by Collin McConnell · May 1, 2015
I love theater you can smell.
Perhaps, in this context, "love" isn't quite the appropriate term. But there is a kind of excitement for me in theater that becomes invasive in a way, giving deeper meaning to the experience.
Before I give too strong of an impression: I have never been much of a fan of the oppressive styles of someone like Richard Foreman. And so, a balance is important. Something that is willing to show, to not be shy, but respect boundaries... up to a point - that point where it becomes necessary to cross those boundaries.
Belarus Free Theater, with their Trash Cuisine, strikes the perfect balance.
From a note in the playbill: "Belarus is the last country in Europe that has not yet abandoned the death penalty.Bodies of those executed are not returned to families. Cases of political kidnapping and murder are not investigated, and today there are many innocent prisoners in Belarusian jails, and many more who have been released but who were not rehabilitated and cannot live normal lives."
A full course of tales of the oppressed, of voices unheard, of those disenfranchised, left to die.
And dinner. Steak, eggs. Strawberries and cream with champagne. With a side of degraded human to go, tossed in a plastic bag.
This is an ensemble of incredible strength. Their movement, working solo or as an ensemble, is so specific, so rich, so full of life. Their investment in the work is a triumph - not only their technical skill, and not only the power and clarity of the story they have created, but there is much to be said for the performers who are willing to experience such degradation for the sake of sharing others' very real stories.
The beauty of the piece is in how mildly the act of cooking and eating - a familiar, daily necessity - can be used to illuminate both that which we ignore, and how violent we ourselves truly are (for a primer, my girlfriend recommends the opening credits to Dexter). The smell of meat permeates the air around stories of violence already difficult to digest. Crunching, sizzling. The act of eating bird, for example - a simple delicacy turns here into an excruciating exploration of torture. And occasionally, and subtly (or, in the case of one scene regarding an electric chair, not-so-subtly), the line between audience and art vanishes. We, the audience, slip from spectator to participant. And then, just as subtly (or suddenly), we slip back.
While there are moments where the specificity of this juxtaposition - between delicacy and degradation, daily and deadly - is lost a bit for the sake of a bigger impression - of isolation, willful ignorance - it all is still unnerving. It is a visceral, striking chord, as violence and this same sort of strange irony is not unfamiliar to our own country...