Cold Comfort

Wilson says in program notes that THE DAYS BEFORE was inspired by myths of Apocalypse: "Shifting between ancient and modern times, visions of the end of the world in the second millennium reflect those which appear in the first millennium." When matched with Eco's text, which waxes like a sophomore reading Descartes for the first time— "I would go on seeking the atom to infinity. The action would lead me to the moment where matter would be infinite divisibility . . . "— the production comes off as a pretty pageant of despair, in which Eco's labored rhetoric is Eurythmically interpreted. Yes, it's often that boring and that silly. What's worse, evocations of the Hiroshima bombing and the Nazi Holocaust are reduced to aesthetic elements in the careful construction of lovely stage pictures.

Still, there are some arresting moments: It's Wilson, after all. A.J. Weissbard's lighting is never anything but gorgeous and Ryuichi Sakamato's constant score— droning undertones, smashing glass, crashing surf, braying cows, flattened-out Barry Manilow, wailing cellos, thumping disco bass— lends the production its most coherent structure. A 90-year-old opera singer, Semiha Berksoy, got up in gold lamé, rhinestones, and feathers, reclines on a red divan that glides across the stage as she rasps out Isolde's "Liebestod" with throaty confidence. I can't help reading the campy moment as a comment on decadence in the face of disaster, but I rather suspect— and felt in one of only two emotional catches of the 100-minute performance— that the scene celebrates creativity as humanity's only possible answer to its violence.

The other time my heart quickened came at the end, when a tiny, ancient, white-bearded man appeared. This frail Beckettian figure was so compelling, exuding such presence and energy as he wondered at the company assembled in tidy tableau, that he nearly upstaged all the commotion around him.

THE DAYS BEFORE: death, destruction & Detroit III: Robert Wilson's millennium approaches.
photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival '99
THE DAYS BEFORE: death, destruction & Detroit III: Robert Wilson's millennium approaches.


Uncle Vanya
By Anton Chekhov, adapted by Brian Friel
Lincoln Center Festival

THE DAYS BEFORE: death, destruction & Detroit III
Conceived, designed, and directed by Robert Wilson
Lincoln Center Festival

But these two scenes can hardly puncture the holiness that encases the solemn proceedings. I have heard a few colleagues describe THE DAYS BEFORE as an unintentional self-parody, trotting out, as it does, so many of the familiar Wilsonian devices— slo-mo movement, Kabuki-ish blocking, flying-in horizontal bar, abrupt stops to crescendoing sound and accelerating motion. It reminds me, however, of the sorts of plays mocked a hundred years ago by Chekhov, in the first act of The Seagull.

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