A reckoning between generations

Zsuzsanna Soboslay: Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

“My fascist grandfather is coming to kill me, and I only have a pen to defend myself.” Pigman’s Lament.

Raoul Craemer plays Craemer, a stay-at-home dad, soccer player and actor; a haunted man, putting finishing touches to a play that may not make it to opening night. Life and its ghosts interfere. The spectre of Alfred—his fascist German grandfather—berates him, steals his script, challenges his virility and indeed his right to be alive. His Indian mamaji’s songs—how Alfred hated mamaji!—require practice. Craemer’s soccer and porcelain bathtub seem his only solace and shelter—neutral zones in a cultural battle. But even here, anxious, hyperactive Craemer finds no rest.

From this white vessel, he Skypes his strangely absent children, urging the girls to get dressed for their soccer games. Why is he not with them? He prompts, prods and unnerves them, burdening them with expectations of prowess while hinting that his grandfather might soon do him in. Soon. With a gun. Has this man no boundaries? He spends a few minutes appeasing a frightened daughter. We have no idea if he succeeds.

Craemer is a “pig” and a “man.” His life is a mess, his morals unsteady. For home life he folds socks. He can recite poems by Rilke with real heart but comes closest to his children only via a table soccer game in which Leila and Tara are little more than plastic players on swinging metal pins. Craemer is attached to the girls via headphones, but we never hear what they say. They could after all be figments of his imagination. But his anxiety when he suspects Grandfather Alfred has absconded with them is real, and perhaps the most emotionally virile moment of the play.

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Canberra playwright and performer Raoul Craemer has been working in this difficult territory—family secrets, tormented pasts, cultural rivalries—for the past three years. He has paired up with celebrated Adelaide-based Portuguese theatre-maker Paulo Castro for this final stage, the director capturing the restless uncertainty of the narrative, keeping Craemer moving, unnerving himself, constantly switching roles. Seven characters have been resolved into two, with the actor playing grandfather and grandson: a shared ancestry. The conceit is successful—after all, one’s nagging ancestors are like the blood coursing in one’s veins— but the staging is cumbersome. There are awkward transitions where the actor has to disappear behind the set’s back wall to become the grandfather, and vice versa. More significant, however, is how this device interrupts the work’s key psychic symbolism, where characters merge, living, breathing, arguing and threatening one another within the tent of one skin.

The staging elements suggest an amalgam of realism—a living room, the bath, an iPad, soccer shoes, a shed—and hyper-realism: an enormous lighting grid, balanced on an angle like the aftermath of a bombing raid, but shiny and hung with theatre lanterns. Each element carries symbolic meaning, but I find it distracting that the bath is empty (Craemer retrieves a mobile phone from its depths and speaks into it) and the lanterns illuminate nothing. It is as if their potential symbolisms are unrealised.

There are moments of gleaming poetry, translated by the playwright from Kabir and Rilke, which provide touchstones—places of value, or rest, where language gets to the bones—but I miss a certain tenderness, such as one sometimes experiences in the mundane acts of folding laundry. Sometimes. These are the socks worn by our children. Our fingers remember what we value. Sometimes.

That said, recklessness, restlessness and sharpness are right in a play about a “reckoning between generations.” Alfred turns the gun on himself and Craemer lays his head on his writing table, reciting Rilke. Unresolved and unabsolved. Life. Is. Sometimes. This.

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Raoul Craemer, Pigman’s Lament

Pigman’s Lament, Street Theatre, writer, performer Raoul Craemer, director Paulo Castro, designer Christiane Nowak, lighting design Gillian Schwab, composers Lara Soulio, Sianna Lee; Street Theatre, Canberra, 24 June-3 July

RealTime issue #133 June-July 2016

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

20 July 2016