Theatre of the Reconstruction


Theatre of the Reconstruction

A member of the Jeff Committee was troubled about Where the People Have No Eyes. “Do we nourish the beast?” she asked. “Or punish the rest?”

I keep coming back to that question. Where the People Have No Eyes is arrogant, reckless, indulgent theater. But that beast–that spark of life that is a playwright’s voice–is certainly intriguing. And Scott Turner’s voice is both a director and playwright is definitely growing stronger. Two years ago I was thoroughly repulsed by his first work with the Theatre of the Reconstruction, Enemies of the Moon. His current piece, Where the People Have No Eyes, is a sequel to that earlier, horrifying work. but while the present play has many stylistic and thematic similarities to Enemies of the Moon, both the play and the production are more focused and sophisticated.

Where the People Have No Eyes is the second in a trilogy (the third, Exhumed, was performed about a year ago). Turner calls the trilogy The Festival of Light, and claims somewhat grandly that it is “based in Greek Catharsis”–not exactly an original concept. In Turner’s treatise on the trilogy, he goes on to explain the meaning and methodology of all three plays in pseudo-Jungian terms, using lots of words that begin with capital letters.

Turner claims to trace American society through the archetypal characters of Mother, Father, Son and Daughter. The Festival of Light he tells, us,is about “the battle between disillusionment in the present social order versus inherent knowledge, hidden meanings, and the ever present call that somehow there can be life in grace.” I have no idea what that means, and Turner’s treatise is filled with similar stuff.

Turner’s explanations, far from clarifying his works, are just vaguely spiritual gobbledygook, like a student paper written during an all-nighter. More distressing, this jumbled, self-aggrandizing style pervades the plays themselves.

Turner clearly feels that he has written a Work of Art, and brings the point home by employing ritualistic movement, a black-clad Greek chorus of one, and bursts of violence sometimes punctuated with sex. In fact sex and violence are key elements of Turner’s trilogy, which could be subtitled Testosterone on Parade (the subjugation of women is another primary element). Turner may feel that the play’s ritual and hackneyed verse justify the rash, often disgusting, and sometimes dangerous displays of manliness: the gentleman sitting next to me was nearly hit with a flying garbage can, which he stopped just in time with his foot. but the violence still comes off as the acting out of an angry, nasty, albeit intelligent young man.

Despite all this, Where the People Have No Eyes has some fascinating aspects. The story line is one. The play, which takes place in an alley, revolves around three street people–an old man, a young man, and a young woman (Turner’s Father, son, and Daughter) who learn to depend on each other for survival, and together try to re-create a family unit. Given the people involved, it’s an extremely dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. Once the family system is in place, Father and Son take on what Turner seems to see as the natural guilt associated with these roles, while the Daughter realizes what a stifling and negative role hers is, and makes her escape. Although it’s all a bit incomprehensible, the exploration of what a family means to these characters is intriguing.

Some stunning acting and haunting visual and aural images also help to overcome the pompous language and obscure story. Doris DiFarnecio is riveting as Nava,the nurturing homeless woman who has strong spiritual connections with the earth and a fair share of voodoo powers. Beautiful and lithe, DiFarencio fairly dances her way through the entire show. She glows with an inner strength and potency that make what she has to put up with during the play palatable. You know that she can standup to whatever is thrown at her.

In the role of D.H., the young man, Scott Baker, plays with the audience’s emotions, running the gamut from charming, wisecracking street innocent to violent, power-hungry fascist. Always intense, Baker is fiercely connected with the material, always showing us what is motivating him. He’s good at finding the piece’s humor, too, which is sorely needed in this Jungian drama.

As the old man, Paul Tamney is completely overshadowed by these two balls of energy. He’s also at a disadvantage because he’s much too young for the part.

Turner’s direction has definitely enhanced the text. The extremely long blackouts are punctuated by various primitive noises, a technique he also used in Enemies of the Moon. but the noises have progressed from random crashes and screams to sophisticated drumming and strange, evocative breathing. and though before it seemed that Turner was using this maneuver simply to frighten the audience, now the noises seem deliberate and specific–each sets the tone of the next scene.

Turner uses visual imagery well too: actors enter from dumpsters and refrigerators, and an intense onstage drummer in one scene has a strong visual impact. The movement is strange and often beautiful; and Turner’s exciting (though dangerous) staging uses every inch of the performance space.

Where the People Have No Eyes does not seem the work of a mature playwright. The gratuitous sex and violence are distressing, and the language is pretentious. But Turner has come a long way in a short time, and his material is undeniably startling in form and subject matter. Though I can’t say I enjoy his work at this time, it’s exciting to witness the progress of an innovative new playwright and director. That’s the sort of beast that I, for one, am inclined to feed.

It’s hard to believe that the same company that produced Where the People Have No Eyes has also put on The Dimmed Heart. Written by Reconstruction member Patricia Duff, this late-night offering, only 20 or 30 minutes long, is one of the most unpretentious, delightful, sensorially exciting pieces I’ve seen in a long while. Where Turner gets bogged down in his language, Duff soars with hers, writing verbal arias to peanut-butter sandwiches and couches.

Named as one of the Best of the Fest at Bailiwick Repertory’s director’s festival, The Dimmed Heart is a brief, sweet, charming piece about a young woman’s rude awakening to the world’s dishonesty, and the result of her loss of trust. Full of diverse references, to the likes of Lou Reed and Emily Dickinson, it is punctuated with live music by a guitar player, a violinist, and a drummer, and incorporates dance and acrobatics.

Duff and her fellow director and performer, Peggy Dunne, are exuberant presences onstage. Duff has had extensive movement training, and it shows. She floats about the stage, her every step and exercise in the sensuousness of motion. Dunne is the show’s drummer, among other things, and her movement incorporates the style and rhythms of her drumming. As Deb, the troubled neighbor who needs money, Dunne uses rhythms that are propulsive, frighteningly intense, and jerky, the perfect grounding device for the ethereal Duff.

Even the costumes reflect the performer’s playfulness. Dunne is a vision in black, the worldly voice of doom to Duff’s innocent Mary, who prances about in an orange polka-dot shirt and puffy red toreador pants and is tied to her couch by a billowing purple sash.

The only problem with The Dimmed Heart is its ending monologue, in which Duff tells us precisely what the story is about. But that doesn’t take much away from the inventiveness and delight that have gone before.

Where Turner is exciting for his potential, Duff has arrived. Her beast is flourishing.