I love plays like this.
Really, I just love them. So many thoughts go through one’s mind when watching a theatrical production that makes no sense at all but does so with theatricality, passion and style.
The performance brought back memories of a one-act play festival I attended in high school. In one of the entries, like this a French play, the members of a large family started shouting at each other, suddenly fell to the stage on their hands and knees, and began rocking back and forth violently while saying, their voices rising in volume, “Goob goob goob goob goob!”
That vivid image has popped into my brain literally hundreds of times since then. I have seen productions at the Kennedy Center that I wished would have employed the staging device, just to terminate some pompous, over-praised slog with élan. I remember that single feature of the obscure high school one-act, while no moment in so many other professional productions that brought their audiences to their feet stays with me at all.
To Have Done With The Judgment of God has at least one such feature: an actress in a disturbing costume that makes her appear to be turned inside out like the pig-beast that gets inverted by the transporter in “Galaxy Quest” (the pig explodes, though, and the actress, thankfully, didn’t), does a slow, jazzy dance across the stage while her organs bounce and her connective tissue dangles and sways. That was memorable, and I doubt that I will ever forget it. How many productions leave us with such gifts? The costume was the creation of Stephanie Williams, and is worthy of a Helen Hayes award all by itself.
Now, the play—it isn’t really a play at all, rather a series of vignettes— makes absolutely no sense. It is one of those plays that causes you to wonder if everyone else in the audience is nodding and thinking “How true, how true,” meaning that you must be an idiot. (Stoppard, Becket and Shakespeare often make me feel this way, come to think of it.) In this performance, one of the audience members was overcome by the giggles, and I momentarily thought he had discerned some complex meta-witticism on the cosmos until I realized that he was amused because an actor had said, “shit.”
The production includes disjointed references to American schools requiring mandatory sperm donations, musings on the relationship between defecation and God, very creepy illuminated Asian-featured masks, “The Dating Game” theme song, juxtapositions of Hieronymus Bosch paintings and photos of Italian sausages, a long tug of war between two actors shouting impenetrable existential commentary while pulling from opposite sides of the stage on two other actors bound by giant black rubber bands, and more. A typical pronouncement, which came early enough to warn us that Arthur Miller this wasn’t: “It is not the Man who is the Sun, but the Horse!” The Horse-Man-Sun section was concluded by a Satanic priest-like character intoning ,“The Man rises from the Horse, raising above his head a Giant Horseshoe, dipped… in a gash… of BLOOD!”
How true, how true.
TO HAVE DONE WITH THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD
April 15 – May 7, 2016
Theatre du Jour
at DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street
Washington, DC 20009
Details and Tickets
The script appears to be a collaboration of Howard Zinn, Jack D. Ripper from “Dr. Strangelove,” and Monty Python. Never mind: It was brave and right for Theatre Du Jour to mount To Have Done With The Judgment of God, and anyone interested in theater should see it.
There are many controversial scripts that have historical and cultural importance and even fame that the public never gets an opportunity to see. When a company and director undertake the artistic and financial risk of mounting such a script, attention must be paid. In this case, the director is as well qualified as he is brave: B. Stanley is a long-time student and admirer of Antonin Artaud, and undertook the challenge of converting his 1947 radio script, pulled from its scheduled broadcast because of its controversial positions, for a visual medium.
I haven’t read the script, but I have no reason to doubt that Stanley did a superb job, or that Artaud would have loved the final result. All the elements—lights, costumes, sounds, multi-media effects—are crisp, well-coordinated and effective. The acting is hard to judge in a piece like this; let’s just say that the ensemble does its job.
Most important of all, the staging embodies many of the ideals that Artaud championed as an artist and theorist. Artaud believed that experiencing theater should be an ordeal for the audience to liberate the human subconscious, what he called the “theater of cruelty.” His version of theater was a “communion between actor and audience in a magic exorcism; gestures, sounds, unusual scenery, and lighting combine to form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world.”
By the time he wrote To Have Done With The Judgment of God, Artaud may also have finally gone completely nuts.
The production raises the intriguing question of whether a performance that is barely 45 minutes long should require at least that much advance research to appreciate it. Knowing about Artaud’s life, career, and influence, as well as the history of the play’s source material will definitely enhance one’s enjoyment of the Theatre Du Jour production. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.
Do not miss this production of To Have Done With The Judgment of God, and not just because you will almost certainly never have another chance to see it. Go because it is an ambitious and audacious project, go because a company and a director who undertake such a work deserve encouragement and support, go because Artaud’s ideas remain important to the art of theater and he deserves to be remembered, go because you will never forget the Dance of the Inside-Out Woman. Or just go because it’s short, and a far better use of your time than watching an episode of “Gotham.”
You may even love it.
To Have Done with the Judgement of God by Antonin Artaud . Directed and designed by B. Stanley . Featuring Rachel Reed, Jerry Herbilla, Jacquelyn Paulin, Annetta Dexter Sawyer and Kris Roth . Soundscapes by Nate Taylor and Rob Gould . Sculptural costuming by Stephanie Williams . Produced by Theatre Du Jour . Reviewed by Jack Marshall.
We are exceedingly pleased to welcome Jack Marshall and his views from the house seats.