Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Theater Series, Vol. 2: Mythos

In October 1999, my then-roommates and I went to La Mama to see the Odin Teatret's original production of "Mythos," which they have described as a "performance about the value and death of the myth." It was one of the most extraordinary evenings of theater I've ever seen.

The entire floor of the stage was covered in gravel, smooth river rocks. And at some point a banquet table appeared, maybe it was there from the beginning, I can't exactly remember--one of the most amazing things about the performance was the way objects and scenes somehow appeared out of nowhere, like in a Richard Foreman show, or in the opera.

Here is a description of the show's action and content, from their website:

"Oedipus appears. The protagonists of the ancient myths--Medea, Cassandra, Daedalus, Orpheus--meet him in order to arrange a ceremony, the Great Funeral of History, which is thus transformed into myth. They prepare to bury the last representative of the twentieth-century dream of Revolution. And make it immortal. The wake takes place in Colonus, in Canudos, in Kronstad, on the remote shore of an ocean, at the end of a millenium.

During the vigil, the mythical characters relive the dark night of history, the lies and the horrors which made them eternal: the incestuous and murderous son of the couple who ruled hebes; the slaughtered children of Medea; the rape of Cassanda, the clairvoyant; the shadowy kingdom of death and the headof Orpheus singing as it floats downstream; the deadly wings of aedalus, the inventor of flight. While the petulant Odysseus comments with doubts and mocking remarks on the blind vitality of the living.

What is myth for us today, and what could it be? An archetype? A voice from the unconscious? A tale full of wisdom? A dark and dazzling clot of contradictions? A value to be desecrated? Nothing?

The darkest enigma shows itself through the contradictory survival of the myth, the enigma of its absence-presence. Where does a myth hide? Where do we bury it? How do we keep it alive?"

The audience was sitting on steep bleechers on each side of the long central stage, so that we could see eachother, and so that the action all took place in this kind of trough. I remember there was text in different languages, different scenes happening at the same time, and it took work to follow along--something I like. There were real elements in the show: fire, water, earth. There was an immense sense of breath, of watching actors--athletes--doing the best work they can do.

At the end of the play, the actors pulled huge white scrims, like curtains, in front of the audience, so that the stage was then shrouded, the candles still flickering behind it. It was one of only a few--a very few--times that theater has created for me an actual catharsis. There was love and there was a great warning, and I was there to witness it all.

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