Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Whisper to a Scream

September 25, 2010


After an inspiring and provocative opening performance at REDCAT from Sardono Dance Theater last weekend, downtown’s home for experimental performance and film was right back at it this weekend with another fascinating show. This time the black box theater hosted the Radosław Rychcik/Stefan Zermomski Theater ensemble from Poland and their bracing production of In the Solitude of Cotton Fields. The original French play by Bernard-Marie Koltès was written in 1985 and like much of the author’s work, is still largely unknown to most American audiences, although many of his play’s have been produced in Europe under big-name directors like Patrice Chéreau and Peter Stein. Koltès’ plays focus on loneliness and power relations owing much to artists like Genet and Artaud. His texts are often lyrical and are less concerned with a naturalistic narrative than a sense of relationships between characters and what they represent. In the Solitude of Cotton Fields consists of two characters, a "dealer" and a "client", who engage in a negotiation over a proposed transaction. However, who is proposing what to fulfill which desire is not entirely clear, allowing for a variety of interpretations.

The Stefan Zeromski Theater production directed by Radosław Rychcik takes a Polish translation of the text with two men: the dealer as a hustler and the buyer as a john. Gamesmanship and struggle as a metaphor for male homosexual desire is rather a worn trope, but given Koltès’ view of himself as an outsider as a gay man and his overall debt to Genet, it seems fair in this context. We’ve seen a lot of this on local stages lately including a thematically very similar The Twentieth-Century Way by Tom Jacobson that premiered at Boston Court Theater in Pasadena prior to a much noted run at the New York Fringe Festival. But director Rychcik takes Cotton Fields one step further by setting the entire play in the context of deconstructed rock show. The two performers Wojciech Niemczyk and Tomasz Nosinski appear side-by-side in black suits with white shirts and skinny black ties. A black curtain parts at the opening to reveal each man in his own spotlight behind a microphone dancing to the rhythmic live electronic/punk performance of the Polish collective, Natural Born Chillers. Dialog is delivered, and sometimes screamed into the microphones without ever being sung. The whole performance turns the latent homosexual desire ever-present in rock performance on its head by placing it front and center and directly implicating the audience in that none of the characters’ dialog is ever addressed to anyone else than the audience.

It was a loud show, complete with earplugs distributed at the door, and the amount of movement and physical dancing called for made the show much more than a straight play. In the end, although it’s never clear who is zooming who, the “client” completely strips long enough to gain the first and only gesture of connection from the “dealer”. And while the ending is more ambiguous, the whole thing is sealed with a kiss. In the Solitude of Cotton Fields is one interesting and attractive show. We’re lucky to have it here during its string of U.S performances from the Radosław Rychcik/Stefan Zermomski Theater. And with the ever-dwindling number of venues for this kind of material in L.A., it would be sad to miss it. There are performances at REDCAT through Sunday night the 26th.



I had a rockin' good time!...But I wouldn't read quite so much sexual play into it: for me if was just a metaphor for the power play and exploitation (of Man by Man) that the Europeans are so fond of accusing us of:-)
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