February 21, 2008

Rosa und Blanca

I'm glad that I decided to see this term's mainstage show on opening night, because it leaves me the option of possibly going again, and in particular of asking more questions of the author. Rosa and Blanca is a translation of a recently-authored German play by Rebekka Kricheldorf, and she is in Galesburg from tonight through the end of the week. The translation is "in-house" as it were, having been done by Knox's own Neil Blackadder, who also directed—and so the Q&A afterwards includes essentially all the creative talent that went into the production. A rare, if not unique, opportunity.

The play is a loose adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale usually called "Snow White and Rose Red" (that other Snow White ;). The scene opens onto a forest, with hypercliché pastoral sunrise music (I'm pretty sure it was first movement of Peer Gynt 1 "Morgenstemning" ("Dawn"), but it looks like it's listed as part of William Tell Overture on the program. Hmm.) fading in; a dwarf in a three-piece suit pops out of a hatch in the ground, turns to the audience, and says, "Fuck you, sun!"***—so we're not exactly following the script of den Gebrüdern Grimm here. (Though this characteristic of the dwarf is not that far off, come to think of it.)

The setting is actually more or less modern, though European, with city and forest closely juxtaposed, and in this tale Rosa and Blanca have fled the awfulness of the city to live an idyllic life in the forest, with Mom trying to talk them out of it but not really able to bring much to the table to force the issue. My memory of the first scenes are already thin, but my usual criticism thereof—that a play starts out sort of stiff until the actors and the dialogue sort of slide into place—didn't really come to bear here. I still didn't know what was happening, of course, but that didn't seem problematic. Other than a bit of odd overenunciation on the part of nearly everybody in the early scenes, everything got off to a great start.

The animals (for what is a fairy tale without animals?) were played in a way that nagged at me, that I finally pinned down as reminding me of (of all things) Family Guy: in that cartoon, Brian, one of the main characters, is a dog. He's the family pet, and definitely a dog in many ways. But also a sentient adult in many ways. The other characters interact with him as if he were human, mostly, except sometimes not. The baby, Stewie, is in a similar situation: his shtick is that he's scheming to take over the world and/or kill Lois, but this is blended seamlessly with his baby characteristics and activities, and which one is at the fore basically just depends on which one the scriptwriters needed at the moment. So also with the animals in this show. The lamb is definitely a lamb, grazing, with sheepy concerns and sheepy interests, but at the same time is definitely speaking and holding conversations with the humans and the other animals. Particular props to the dove, Brian Humpherys, who pulled off the most uncanny scene-stealing snippets of pigeony activity, but the animalia in general were very effective.

But the character I've most been dwelling on as I continue to think about the play is the bear. His entrance, dancing privately to the music of an on-stage boombox, was immediately endearing, his face somehow expressive despite being largely covered by a mask. I didn't even recognise the actor at first, and had to sort of mentally narrow it down to Eric Feltes (which was correct) based on cues like height and build and who I knew to be in the theatre program here. Once he spoke, of course, the voice confirmed it—although the mask did change the sound of his voice somewhat, and actually at times the resonance of the mask actually made the voice sound a bit richer, a nice effect. The bear, despite the ferociousness of the source animal, is essentially a sympathetic character in this play, with a medium range of emotions including insecurity, joie de vivre, and others; though in the end he is, yes, actually a bear, the emotion is not simply stylised or one-dimensional (just slightly limited in range). He worked exceptionally well with his mask, compensating for the loss of subtlety with an increased range of head and mouth movement that conveyed as much or more, I think. Despite having seen him in several shows now, and interacted with him a few times in person, I was basically unable to see Eric behind the mask; I just kept seeing these expressions that don't look anything like him. At this point, I have to go watch the show again just to see if I'm overthinking this.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I also want to go again for a chance to catch another Q&A involving the author. I want to know more about intended social messages—certainly there's a theme of failed idealism, but I wonder if Blanca's line that the other teenagers are "a dwarf army of the society of the future [that] don't develop, they just grow" is more of a character line or intended as real commentary. There's a whole plotline about the dwarf causing damage and death, but Rosa keeps saving him anyway; and when confronted or told to leave him, she just repeats, "But then he'll die," as the only justification she needs or will give. This, too, is an interesting piece of philosophy, making a fairly explicit claim that one should make the effort to save even a life known (or thought) to be guilty—and I wonder where the eventual fate of Rosa, the dwarf, the bear, and everyone else leaves that claim. Meghan Reardon as the mother has a great line that "once you've understood that you're just like me, it'll be far too late for suicide," a suddenly very intimate window into the mother's past life; tonight's discussion touched on this a very little bit, but I'm curious to hear from all the relevant parties** what they think that past life might have been. In one of the few clear lines that we hear from the dwarf (as translated by the eagle), he wonders "why do you only hold yourselves responsible for your thoughts, and not for your feelings?" Given that, as one audience member put it tonight, the dwarf is really set up as the unsung hero in this play, could this line even be seen as The Moral Of The Story? It's not one of the ones I would have first thought of* but I'm a little curious if any of the relevant parties would see it as such, or just as the character perspective of the dwarf only.

In several ways, this show reminds me of The Skriker from a couple years back, both in surface form and in some of the deeper ideas. There are big differences too, and one of the nice ones is that this one is more accessible on a surface level, giving you something to enjoy while you're there while you're waiting to drill down and mull over the deeper stuff later. One of the similarities seems to be that the more you think about it, the more you want to go see it again....

*E.g. "Always listen to your mother", "Don't eat the cherries", "Major in science, not art"

**That is, Rebekka the playwright, Neil the translator and director, and Meghan the actor that played the part. I love that all three will be on stage at once.

***Quote fixed. I had "fuck you all!" in the original post.

"By globalising, we take away from nation states their ability to enforce and to enact the polices necessary to internalise external costs, to control population, to do the things that are necessary." --Herman Daly

Posted by blahedo at 1:09am on 21 Feb 2008
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