Monday, February 21, 2011

The Wooster Group's Version of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré

While watching the Wooster Group's pretentious, pointless, and ham-handed production of Vieux Carré, a question occurred to me: What if it's not that the emperor has no clothes but rather that the emperor has only one outfit? One tattered outfit that the emperor trots out again and again?

The first Wooster Group production I saw was House/Lights. It was mesmerizing--I had never seen anything like it. I had no idea what it was supposed to be, but it didn't matter. It was fascinating and stimulating with its video and stylized acting, and Kate Valk was amazing. My second Wooster Group production was the Emperor Jones, which I found bizarre and arguably racist and which relied on many of the same tricks used in House/Lights. However, Kate Valk's brilliance saved the evening. Next came the recreation of the Richard Burton Hamlet, which brought nothing to the table but the same old bag of tricks but took a great deal away. It reminded me of those abstract paintings that are one line or one big splash of one color--a somewhat interesting exercise presented as a finished work of art.

And now there is The Wooster Group's Version of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré (yes, that's the title). The Wooster Group drowns Williams' odd and gentle work in a murky sea of electronics, peculiar sounds, repetitive videos, and marked disrespect for the text. In Williams' version there is a lonely, dying, elderly homosexual who seduces the main character (called "The Writer") in an act that is simultaneously predatory and generous, meaningless and meaningful. In the Wooster Group version, that same character is reduced to a flaming queen in an Asian robe with a constantly visible, constantly erect phallus; for a cheap visual gag, the Wooster Group gives up all that is complex and humane in the character. Two elderly women who are slowly starving to death become an ugly vision of a man with a bad wig on a flat screen. The Writer hammers away at his anachronistic keyboard as though he is creating rather than recording the events of the play, a conceit that works no better here than it did in the Roundabout's recent version of The Glass Menagerie. And the production isn't even semi-rescued by Kate Valk, who is one-dimensional as the society woman desperately in love with a bouncer at a strip club and annoying and unintelligible as the nasty, needy landlady.

(It didn't help that the Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center is possibly the single most uncomfortable theatre that has ever had the nerve to charge up to $65. Chiropractors should be provided when the two-hour, intermission-less show finally ends each night.)

Considering the four productions I've seen, I would have to say that the Wooster Group is like a bad jazz band who thinks everything is about them--and who makes every song sound the same.

(Paid $34, sat first-row balcony.)

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