Friday, March 22, 2013

A revolution without a cause (Theatre - Neva by Guillermo Calderon)

Neva, by Chilean writer and director Guillermo Calderon, is about making drama in the context of revolution.  It is set in 1905, when the Czar's troops murdered civilians for demonstrating, an event that likely helped sow the seeds of the 1917 revolution. The great playwright Anton Chekhov has just died of tuberculosis.  His wife comes to St. Petersberg, still mourning him, to rehearse his Cherry Orchard.  What is the meaning of their drama made of personal loss and love when there is real drama, with life and death stakes, taking place in the street outside?  The actors demand scenes of each other, they concoct emotions from fantasy in order to escape the pain of their lives.  Then they just a quickly knock their fantasies down, criticize each other, and turn to gossip.  The turn-on-a-dime rollercoaster ride demanded of the cast would provide for tour-de-force peformances, but the cast is a little long on effort and a little short on real feeling.  The question of the uses of drama is a provocative one to ask in a theatre, with your play as the means of asking it, but I imagine it would have been very different to ask it in Chile. Because here one has no revolutions in the street. People make fortunes to live in Brooklyn, stress about their carbon footprints, and dress like they play for a grunge band.  The disjointed Occupy Wall Street movement lasted, what - five minutes - and disappeared in time for the election. Caldeon's demand of emotional acrobatics and effects like cold, rapid-fire delivery, and mock over-dramatization would have been useful foils in actors and for a public who are already charged with political emotion.  But here, where most people come to escape fighting for their ideals so that they can earn a living, and where artists mostly romanticize being political, what you end up seeing is the strain of these artists to be filled with meaning. Calderon would have needed to alter this production for our political and social context but was evidently not able to.  As a result, I could see what he wrote, but don't think this production gave us his play at all. 

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