SHOW: On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God
GROUP: Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio
ATTENDED: Thu., Sept. 12, 7 p.m., Suzanne Roberts Theatre
CLOSES: Sat., Sept. 14
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: "A massive, iconic portrait of the face of Jesus hangs as a backdrop while human actions transpire that question the nature of faith and the desire to be in the presence of the son of God."
WE THINK: The tension was palpable from the moment two black-clad crew members brought Gianni Plazzi, who plays a decrepit old man, onto the all-white stage, and it didn’t let up throughout the hour. It’s a credit to director Romeo Castellucci that despite all the sensory bombardment — the repeated shittings that still made you squirm no matter how prepared you thought you were, the bitter scent of sulfur being pumped into the audience as the shit spread on stage — one never stops thinking during this play and it never becomes cheap spectacle.
As for the actors, I’ll say this: The interaction between the old man and his son (Sergio Scarlatella) is one of the greatest presentations of love and devotion I have ever seen on stage.
The final third of the play could be accused of being over the top or didactic. Castellucci knows that we have mostly forgotten about Messina’s Christ that serves as backdrop, and the children he brings on stage to throw hand grenades at the massive portrait (complete with a voice rasping “Jesu, Jesu” repeatedly, harsh explosion sound effects, and an equally harsh choral track) are an attempt to bring our attention back to the face. Now, the fact that Christ’s blank gaze has been forgotten is exactly the kind of subtle point Castellucci has no interest in or capacity to mine. By the end, the face disintegrates and is torn down, replaced by the words “You are my shepherd” which slowly become “You are not my shepherd,” before the “not” fades out. Castellucci paints in broad strokes and huge symbols. Sometimes that rings hollow, but it can also compel individual audience members to encounter their own minds in stirring ways.
Here is one such experience that stayed with me. To my momentary disbelief and joy, there was some light laughter (seemingly of the non-nervous variety) in the audience during the father-son scene, and the fact that anything happening between the two actors on stage could provoke laughter came to me like a blessing. What irrational, incredible defiance of the odds against which we struggle. Those giggles were a middle finger to nature, time, decay, and God in all his silence. I wanted to find whoever they were and kiss them on the mouth.
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