La Mama: psycho-physical

Jonathan Marshall

The formalistically expansive Explorations season sits well alongside the predominantly naturalistic scripts fostered at La Mama. Lloyd Jones’ latest piece of self-conscious ‘non-theatre’, Discontinuities [in 3 parts]—though not actually part of the program—acted as a challenging prologue. His deliberately shabby event was almost operatic in scope, addressing the failure of reason, US global dominance, and youthful self-destruction and disempowerment by using a collection of fragmentary scenes and devices. Michael Kieran Harvey, playing jagged, modernist electric piano and musique concrete, concluded this impressively apocalyptic triptych, which marked Jones’ 40th year at La Mama.

Musical experimentation also played a part in John Britton’s Cyclops Alley. Australian electronica legend Warren Burt provided an evocative score of low-key electro-chords, supporting Britton’s venomous descent into urban darkness. The writing closely resembled early 20th century misanthropy as exemplified by Céline or Drieu la Rochelle. Unpaid sex in a filthy alley with a desolate prostitute led the narrator to proclaim himself an indomitable god who walked the earth, wreaking his emotions upon those he encountered.

Though Britton’s gruff yet precise, glottal recitation and writing were exemplary, his direction was less assured. A young, largely non-speaking cast joined him, occasionally falling into cliched mime-like poses or mutually supportive lifts common to Contact Improvisation. They were most effective when acting as mute witnesses to the narrator’s inspired ravings. Cyclops Alley nevertheless successfully recreated the emotional landscape of nocturnal urban desperation, sketching a portrait of contemporary citizenship in the wake of S11 and Tampa— a radically atomized ‘community’ overseen by the God of Hate, not Love.

Sarah Mainwaring has performed in many of Jones’ events: she delivered a striking monologue in Discontinuities. Mainwaring’s performance in her Foreign Body possessed a similar unalloyed beauty. Director John Bolton’s almost moralistic ethic of honesty as the essence of good theatre was evident here. The scenes constituted a patchwork of skits, poetic musings and deferred details of Mainwaring’s upbringing following a childhood car accident which left her with a brain injury. Her speech was extended but not labored. Her words dolloped forth, treacle-like, before leaps of quickened enunciation added drama. Her movement had a similar quality—drawn attention to through references to her difficulty in putting on the cuffs designed to aid her recovery, as well as merely being part of her general bearing. Tremors came and went, strength in one arm seemed particularly difficult to control. Mainwaring’s confident concentration, however, shifted these dramatic nuances into a realm beyond both pathos.

A forceful “No!”, sharply delivered as her mother attempted to dress her, eloquently conveyed the trauma of her early years. She forced spectators to consider the experience of one day awakening with a different body, a different mind, both of which seemed recalcitrant. Mainwaring’s character passed through this crisis by voicing an almost formless, poetic longing which echoed her psychophysical status, crying out for the “monstrous moon” not to abandon her. The unresolved yet contented quality within the performance suggested that the character overcame this challenge by retaining this formlessness, this resting between states. Bodily tensions were not resolved; they simply came to coexist. When she gazed at a photo of the exquisite Linda Evangelista, reflecting on the “poetry cascading down her well defined form,” this was neither melancholy nor tragic, but rather signified an empathetic identification with Evangelista’s pleasure in her own physicality.

Lynne Santos and Peter Trotman also explored psychophysical perceptions in Songs of Entrapment. The performance had a strong sensorial quality, Santos at one point calling for “smell music” to dance to (Phillip Glass’ Dracula). It was a performance haunted by memories, by yearly rituals, the texture of an aged letter, with a Gothic ambience evoked through rich descriptions of a wide, empty mansion. Songs was so narratively cohesive, relating a redemptive encounter of a mad, sensual woman (Santos’ skill at ecstatic dance serving her well) with a dryly ritualistic hermit (Trotman as a gauche, shocked WASP), that it was hard to believe that all but the framework was improvised. Trotman and Santos have collaborated before, and Songs showed that they are developing a distinctive aesthetic, comparable to a denser, verbally-rich version of fellow exponents of improvised “eccentric dance”, Born in a Taxi. The pair’s presence in Explorations helps ensure that strongly physical performance will always remain part of La Mama’s d aesthetic.

Explorations, La Mama, July 3-28; Discontinuities [in 3 parts]: Beyond Nothingness, What Lies Ahead? Last Judgement at the Oval Office, La Mama, June 20-30

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 43

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002