Theatre from the cracks in the psyche of culture











SCREAM November 2003





Theatre of Humanity to Illuminate Shadows of the Soul

An old man is dwarfed by the passing of history and his connection to people and events he can only barely comprehend. But Violine is not a story about a man so much as it is a sculpture of human isolation.

Adam Reece as Young Cyril shadows Peter Damien Hayes (Old Cyril) in Violine

A man sits in a chair at stage left. He is dwarfed by his own past, his doubts, his failing mind and the threat of having to face his own mortality. The questioning and search for clues as to the future return him to his own writings and prophecies as discovered when confronted with the most horrific of circumstances during World War 2. But if we sculpture this scene on the stage, our focus is not simply on the man, but on the relationship of the man to the larger scaffolding of life the forces which shape experience. The key term here is "relationship". What connects? What separates? And what resonates with the audience! In so doing, our theatre challenges some of the common errors and assumptions in contemporary thinking and practice.

In constructing Violine, both in its blue print (the script) and in its design and presentation, much consideration has been given to the tension between the spoken words of an actual character and the choice of words to fit the play's sculptural foundation. No actual person would ever say many of the lines spoken by Cyril Farmer; especially with his dementia. The temptation is then to naturalize the lines. This would certainly make it easier on the actors playing the roles. But would also be missing is the theatrical tension between multi-faceted layers of meaning being sculptured through the work and the requirement that audiences understand on a simple level what is being said and why.

This tension is very real. The style for much of Cyril Farmer's dialogue is in fact taken from the prose of his diaries. The comments and observations that surround his recording of events suggests a lot about the nature of the man. His separation of what he considers flesh and spirit are consistent with some forms of Christianity going back to the Manichean, Saint Augustan and the Puritans. His disdain for common and ordinary sharing is implied in the language. The diary at all levels informs the text. Once this is compounded with the injection of Dementia and the resultant difficulty in forming speech, a huge tension arises to indicate the difference between external clarity and internal searching for lucidity.

Violine is a stage play. It isn't television or film. In many respects, it is closer to a work of visual art or an installation than to either of the mechanical mediums. It's greatest similarity to the screen form is in its juxtaposition of scenes or sequencing. What applies to film does not automatically apply to the stage.

A glance at a photographic record reveals the relationship between the isolated man, his former self, the video back-drop of a defining moment and the calm and dispassionate organizing of his move into the nursing home as indicated by his wife and the social worker at the kitchen table. We see the structure of the story sculptured with images. While a more intimate space may add to the audience involvement with Cyril Farmer, this isn't the play's intent.

Individuals exist in relation to changing culture, social strictures and historical events. These aspects provide the texture and density for human thinking and action. The forces which shaped Cyril Farmer relate to a specific historical and cultural ethos which is not evident in contemporary society. To give voice to that requires opening up the picture. It demands more than naturalistic dialogue presented in a sentimental way to tap the heart strings. Though, paradoxically, the audiences have had no difficulty in finding the accessible points of entry into the emotion of the story.

I suggest they sense their own isolation through the experience of the work. Hopefully, they also accept the need to communicate their love to others and thus find moments of communion beyond the loneliness of one's personal journey. For here is the theme of Violine. While all of us face the inevitable isolation leading to death, the communal life force shadowed by us is released for others to grasp and make their own. The rise of the silhouetted violinist above the horror of war and later of death is surely an affirmation of our connectedness beyond the specificity of individual isolation.

I think this was best expressed by Sister Mary as she left the theatre. With tears still streaming down her face she shook her head and said: "He couldn't say it. He still couldn't say it. I love you."


Joe Woodward © 2003

Photos by Pling © 2003


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