There is no solitude in Radoslaw Rychcik/Stefan Zeromski Theatre's In the Solitude of Cotton Fields. When the curtain opens, flooding the audience with enormous billows of artificial fog, it marks the beginning of one hour of pure, loud, lurid, muscular experimental theater, set to the blazing music of the Natural Born Chillers, who pound out a near-constant pulsing soundtrack set somewhere between Franz Ferdinand and Daft Punk.
This is less a staged play than a balls-out rock concert. The performers are less characters than Eastern European rock gods in the vein of Nick Cave—screaming and sweating and pushing through dialogue (in Czech with supratitles) often so pretty, it's hard to believe it doesn't crumble under the weight of all the horrible power emanating from the stage.
Which is to say it nearly broke me. It did, in the least, give me a panic attack. But I'm not sure if that was due to the strobes, the screaming, or the soft-core bestiality, juxtaposed with ritual bloodletting and Twin Peaks, which was part of a jangling, schizoid video towards the end of the piece that included flashed phrases like "YOU DANCE LIKE YOU FUCK." While that may be true, it's beside the point. The assertion didn't stop the panic attack.
Let me explain this better.
In the Solitude of Cotton Fields is concerned with a transaction between an anonymous Dealer and his anonymous Client. What is the Dealer dealing? It doesn't fucking matter… Everything, anything. It's never really revealed. All we know is that he'll provide anything. No. Matter. What.
What does the Client want? Again, it's unclear… and largely unimportant. We can see this transaction as one between Rent Boy and John, Pimp and John, Pusher and Addict, Steve Jobs and Mike Daisey, whatever. The important part is these two men need each other in order to be complete. It's about desire and the completion of desire. "I want to fill your desire…" like a container, explains the Dealer. "I want to drag it to the depths."
One fills the other up. Possibly even in a gay way. But the penetration and acceptance; the push and pull; the savagery of a hard fuck all happens in the dialogue. This is how these two men know who they are, and what they are, in a world of darkness and bareness. In a landscape where everything is permitted, these are how transactions occur: slyly, in back alleyways, with no end to the amount of confessions of innocence and claims of culpability.
The language really is the backbone of this play. Luckily the words of late French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès can stand up to this interpretation (and the subsequent translation it necessitates). They are given plenty of room to breath as well, with huge chunks of dialogue not necessarily addressed to the other performer on stage, but hurled into the audience so we feel the full force of their blow. In a way, the dialogue might be better served by this kind of presentation. This is heavy Brechtian shit that might otherwise feel too heavy and dead without a driving backbeat.
Given how important the words are to the whole thing, it's easy to feel their absence in the long and jarring video montage of all the darkness we as a society crave. It doesn't quite feel as if it fits, though if you were to take it as a kind of confession of what could possibly happen between these two men, it works well enough.
I think there are some barriers to American audience in getting in to this work. First, it's almost impossible to not see the Blues Brothers in the start of this piece: from their shape, to their dress, to the way they dance. No shit. It's uncanny.
Second, this performance hits just about every stereotype of Eastern European Performance Art that American's have. Seriously. Whatever your bullshit preconceived ideas of what Eastern European Performance Art could mean, it's very likely represented in this show somehow (Mike Meyer's Sprockets character from Saturday Night Live would not have been out of place… If he weren't such a pussy).
All that being said, it's not difficult to get past the distractions and just have your face totally ripped off by this performance. Will TBA audiences like it? I have no idea. Did I like it? I have no idea. But I know it will haunt every transaction I make for a very long long time.
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