We have come to the end of Synetic Theater’s series of short videos based on Boccaccio’s classic “in-the-time-of-the-plague” entertainments. Like one of those imported Masterpiece Theatre series, it feels that, tucked into one of those massive houses, is a world of people and their stories. I have come to know the family of characters and feel sad that soon these characters will no longer be with me. Isolated, we have indeed “come together” in new and intimate ways.
Jackie Madejski returns us to one of the themes that comes up often in Boccaccio’s works where wives take on lovers as amusements but in the process have to think fast on their feet and outwit their jealous husbands. She uses, for the short video, the genre of silent screen fast-action, complete with white inter-titles framed on old-fashioned black frames (also used by other members of Synetic.)
The piece is, as they tell us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Shakespearean play she has performed in, “as brief as I have known a play.” There are some amusing shots to get the Boccaccio image of how one stuffs a lover into a jar. She also has wrangled members of her family into the act, as t’were, in something that has all the earmarks of a homegrown summer movie.
However charming, like several of these short works, it doesn’t get much deeper than that.
Chelsea Thaler’s video is an altogether different experience. From the first few seconds, where the grainy close ups in black and white begin to lay out the elements of her story and underneath the long bowing of strings building in tension, one is drawn in emotionally, captivated by this performer-filmmaker’s confidence and command of her craft.
Much suspense is built just following waves that mount to a high spray or a shot of half a woman’s face that later becomes a body laid out in the sand. There is a chessboard that suddenly comes alive and swirls, sucking one into the world of Escher. This, we are told, represents a game of chess with Death and clearly becomes an homage to the great filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and, in particular, The Seventh Seal.
As in so many of Bergman’s films, the woman is impassive, embodying a creature less a personality and more a wild eminence of the margent of land in which she lies. Man or rather civilization, in a few choice detailed shots, seems like something imposed even grotesque.
Thaler’s work is all the stronger for its minimalism. Maybe she is indeed making this film a tribute to the land and First Nation people who once lived at what is now Ocean City. She doesn’t “thump” rhetoric. Her physicality evokes; she doesn’t preach. But as her character walks away from the camera and into the sea, my imagination begins to ask the big question: Is the current pandemic a sign that we have run our course as masters of the universe or at least have we lost whatever moral imperative we thought we had as Leaders of the “Free World?” The work is a gem.
Katherine DuBois chooses to feature mime as her primary art form. With it she tells a tale, based on Boccaccio’s Seventh tale from Day 2, of a kind of “around the world in 80 days.”
Whether she is sailing or then rowing on the high seas or climbing out of a building onto a narrow ledge, and we may have seen these classic mime sequences a million times, she make them feel fresh and in the service of story telling with good control and exhibiting just the right amount of effort to make every sequenced movement believable.
DuBois intentionally creates tight frame after tight frame, crowded as a treasure-filled flea market or antique store of colorful bric-a-brac she has managed to assemble. One scene feels like a 19th century collection of botanical specimens. Another a store crowded with antique jewelry. By the end, we get Dubois in what looks like an exotic seraglio, complete with pet lion. (Is it on a chain or is she?)
I loved especially the symbolism when, all alone in a library, she opens a book and all the tales of adventure and mystery spill out and seem to light up. In this time of sheltering in place, she reminds us of the travel and adventures we could still be having by diving into books.
Dubois’ story is well-told and her message worth remembering. Synetic Theater has given us 30 or so tales in the space of ten days, and the videos should buoy us up in the memory of what live theater can do.
I for one can’t wait to be back – yes, in the splash zone – of a live Synetic experience!
Day 10 of Synetic Theater’s The Decameron debuted July 19, 2020.
Tickets to watch The Decameron start at just $10 for the entire series and are available now.
DCTS reviews The Decameron