i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

THURSDAY SLICE O' PIE: "The Europeans"

Last weekend I saw Howard Barker's "The Europeans" at Potomac Theatre Project with the fearless leader of Red Bull Theater, where I am Literary Manager. I don't think I'd seen any of Barker's work before. I like going into a play knowing as little about what I'm seeing as possible.

I don't review the plays I see on my blog for two reasons: 1) it's tacky; and, 2) my taste is such that it's rare for me to really thrill at something. But sometimes I like to write down my response, my impressions from seeing a piece of theater, and I found myself scribbling notes on the long subway ride home afterwards.

I ate the script up with a spork--the theatricality and juxtaposition of so many terrible hungers and giant issues were ridiculously stimulating. It made me want to learn more about Barker's Theatre of Catastrophe, I think he calls it. I love it when difficult things are jammed together in a play and nothing is easy.

Parts of the play are in verse. I haven't seen the text, so I don't know if it's laid out that way on the page, but there were bits of iambic pentameter that are unforgettable. To wit:

"Revenge must be upon the innocent."

"We often choose to live with those we hate."


And this juicy one, from when a character learns his stepmother has died:

"Dead? But I wasn't finished with her yet."


Wait. Go back. Did you see that?! Instead of an iamb for the first foot, it's a spondee! A spondee, people! "Dead? But... ." Two syllables, both stressed, and with a pause of such clean heft splitting its belly that it gave me chills.

This one was in answer to the question "How do we escape history?":

"We re-create its mayhem in our lives."


It came somewhere near the end, around when a main character forces a hapless footman to tell him a story. The footman delivers, but the listener takes over, and eventually rejects the narrative. I found this turn a fascinating microcosm of the issues this play explores: questions of control over self, over country, and over history through the telling and framing of events.

Back to that first, spectacularly trenchant one. "Revenge must be upon the innocent." Once it's uttered, you know the horrible price that will be paid later.

Oh, and there was a beautiful moment where a hanging happened on stage, and it was handled in the simplest, most brilliant way. One of those moments that can make you insanely jealous you didn't think it up first.

Oh, and my boss is in love with Nikolai Erdman's comedy "The Suicide," which I can't wait to read.

1 comment:

The Prolix Wag said...

Pretty sure "Dead? But/" scans as a troche, unless you're one of them but-stressin' modern actrons.

Or unless it works better as a spondee. But textbook-wise, the preposition makes it a troche.