Theater Oobleck’s Martha Bayne sounds overwhelmed when we talk by phone. Over the August 4 weekend Oobleck will be producing Closed Casket, which she describes as a “music project being put on by a theater company that involves a visual art form no one understands.” She adds that the event is huge and logistically complicated. Also arcane, eccentric, and moody—a three-day celebration of angst. “The moral” of Closed Casket, she says, “is despair and folly.”
Well, of course it is: it’s inspired by the notoriously dark French poet Charles Baudelaire. Seven years ago Bayne’s fellow Oobleckians Dave Buchen and Chris Schoen decided to (a) put the 130-odd poems of Baudelaire’s 1857 masterwork Les Fleurs du Mal to music, (b) pair the resulting songs with cantastoria—i.e., the visual art form no one understands, consisting here of images painted on long sheets of paper that are then attached to poles and rolled out scroll style for an audience—and (c) display said songs and images publicly in a series of “episodes” as the project progressed.
Now the project, Baudelaire in a Box, is complete; Closed Casket is the topping-off ceremony. Buchen painted all the cantastoria scrolls, but the songs were composed and performed by about 50 artists in addition to Schoen over the years, and they’re all coming in for the festivities. Friday’s bill is dedicated to works that have been presented outside Chicago, in North Carolina and Buchen’s adopted home of Puerto Rico. On Saturday comes a marathon performance of the entire opus, presented in two parts starting at 11 AM. Sunday is given over to the premiere of episode ten, comprising the final suite of pieces.
That premiere will also be an ending. Closed Casket is touted as the “complete, final, and absolutely last Baudelaire in a Box,” and Buchen plans to ensure that’s the case by cutting up some of his scrolls and handing them out to various participants and sponsors. Still, he says, Baudelaire “is not going away” for him. “I enjoy his angst. When he was writing this, the hopes of the revolution from 1848 were completely dashed, and they just felt like there’s no way forward—which is fairly resonant of the times that we’re in right now.”
Baudelaire “was depressed, but he found in his depression a way to make new beauty—and found that beauty in the horror of stasis and the horror of existence and the horror of death and the horror of trying to live together.”
Closed Casket‘s doom seems appropriate then: “I picture us all in that room together on Sunday,” Buchen says, “finishing off some sort of wake for the Baudelaire and just drinking a toast and saying, ‘Now we’re done. Good-bye.'” v