“It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill – it’s a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider,” Vincent van Gogh once observed. “I’m all right when I completely immerse myself in work, but I’ll always remain half crazy.”
In Horus, a curious little production written and directed by Spooky Action Theater’s Artistic Director Richard Henrich, a kooky, struggling French artist named Chantal (Wendy Wilmer) corroborates van Gogh’s dictum only in part. In Chantal’s case, complete immersion in her work only feeds her mental illness – it hardly keeps her “all right.” Like an irremediable drug addict, Chantal uses art to escape reality and erect a bridge to higher realms of understanding, which in turn enable her to produce glorious artistic masterpieces – or so she imagines. In this context, Chantal searches for inspiration from the pantheon of ancient Egyptian mythology – the play derives its title from the Egyptian god of light and goodness – and assures herself that her efforts have yielded dazzling heights of artistic éclat. In other words, Chantal is completely bonkers.
Wilmer brings this particular nutcase to life with such combustible intensity that she flatly steals the show. Chantal’s blazing temper, her aggressive narcissism, her deliberate chicanery and self-delusion, her compulsive mood swings, her obsession with Egyptian paganism, and even her French accent receive an extraordinary rendition in Wilmer’s nearly flawless performance. She more than justifies the price of admission.
But can the rest of the play justify it? I’m afraid it’s hard to say.
At its most basic level, the plot of Horus concerns itself with Chantal’s efforts to persuade a young contractor named Patrick (Matthew Friedman) to repair and acquire a decrepit loft that she hopes to use as a studio. Along the way, she fantasizes that Horus and other Egyptian gods will supply her with the inspiration she needs to cure her recent bout of artistic sterility and resolve her financial woes, which she deliberately conceals from Patrick in order to extract his services.
Yet the dialogue between Chantal and Patrick often feels stilted, confusing, and awkward. The play’s first half devotes itself to bewildering conversation between the protagonists that fails to illuminate their motives, their behavior, and the basic contours of a plot. (“I do not give you permission to piss on my dreams,” Chantal tells her dog at one point. Whatever.) The story, for much of the production, remains obscure and abstruse, devoted largely to the (impressively performed) ravings of Chantal and the frustrated reactions of Patrick. We hear much about her affections for ancient divinities and we see her manipulate poor Patrick with merciless abandon, but Horus, like a bad episode of The X-Files, neglects to include key narrative threads that would make the story semi-lucid.
Chantal’s epochal communion with Horus himself in the play’s dénouement (we witness a half-naked man with a weird costume walk on stage and perform a very strange dance), ostensibly a sort of expurgation of her artistic yearnings, is largely baffling. Wilmer’s performance partially rescues the scene from cringe-inducing mawkishness. But only partially.
After the show ended, I asked an audience member sitting nearby for his impressions. He paused for a moment and then haltingly suggested that it’s the sort of play “you need to think about.” Perhaps. I mean, you probably don’t need to be mad to grasp all the nuances of Horus. But it may help.
Written and Directed by Richard Henrich
Produced by Spooky Action Theater
Reviewed by Tzvi Kahn
Running time: 60 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?