An American Primal Moment
Friday 4th December
Present (Row by row from top left): Simon Usher; Colin Ellwood; Emmanuela Lia; Jamie Newall; Sakuntalla Ramanee; Kevin McMonagle; Susan Raasay; Jennifer Woodward; David Whitworth
Joe Chaikin and Jean-Claude Van Italie’s 1968 Open Theater creation of an ensemble ritual, exploring the primal moment of the Genesis creation story, and where it all went wrong – or perhaps right – for humankind.
Have a secret.
They are a prison.
Someone is locked inside them.
Sometimes, when it's very quiet,
I can hear him breathing'
A beautiful evocation of counter-cultural innocence being 'challenged', and of the primal roots of conflict being accordingly sought, and one that imagines the 'Fall' as an ambivalent event inciting both the ‘negative’ violence of hate but also the constructive 'violence' of self-discovery and of resistance to arbitrary power; all resolved in the endless rhythm of biblical ‘begatting’ in the piece’s concluding section. Van Italie, Chaikin and their originating ensemble ask, was ‘the fall’, on balance, worth it? In contemporary (1968 American) terms, the result is shown as being a culture that is (or was) on a kind of 'life support' (the patient in the opening section having brain surgery...a shot president on life support....and then the enervated 'popular song' at the end), and that is also troubled, alienated (wonderful sections expressing troubled individual consciousnesses that apparently Van Italie adapted from testimony from ensemble members) but still potentially – in its capacity for revolution and renewal - alive. Van Italie's beautifully allusive and courageously spare text is commendable as much for what it compresses and excises, as for what it directly states. Its 'governing' structure an implying 'trace' rather than an explicit statement. An extraordinarily disciplined and tight text occasioning (in precious archive film from the original production) apparent counter-culture earnestness, but also some wonderfully specific and bold stage action.
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