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STREAMING THEATER REVIEW Alas: A Monologue from Matei Visniec's Cabaret of Words
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-08-04

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Playwright: Matei Visniec, translation by Daniela Silindean. At: Trap Door Theatre streaming online . Tickets: TrapDoorTheatre.com; $10 suggested donation. Runs through: Sept. 4

Romania's location amid the quasi-feudal Balkan states has endowed it with a history of subjugation rendering it particularly vulnerable to oppressive governments. Playwright Matei Visniec, even after fleeing to France in 1987, has not forgotten the censorship imposed on dissident writers under the Communist regime, nor is he content to allow us to take for granted a freedom as fragile as it is precious.

His exhortation to his fellow citizens—currently streaming online under the sponsorship of Trap Door Theatre and its expatriate branch in Barcelona, Trap Door International—is barely 200 words long, however. How, then, does Visniec convey the ambivalence of a populace acknowledging the necessity of social restrictions ( "triage" ) while always cognizant of the threat posed by a complacency promoting capitulation to authority?

Why, it's done precisely as the the Absurdists did nearly a century earlier, during a similarly shellshocked age ( Ionesco, especially )—by excising superfluous verbiage to forge an abbreviated stream-of-consciousness syntax reflecting the confusion of contradictory allegiances. "Fence. Big fence…I fence off, you fence off, he fences off, we all fence off. Happily. Necessary it is." we are told, even as the muted cry of "Alas" permeates the tangle of seemingly unrelated observations.

Lest we attribute these attitudes to a single culture, director Michael Mejia has further divided this soliloquy among 16 actors whose careers span several countries and at least half a dozen languages—mostly English, but with forays into Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Afrikaans—in the course of the presentation.

Don't adjust your computer's volume during the first few seconds of the compact ( 22 minutes max ) video, though—the silent prologue may feature a noiresque black-and-white palette, but this is no exercise in mid-20th-century minimalism. Trap Door's aesthetic mandates performers dressed in carnival motley garb, and our merry band of multi-ethnic polyglot revelers deliver a portrait gallery of festive regalia encompassing hair arranged in Medusa braids and faces bedizened with spots and stripes of slate gray, patina green and jellybean violet paint attached to athletically agile physiques gamboling in kinetic frenzies, surrounded by hints of forests, beaches and cheerful kitchens.

The result is a kaleidoscopic collage ( assembled by director Mejia in their additional capacity as video editor, along with their responsibilities as the show's composer and sound designer ) so dazzling that by the time we are confronted by a series of brutally familiar images reflecting our own country's experience, our first impulse is to repeat our brief, but densely packed, dark-ride tour in search of warnings we might have missed the first time, or perhaps just another glimpse of the single shimmering-gold tear welling forth from a clown's sad blue eye.


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