Relatively Foreign Affairs

Theater from abroad: different from ours, but just as confused about what comes next

Degradation, but human compassion: Gemelos
photo: Stephanie Berger
Degradation, but human compassion: Gemelos

Details

Hokaibo
Heisei Nakamura-za
Lincoln Center Festival

De Monstruos y Prodigos
(Of Monsters and Prodigies)

Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes
Lincoln Center Festival

Gemelos (Twins)
Compa�ia Teatro Cinema
Lincoln Center Festival

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Krystof's heroes are identical twin boys, brought from the city by their mother for safekeeping with their grandmother, a mean-spirited eccentric, originally from further east in Europe, who lives in a hardscrabble rural village where most of her neighbors view her as either a nasty foreigner, a witch, or both. She brutalizes and exploits the boys, who nonetheless slowly mature to the point where they can dominate her; meantime, they evolve their own peculiarly warped code of justice, befriending figures like an equally outcast slow-witted girl (nicknamed "Harelip") and a Jewish shoemaker about to flee. Their actions, like the grandmother's, are seen as complex, born of pain and never morally pure. For greater distance, Teatro Cinema viewed the characters (all played by only three actors) as if through the wrong end of a telescope. The stage's large center section was a big puppet stage, on which the live actors moved like giant, shambling marionettes; some events were shown as sequences of tableaux vivants, using a silent-film iris effect. The music and design, both first-rate, were also employed cannily to heighten the drama. If Gemelos had a fault, it was that the rigid formalism of the staging kept the power of the piece locked in, at a strict distance from its audience. The moral gravity of this choice may appeal to me more than the relentless audience-wooing of the other troupes' low comedy, but I can't help wondering if there isn't some midpoint from which the theater can speak directly to audiences without shoving its need for laughs and applause in their faces. Or has life in our virtual world simply become too desperate for that?

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