Bill T. Jones and O’Neill

Dance, Theater Add comments

chapel-chapter.jpgIt’s been several days since I saw Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company‘s Chapel/Chapter at the MCA Theater but I’m still reeling from it’s impact.  It’s one hell of a powerful, provocative, mesmerizing piece of dance theater, and dance theater does not even begin to describe what it actually is:  magnificent, gloriously inventive, jaw-droppingly synchronized dancing occurs, definitely; strongly dramatic theatrical elements are effectively employed, for sure (at the beginning of the performance, most of the company walks around a square with their eyes closed wearing orange jumpsuits, looking like aimless sleepwalkers, colliding with each other, and having to be pushed back onto the square by other company members who prevent them from going beyond the designated space).  But in its 70 riveting minutes, Chapel/Chapter also includes film projections; a haunting musical score resembling sacred chants, composed and performed live by the acclaimed New York-based performer Lawrence “Lipbone” Redding; a game of charades gone haywire; blood-curdling throat screaming; spoken dialogue that combines newly-written material, excerpts from trial transcripts, and even the Lord’s Prayer, which at one point are all cut-up, re-arranged, and overlayed on top of one another; and Brazilian samba numbers (yes, you read it right)!  If Chapel/Chapter sounds like a strange, maddening, demented menagerie of disparate elements, well, it is…but these elements are so beautifully and creatively woven together to demand the audience’s attention on three stories that portray the fallibility of human nature and the terrible things we are capable of (the stories are all true-to-life):  a man randomly murders a family of three; a father kills his disobedient, troubled daughter in a moment of fury; another man confesses that he kept the secret of witnessing a friend’s suicide for twenty years.  The metaphor of being imprisoned, either in a brick-and-mortar institution or in the emotional prisons of guilt and memory, is fantastically evoked, particularly by the fact that the dancers perform on a hopscotch grid surrounded by audience members on all sides (yes, I sat on one of the three sides that had onstage seating, which allowed me to see the dancers in almost painful, suffocatingly intimate close-up).  Bill T. Jones is a genius, not only because of the powerful and vigorously muscular choreography but also, more importantly, for devising a concept for audience reflection and questioning, and strongly, vehemently, delivering on it.  Here’s hoping for more Bill in Chicago.  Lucia Mauro of the Chicago Tribune compares Chapel/Chapter to Oscar best picture winner No Country for Old Men, which is saying a lot.

In other news, I remember snoring out loud when I first read that the Goodman Theatre is going to put on a Eugene O’Neill festival in 2009, with the centerpiece being Desire Under the Elms with Brian Dennehy, directed by Artistic Director Robert Falls.  Another O’Neill theater festival is as welcome in my world as a catheter.  I had two catnaps and a dream involving Ralph Fiennes when sitting through the Goodman’s Moon for the Misbegotten way back when (yeah, and that had my favorite Cherry Jones in it).  Well, banish the cynical and skeptic in me, because the Goodman just announced the rest of the performances comprising the festival, and they are quite the shockers!  (my mouth fell so wide-open, a couple of catheters could have fit in there).  Ivo Von Hove, who has become the object of my theatrical wet dreams after seeing his mind-boggling, wonderfully surprising The Misanthrope at the New York Theatre Workshop is bringing his Toneelgroep Amsterdam and their version of Rouw siert Electra (Mourning Becomes Electra), which is staged with lots of different media and lots of nudity.  Brazil’s Companhia Triptal will present three of the “Sea Plays” in Portugese and in rotating repertory.  The famed Wooster Group (co-founded by Willem Dafoe) is bringing to Chicago it’s controversial version of The Emperor Jones where O’Neill’s African American male lead, is portrayed by a female….in blackface!  (acclaimed actress Kate Valk).  The O’Neill festival is definitely not going to be like the Horton Foote festival, so Goodman audiences be warned!  I, on the other hand, will be hopping and skipping over to the Goodman to be first in line to buy tickets for these amazing, world-class shows (as well as for an iron-clad shield…I’m scared the normally, shall we say, staid Goodman audience might be throwing tomatoes, staplers, wooden boxes, or their walkers on stage!!!)

The Goodman’s O’Neill festival is currently scheduled to run from January to March 2009.

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