Of Sex and Violets & The Death of Culture, written and directed by Joe Woodward.Shadow House Pits at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, November 10-13 and 16-20, 1999, 8pm.
If I write in an academic tone about this production, it's because it seems at this end of the century to belong in a university setting. In 1932-33 the French avant-garde playwright and director, Antonin Artaud, published a manifesto "Le Theatre de la Cruaute" (The Theatre of Cruelty). He was a major influence in European, and to some extent American, theatre well into the 1970's.
Joe Woodward has attempted to follow Artaud's philosophic theme - that art is not reality, and therefore can only touch reality at the moment of self-destruction of the artist - beyond the theatre which Artaud wrote about and into the new imaginary world of cyberspace. Here, Collie Rae (Claire Bocking), like the famous Jenni, runs her "cam" in real time on the internet, so the world has seen her violent love-making with Artaud Lamont (James Lanyon). We see replays on screen while the pair meet a year later, both also manipulating their creations Thora Ainslie (Liliana Bogatko) and Stafford Myers (Gregory Poke) - theatrical characters who believe they are real but only become so when Artaud is destroyed.
Should you see it? Artaud would vilify me for offering advice, and maybe others will too.
If you already appreciate theatre based on pure Verfremdungseffekte (alienation effect), you will understand Woodward's style and find the performances of all four actors purposeful and skilled. However Woodward is not a Bertolt Brecht, and I found the play too wordy and pacing too measured. Artaud said that the director is the author of the play: that is, dialogue should be subordinate to action. Woodward succeeds in these terms only in the final scene.
If you want a new play with an original approach to the Wide World of the Web, I don't think this is it. Pre-war European post-Romantic theatrical philosophy about art and reality just doesn't have the bounce-back energy of email flames and realtime cams. Collie Rae's computer crashes as Artaud Lamont dies - but despite its inevitable social shadows, the Web is a new form of culture, not its death.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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