Thursday, October 9, 2014

Robert Wilson’s Shakespearean "Cabaret"

The Brooklyn Academy of Music and Robert Wilson have had a long and storied history. The cross pollination has been benefit to both. Wilson’s particular brand of modernism, a mixture of dance and surrealist esthetics, a tableau vivant of hyperbolic morphology that sometimes looks like a Magritte come to life has left it’s brand  on the Gilman opera house and the whole BAM enterprise and naturally Wilson has become an almost mythic presence in the world of performance art. He visited Freud (The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud), Stalin (The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin), Einstein (Einstein on the Beach) and most recently in collaboration with the Berliner Ensemble began to employ his pataphysics on a classic of the modern theater, in a memorably post-modern Threepenny Opera. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Wilson has rejoined the Berliner Ensemble in bringing Shakespeare to BAM in the form of a production of the sonnets--originally staged in 2009. Here the androgynous homoerotic nature of the poetry is fully vented with all the female roles played by men. Rylancing could be the term applied to this approach to Shakespeare, which was, incidentally,  the way the Elizabethans did it. Jurgen Holtz who appeared in Threepenny presides over the current production as a Queen Elizabeth who bears a keen resemblance to Bert Lahr's cowardly lion. Wilson starts with Sonnet 43, "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,” which would have segued beautifully into his obsession with the senses (a la Deafman Glance). But the production is more Catholic in spirit loading on the Shakespearean conceits to the point where they are in direct conflict with the director’s esthetic. While the mind is being stimulated by the complexity of the word play, Wilson employs his signature technique of slowing down the action. It’s like oil and water with the actual Shakespeare ultimately functioning merely as lyrics for Rufus Wainwright’s music—which, in this context, devolves into an acquired taste. The Berliner Ensemble actors in drag singing Shakespeare with Brechtian mannerisms end up creating a distinctly Weimar effect. Wilson’s intention may have been to tackle classics like Sonnet 29, "When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s Eyes,” but he’s ended up with something that’s reminiscent of Cabaret.

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