Monday, June 23, 2008

Why should the Times bother with European theater?

There's an expression in French that literally translates as "to call a cat a cat," meaning to not be afraid to call things by their name. I thought of it reading the end of Charles Isherwood's review of Macbeth in today's Times:

"It will surely thrill audiences who get a charge from flashy innovation for its own sake. Others will probably view it as the quintessence of — well, I was hoping to get through this review without using the glib derogatory term for Continental experimentation. You probably know the epithet in question. Begins with a capital E and rhymes with succotash."

You know, if that's what you think of Grzegorz Jarzyna's production, you should have the guts to use the full wording: Eurotrash. The coy phrasing only brings even more attention to the wishy-washy use of a condescending cliché.

I don't dispute Isherwood's critical take on the production, which I haven't seen yet. It's just hard not to get frustrated once again by the desultory tone that creeps in every time a non-naturalistic European import lands in New York. It would help if the Times' two main theater critics didn't come across as so uninterested in what's going on across the Atlantic—and I don't mean in the UK. Why trot out Jerzy Grotowski's 40-year-old "poor theater" when Jarzyna should be talked about in conjunction with his contemporary, Krzysztof Warlikowski? (TONY's own Helen Shaw did just that in her preview of Macbeth.)

I know I sound like a broken record, but at this point I'm actually beyond anger and into disillusion; it just saddens me to see critics with such a huge influence being so disproportionately disinterested in the art form they're supposed to cover. Just like last year, for instance, the newspaper's chief critic, Ben Brantley, is off to a month in London. (I'm sure local producers will read his dispatches with baited breath to see what they can safely import.)

But the Avignon festival is at roughtly the same time, and personally I'd kill to go. To mention just some of the names familiar to New York audiences, in the coming month you could see Romeo Castellucci's trilogy based on Dante's Divine Comedy, Thomas Ostermeier's Hamlet, Ivo van Hove's "Roman Tragedies" (Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra), Jan Fabre's Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day (a solo for dancer Ivana Jovic, with the title taken from a line in Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe"!), Heiner Goebbels' Stifters Dinge, the Brothers Quay's film installation Night Nursery, plus new pieces by Philippe Quesne and Superamas, who've both been to NY as part of Under the Radar. And then there's the ones familiar mostly to French audiences, like directors Stanislas Nordey and Arthur Nauzyciel, actress ValĂ©rie Dreville, choreographer Mathilde Monnier… What an incredible feast! In my spare time, I'd go to panels such as "The spectator's place: What's his responsibility" or "Which return to spirituality?" (Talk amongst yourself…) Ah well, maybe next year.

No comments: