postcards from berlin #2 [marketing and the whole experience]
JE SUIS JEANNE D'ARC (r. serre) @ maxim gorki theater
pretty exciting piece in terms of both design and performance. really strong, clear technical work from the cast who were also really present with each other in the improv moments. they clearly had a hand in devising the show and own the material well.
piece is a take on schiller's joan of arc in the wake of charlie hebdo and the paris attacks, and they handle moving in and out of the text well and the deconstructive approach balances headiness with humour and depth. the actors obviously enjoy performing it.
serre isn't afraid of having some nice big rushy moments in the tech design that push the piece forward and hook it up to something more accessibly gutsy than strum und drang text (also a nice insertion of yeats' second coming). some footage of marine le pen's election campaign aside (which seems weirdly dated now that the show's being remounted post-election, even if it was only months ago), the video was dramaturgically strong. simple stage, a nice white forced-perspective box that actually fits studio R better than you'd expect.
main thought though, was about marketing materials. i knew the director was french before seeing it, and also knew he was taking on themes of nationalism and martyrdom--from the website blurb. it felt obvious that he was from a country that was on the winning side of the major global conflicts of the last century (wwi, ii, and cold war), because there was a pretty strong anti-nationalist bent to the whole evening. which in france (or canada), when talking about patriotic heroes, is probably more salient. but this is a country where people hum the national anthem because of, well, nazis.
i already knew joan was going to get re-examined as a violent fundamentalist because the blurb said so. her fervour was played (definitely skillfully and compellingly) as delirious fanatical ravings from her first appearance, which meant we couldn't get seduced by her, we knew she was just a crazy person with big weapons and god on the brain. there wasn't really a moment when i was thinking "yeah, vive la france, and burn the motherfucking infidels!" playing her with irony from the get-go meant that there was no gradual process of subverting my assumptions, and i didn't get taken for a ride.
which has me thinking more than anything about those accursed blurbs and how often artists forget that an audience is already being communicated with in the marketing phase. before we come, we've got a few basic facts to hang onto, and they loom large when the lights go down at the beginning. i'm not sure if my foreknowledge of the treatment of the material limited my experience of being surprised, or biased my take on the directorial treatment of radical nationalism. i was maybe more attuned to the franco-german cultural differences because of the director's name (not much to be done there), and reading joan as a violent nationalist instead of a hero (this could have been helped with a differently-pitched blurb).
that said, i know full well the experience of panic-approving press materials when i have the luxury of having someone else write them, because i'm just so grateful at not having to squeeze out something apt, concise, and compelling at 4am over frozen pizza.
near the end there was a pretty beautiful moment where a beautiful little battlesong they'd been singing throughout turned out to be a musical setting of ISIL's statement after the paris bombings in 2015. that was pretty deftly rendered. beauty i could reach towards that then grabbed me and flipped me into a chokehold.
for more about the show click here.