A Triptych written and directed by Gilbert Girion
People come to art events with their own idiosyncratic references, associations, semblances in order to make meaning of the soon to be unraveled spectacle. People come to death events and such events’ transference to realized and unrealized acts of intimacy with the same laundry list (peep actor Josh Liveright as Math Professor Michael in the third installment “Number Land” and his inability to move his feet “glued” to a spot on his ex-student’s lawn). I came with my own list anticipating a work on mourning and melancholia; specifically, the depiction of hell in Hieronymus Bosch’s Millennium Triptych painted in the 1500’s and Amiri Baraka’s explanation of the modal insistence and pointillism of Miles Davis’s 1959 recording Kind of Blue.
Brecht once said, “I’m writing this down because I like precision” so let me go into a bit more detail.
I got to Hieronymus Bosch’s version of hell through the art criticism of the great John Berger (See Hold Everything Dear) who reads Bosch’s Triptych as a parable of globalization and contemporary Zapatista resistance to such economic/geopolitical structuring. Key word Triptych—I’m sitting in the front row of The Interart Theatre (this is their last show due to the company’s closing and Bloomberg’s greed) trying to make sense of the relationship, the connective sinews weaving together three play events presented as a unified whole. It is the same night I finally got what people mean when they refer to the modal playing in Miles’s opus. From Baraka’s Miles Davis: ‘One of the Great Mother Fuckers”:
Kind of Blue is the stripped-down recombing of the two musical tendencies in Miles (the American and the African-American) to where they feed each other like electric charges. Here the mood, the lush, the bottom is also sketched. Miles has discovered chords and the implied modal approach that link up object and background as the same phrase and note. Blue is not contrapuntal, it is pointilistic, yet its dots and its backgrounds are the same lines flowing together.
That was my expectation of a semblance of unity for Girion’s song cycle. The sketched bottom, the dots and backgrounds as convergence of lines. Perhaps an unfair expectation, certainly arbitrary as all hell—but over-determining my reception nonetheless.
Bridge Over Land opens with “Darkland” which portrays Ed Setrakian as Husband and Josh Liveright as Son graveside at Wife/Mother’s funeral. Husband sets up for himself the faltering expectation that as “a nonreligious man [he] shouldn’t lose himself in religious sentiment.” Girion’s script and Setrakian’s and Liveright’s performance capture expertly the aggression latent and manifest at a funeral. The layers upon layers of guilt, anger, and embarrassing disclosures in a moment of helplessness—the two men perform an absurdist dance of “are you all right?” that barely masks the aggression and resentment that coalesces around their loss. Everything is questioned in a loving hostile exchange between father and son—records of marital fidelity, coherence of Jewish ritual surrounding death (tearing of the clothing), “a little bible, a little God”.
In “Tableland”, David Hurwitz (giving a consummate performance) as Kid and the beautiful Lisa Chess as Mom confront their Kid/Mom relationship structured around the loss of their Father/Husband and a peculiar mash up of erotic charge and alcoholism.
Mom: I should try and wake your father.
Kid: My father’s dead.
Early on in the work, there a few times in which the banter and physical interactions between Mom and Kid seem to be this close in erupting into a taboo sexual exchange. Such evident fact isn’t what is most disturbing here. Such evident fact is trumped by the fact that such sexual tension is never explained, never developed, never evoked—it is there and it is gone and swallowed by the dynamics between Granddad, Mom, and Kid and platitudes about “shaping the day” and “cradle to the grave”.
For what its worth, I was convinced that this was a case of Nicole Kidman and The Others and that everyone (sans Kid) in the play were actually dead memories, explaining perhaps the ambivalent sexual attraction revulsion between Mom and Kid. An ambivalent, guilty way in which we often process and sublimate tragic loss. There is a peculiar elevated ramp stage right that I still can’t make sense of.
Aside—Ed Setrakian’s iteration of the line “Well, blow me down in Chinese” is worth the price of the ticket.
As soon as you/I thought that I was reading in too deep this intergenerational lust sub-plot between Mom and Kid you get the final offering, “Number Land”. A concluding offering in which Josh Liveright as Math Professor Michael ends up in an intimate embrace of former student Kathy played by Kati Rediger. Michael’s parents are dead, his relationship of many years has ended and he can’t seem to consummate his desire for his ex-student. Most of the action takes place with him stationary on her lawn and her stationary in her doorway trying to negotiate whether or not she is going to “let him in” and if he will follow.
In a moment of embrace Kati Rediger recites a smart, confusing and competing laundry list of labels of address to Math Prof—“Poor Baby, Poor Man, Poor Professor, Poor Crazy Professor.” In an equally poignant moment, Rediger hips Prof to the fact that the class she took with him was “Math for Dummies”. This prompts an awkward, hilarious response in which he tries to comfort Rediger’s character (who isn’t in need of comforting) that she really isn’t a dummy. The power dynamic, the Professor/Student dynamic, the return of the repressed comes back in awfully funny, telling ways. Ways often more profound than the overarching theory that the play cycle offers about how we handle our loss and try to recapture lost innocence in a perhaps inappropriate inter-generational, nostalgic sexual union.
Berger links the three panels of Bosh’s painterly narrative to tell a story about global economics and resistance. Baraka links up background and object in Miles’s compositions. These were the primers, the filters in which I received Girion’s three dramatic offerings. Kind of Blue come to find out wasn’t too off the mark. Girion’s play cycle posit coherence of mood over coherence of philosophy on mourning and death, or for that matter coherence of philosophy in dramatic performance. The disappointment in the works for me is in how each segment ends with an easy “glimmer” of hope—the proverbial sun rays at the end of the first movement illuminating the funeral plots. “A sun kiss for Mommy.”
I liked it better when Girion’s writing and the ensemble’s acting are at its best—messy and unresolved. The wait, Mom and Kid are about to fuck and they don’t or they have already, or they want to, or they aren’t really even there. The I teach math for dummies, you were my student, now I want to fuck you, but you really aren’t a dummy, because I’ve lost all confidence and swagger and you are comparatively much more composed. I wish Girion lingered longer with such ambivalences.
Such ambivalences are the pointillistic messiness of mourning and melancholia. The connective tissue linking background with object. The coherent narrative thread connecting Bosch’s three panels. Check out “Bridge Over Land” before Bloomberg’s money machine profit lust renders Interart Theatre Development Series something that is no more… Something to be mourned.