Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lives of the Dead in Action

Last week I found myself drawn to an advertisement announcing a poetry reading at the Viaduct theatre, a small fringe theatre in Chicago. The Viaduct usually puts out interesting, albeit bizarre, plays and such so I was happy to oblige myself with attendance to its latest activity, "the Lives of the Dead" reading (which, I was pleasantly surprised to find was a performance of the poem, not just a reading- lucky me!).

The poem by Hanoch Levin focuses on the thoughts and emotions of the dead man- his yearnings and desires as the deceased. Although this sounds, well, quite morbid, the performers provided the intimate crowd an evening of entertainment and reflection into the embarrassment and trials being dead creates. Each performer personified the dead well and gave feeling to the once animate body now rotting underneath the soil touched by the living above.

As happens with some less traditional performances, the audience, me included, was not quite certain when the performance ended. We held our applause and waited when the performers came to a stand still; we waited when the performers took their leave; we waited when the house lights rose; we waited when the background music ended and began again; we waited while Johnny Cash sang his song; we waited when his last words faded away; we waited when we could hear behind the closed door the muffled sounds of the performers exchanging laughter and the cracking sounds of opening cans.

Finally, I could bear the waiting no longer and abandoned my desire to shower praise on the performers. I walked past the other theatre goers, all still sitting in their seating, waiting, ... as I got to the stage door, I heard the faint echo of the solo clapper, stubbornly refusing to accept that she had been robbed of her ability to praise the performers and then with the spell broken, the shallow sounds of chairs being exited and coats being applied rose from the room and followed me out.

I laughed to myself. I laughed at myself- both lightened my step as I headed out into the evening without clapping for a job well done. Good for them, I thought- the actors leaving us, without clapping, leaving us to deal with our own silence, uncomfortable and lame. Leaving us to deal with our inability to fulfil our part as the observer, just like the dead man- as he too in his death and decay could only observe...
and they all lay, a field strewn with skulls,
each man a skull deaf and dumb
fastened into the earth and gazing up into the night sky.
...And I laughed to myself. Bravo!