Yes, it IS, isn't it? Feb 10, 2012
by Jeffrey Frace
Yes, the Past is a Grotesque Animal.
Meaning, I think, you look at the past with a mix of strangeness, wonder, some horror perhaps, or a little distaste, or amusement; mostly, it is a being which feels completely Other, which only enhances the strangeness because, at the same time, you know you are connected to it.
If you are about to see this show, or thinking about seeing this show (do it. absolutely.), then you can disregard that paragraph. Obviously if the meaning of the play could be summed up in a few sentences, we wouldn't need the play. But I'm feeling a real delight right now, and ever since the play's opening moments, considering and articulating meaning. The play's meaning, the past's, my life's… I'm failing as much as succeeding. Sometimes this game of searching is a chore and a burden. Today it is a pleasure. Why?
Back to the play. Terrific writing: exceptional detail, beautiful language (even in translation, even with a few grammatical blips), a story that unfolds in a way that feels surprising yet inevitable, a smartness that doesn't dismiss naivete, an irony that doesn't banish empathy. Compelling acting: alternating and overlapping filmic realism and theatrical presentation require tremendous agility. These actors not only have the technique to make these fast changes (and the physicality to inhabit new characters with the subtlest shifts), but they also have the grace to be genuine and vulnerable. I kept forgetting there were only four of them, as the cast of characters grew. It was hard not to fall in love a little bit, impressed by their efforts, charmed by their charisma, touched by the stories they tell. Inspired, thoughtful design: you've probably read about the amazing rotating set. Amazing? Simple, really. You know what's going on backstage, constant clearing and loading of set pieces. But every time the new compartment comes around, it's like a magic trick. Oh, and the unfinished wood? Of course it's unfinished. Excellent sound design, too: good sounds, good timing, sensitive levels. Lights and costumes were understated yet completely supportive of the production. Smart direction: the hand that guided all this is never too present, and yet all runs well, with good rhythm. That's mature work.
That is a lot of gifts to receive in one night. Perhaps that's why I'm in such a good mood today, while I'm compelled to chew on some big questions. I've been made to feel special; and at the same time, I'm part of something much larger, just beyond comprehension. Most of all, I am grateful to these artists for their generosity, brilliance and tremendous commitment in making and touring this piece. It really is brave, ambitious and beautiful.