial relationships. What's more, the piece is surprisingly faithful to Shakespeare's text (which scrolls across a projection screen throughout the performance), revealing new depths to key passages and scenes, while also updating themes of inheritance and post-retirement care for a generation of aging Boomers and their kids.

Everything about this production is dramaturgically apt: from the use of live video monitors to frame the patriarchs' grizzled faces as portraits projected onto the upstage wall, to the use of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet "Something Stupid" as a leitmotif for what--to paraphrase the program notes--is the always delicate public negotiation of the terms of love's exchange between daughters and their fathers.

Testament runs for three more performances, and I believe there are lots of tickets left. I strongly recommend snapping some up, as this show will be the talk of the Festival.


1 comment:

diana s said...

I went to see it last night and agree heartily with your assessment. The three fathers (who have no acting training and one of whom had been derisive about his daughter's choice of acting as her profession) playing Lear collectively turns out to be a brilliant move. It's risky to see a _King Lear_ production these days because you never know in advance whether Goneril and Regan will be portrayed as monsters or as flawed human beings. _Testament_ not only humanizes them, but with the three father-daughter pairings gives additional insight into these characters.

My favorite part was when the physicist Manfred Matzke analyzed what was wrong with Lear's proposal to his daughters through physics equations and graphs. We found out during the talkback that the original equations were huge and had to be scaled back significantly for the show. Manfred was my favorite character, and we found out when he was negotiating with his daughter that he habitually walks around the house naked and playing the trumpet. He and the other dads were accomplished, passionate, and sweet human beings who would nevertheless need great amounts of care if they moved in with their daughters. This added another dimension to _Lear_ in that they showed him to be impressive, lovable, and yet totally annoying (I love the _idea_ of Manfred playing the trumpet naked, but if he did so while I was grading papers it would drive me crazy). Given that Shakespeare's Lear makes his proposal to his daughters at the very beginning of the play, we never get a sense of what he was like as a father, but _Testament_ wonderfully adds this dimension.

Here's hoping that She She Pop comes back every year to PuSh!