Adapted and directed by Gabriel Plante.
La Chapelle, Oct. 10 to 19, 2018
It’s too late to experience Gabriel Plante’s ruthless deconstruction of Corneille’s classical tragedy Le Cid – I caught the final performance last Friday in one of two surtitled performances that La Chapelle presented during its 10 day run. I’ll admit, I found most of it unbearable, but I think that was the intention.
Plante’s version leaves us with the absolute basics of the love-triangle plot of Corneille’s play: The Spanish Infanta loves Don Rodrigue. He loves Chimène. When Rodrigue kills Chimène’s father in a duel, he’s honour-bound to go fight the Moors. The Moors dub Rodrigue Le Cid, or “the Lord,” for his bravery. Honour is restored.
The flowery Alexandrine poetry of the dialogue is pruned back to a few guttural, oft-repeated phrases. The characters’ lofty impulses are reduced to primal spasms of lust, aggression and self-pity. The usual two-hour-plus playing time is compressed into an hour’s-worth of strobe, smoke and sonic bombardment.
The opening stretch has Rodrigue and Chimène making out in an alcove at the back of the stage while the Infanta whines, wails and gibbers down a microphone and manically shakes the scenery. It goes on forever and seems designed to provoke uncomfortable titters and shuffling in the audience.
Experiencing a show like this had me asking myself several questions: can a piece of art that sets your teeth on edge have more aesthetic value than one that gives you comfort? Is there more truth in a tragedy that degrades and mocks the characters rather than one that raises them to an impossible dignity? Have the classics had their day? Who gets to decide the “proper” way of playing them? Can I go home now?
So, yes, on one level, I couldn’t stand the bloody thing – the wading-through-molasses pacing, the unrelenting screeching, gibbering and wailing down microphones – and, by the way, hasn’t that Wooster Group-ish overuse of microphones become more of a stage cliché than any of the stuffy classics these deconstructionists aim to send up?
And yet the brilliance of much of the staging, as well as Plante and his cast’s absolute commitment to the waywardness of his vision, made it impossible to dismiss. The combination of smoky haze and spectral, colour-shifting light sources dotted about the stage made for simple but effective spectacle. The spooky, scraping soundscape mixed with distorted classical Baroque music added immensely to the atmosphere. Several coups de theatre – for instance, an illuminated recess busting out of the darkness – still stick in the mind.
At shows like this, I usually find myself resorting to “The Fall test”. You possibly know The Fall as an ornery Manchester band whose early use of flat vocals and out-of-tune janglings could barely be called music, at least not in the conventional sense. And yet to their fans (and I’d count myself among them at various times throughout their thirty year existence), they’re essential listening. Like The Fall, Plante (who recently adapted Rabelais at Théâtre Denise-Pelletier) is very likely an acquired taste. Maybe his next “album” will have me hollering and stamping along, just like the audience did at the end of this manic, piss-taking mash-up of Le Cid.