Watching the Wooster Group's latest piece at REDCAT "A PINK CHAIR (In Place of a Fake Antique)," had me thinking about a quote from Shakespeare and a dumb joke.
The Shakespeare, from Hamlet, is that bit about the purpose of the playing " to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature."
The joke, reminiscent of Steven Wright, is "What happens if you xerox a mirror? - You go back in time."
The Wooster Group manages, somehow, to embody both of these quotes brilliantly in a little more than 70 minutes at the same time they deconstruct theater and resurrect the Polish Theater director Tadeusz Kantor.
On the simplest level, which is still pretty complicated, The Wooster Group is paying homage to Tadeusz Kantor, the famous Polish theater director and more specifically his production from the late 1980's "I Shall Never Return."
Stick with me while I go down the Wooster's rabbit hole.
We see Tadeusz Kantor's daughter, Dorota Krakowska, on video during the show and in voice over talking about her father's work. She says, and I'm paraphrasing, that if her father were any other kind of artist, a painter or a writer, there would be this body of work she could commune with, remember him by - but he was a theater artist - so there's nothing because the theater is an ephemeral art. Then she teaches us the Polish word for spirit: duch.
We get that part of the artistic project is to capture, or re-capture her father's theater in this piece.
Fortunately, there is video of this Kantor production "I Shall Never Return" and we begin seeing snippets of it on one of the Wooster Group's signature flat-screen monitors. Then, as devotees of the Wooster Group will instantly recognize, there's a fastidious recreation of what we're seeing on video brought to life by live actors but with a devilish precision that makes it both recognizable and unfamiliar in the same instant. So Kantor's original production is being re-created before our eyes. A mirror if you will to the original production.
Now that original theater production was itself a mirror on Kantor's own work. Not only did he famously play a role in the production, sitting silently onstage with a cigarette while his recorded voice was piped over speakers - but the work itself was filled with quotes from Kantor's own previous work and life.
So the work from the past that the Wooster Group is referencing was itself a work that referenced the past - so here we go xeroxing the mirror to travel back in time.
With most shows or companies, this level of description would ruin the experience-like simple spoilers of a fragile plot - trust me, I'm barely scratching the surface.
Thanks to REDCAT and Mark Murphy's dedication to the Wooster Group, Los Angeles audiences have gotten to learn the complicated language of the company. We've had 10 years to learn their idioms and aesthetic. If you've gone on any part of that journey don't miss this show - it's profound.
If you're brand new to the Wooster Group, this show is a perfect time to hop on the ride. While it's not a prerequisite, if you're not familiar with Kantor's work you might want to google "I Shall Never Return
” and maybe a review
from it's American run in 1988.
Don't worry, you won't spoil it - you'll only make the experience richer
"A PINK CHAIR (In Place of a Fake Antique)" plays at REDCAT downtown through this Sunday April 15th.
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission.