There isn’t actually a lot I want to say about this show, because – like Dementia – it’s one of those productions I can patently see is very good and very polished and very well performed et cetera, but which doesn’t really resonate with me.
Certainly, director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota of Théâtre de la Ville has milked more out of this play than I thought there was when I read it or when I saw a LaSalle performance of it. The atmosphere with all the curtains and Brechtian props is kind of amazing – right between the verisimilitude of an actual stage in mid-production, crew running all over the place, and the surrealism of a dream or a melodrama from another age. And the fact that there’s a huge cast means we’re able to witness all the strange mirrorings going on: how there is an actor (and assorted crew members) supporting and imitating each of the Six Characters who appear out of nowhere, demanding to have their story told.
But I’ve never liked this script. This is partly because there isn’t a single really likeable character in the story – the corrupted Father, the weeping Mother, the lustful Stepdaughter, the dictatorial Director. (The Little Girl barely says anything and thus has no character to speak of: I feel very little when she drowns – although the fact that there’s a real little girl playing her here adds real oomph to the performance.)
Also, in spite of Keng Sen’s claim that this play can be read in a Post-Empires political manner… well, I don’t think it can.
Yes, the characters are lost and are fighting over their different versions of the story. Yes, dramatic conventions and social mores are being rocked to the core. (There’s even a flash of bare breasts and undies around ankles in this production, as the Stepdaughter and Father get caught mid-hump.)
But in the end, I feel the allegories don’t add up. These characters don’t stand for capitalism or socialism or the Tangut Empire. They’re fictions, first and foremost.
Nevertheless, in times like these, maybe some fiction is necessary. Reality has been feeling a little heavy of late.