Dance star Mikhail Baryshnikov and famed movie actor Willem Dafoe headlined in The Old Woman at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, which ran from November 13-15, 2014. Directed by the highly acclaimed Robert Wilson, the production was an adaptation from stories of an individual recalling the haunting effects of an old woman’s death, the disintegrative effects of impending madness, and man’s futile response to circumstances which are beyond his control.
Guided by the avant-guard direction of Robert Wilson, both actors were eerily automated and demonic, engaging in fast paced interchangeable convesations set at varying speeds. The dialogue was pierced with staccato maniacal screams, repetitive klangs, and noises referencing the rembrance of all things past like Saturday morning cartoons. Staged with dazzling lights and sound effects accentuating askewed shaped stage sets which colored its props during its staged scenes, the comedic duo danced dressed in similar fashion, complete with garish Kabuki make-up, with both actors repeating the same mantra over and over again in similar and endless themes bordering on purgatory insanity. The success of the production was based on the core elements of sound, lighting and set design, brillantly executed by its sound and light directors, Marco Oliveri and Marcello Lumaca.
The Old Woman has been adapted by Darryl Pinckney from short stories by Daniil Kharms (1905-1942), a Russian predecessor and writer of the absurd, who was compared to Kafka but considered far more fragmentary and more intentional in his illogical paradigm. Born Daniil Yuvachev, he was, according to a program essay by Tony Wood, an Anglophile whose pen name melded the English words “harm” and “charm.” That double-edged pseudonym is appropriate to a double-edged style that compels high whimsy with higher anxiety. The Old Woman is reminiscent of great movements such as the Theatre of the Absurd, authored by Martin Esslin in his 1960 seminal essay. Such included motifs are fused with elements of histrionics evolved from a reenactment of when human existence had no teleological meaning or purpose, resulting in the schizoid break of all communication and hermneutic meaning with its great conflicted significations. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech at its ultimate conclusion of postured dead silence.
The term “absurd” can be applied widely but the basic theme is that man is futile against invisible outside forces; his reactions to his circumstances are often meaningless and repetitive. The examination of the human experience was critically explored by R. D. Laing from a phenomenological point of view, utilizing ideas from practice of psychotherapy against what the writer viewed as an existential distorted world. Challenging the idea of normality in modern society argues that it is not merely people who are mad, but the world as well. Laing wrote that psychosis is “a psychedelic voyage of discovery in which the boundaries of perception were widened, and consciousness expanded” confirming the view that the “mad” were merely the first explorers of the inner worlds where conveying meaning is drawn from its second world.
The Old Woman and its PT Barnumesque production of hermetic meaning will be circuiting globally, scheduled for festivals in Spoleto, Italy and Epidaurus, Greece, this month.
Questioning Kulture in Question
-Phantom Street Artist