KPBS AIRDATE: June 23, 2006
They all want to be understood, to explain their perspective to the world. But in three theatrical instances, fictional and factual, we fail to understand. A reclusive man at the end of his life, and a pair of enigmatic couples: one patently absurd, the other, historical but thoroughly incomprehensible.
Of course, meaninglessness was the whole point of the Theatre of the Absurd. The plucky ion theatre is presenting several seminal absurdist works in repertory, most significantly, “The Chairs,” by Ionesco, and Beckett’s chilling solo piece, “Krapp’s Last Tape.” One is directed by Claudio Raygoza, the other is brilliantly performed by him. Under the tensile direction of Glenn Paris, Raygoza embodies Krapp, the aging, bedraggled loner who plays and replays the tapes he’s made each year, chronicling and reliving a life that’s gone seriously, pathetically awry. As he makes this one final entry, every action is slowly and scrupulously executed. Raygoza is hyper-focused, meticulously and choreographically precise in this bleak portrait of pain and pointlessness. It’s a mesmerizing display of skill, if you can handle its protracted intensity. Then, Raygoza steps out of the spotlight and into the director’s chair, while Paris plays the wilting, dithering Old Man to DeAnna Driscoll’s riveting Old Woman in “The Chairs.” Ionesco called the play “a tragic farce,” but there’s little of the farcical or ridiculous here. The situation, however, a dying duo frenetically greeting a horde of invisible visitors, begs for a crazy comic turn. In the end, the ever-encroaching empty chairs await the speaker who has nothing to say.
The protagonists have plenty to say in “Hannah and Martin,” two internationally renowned German philosophers. She was a Jewish intellectual; he a Nazi sympathizer. Hannah Arendt was the student; Martin Heidegger was her mentor. And they became lovers. The relationship is hard to comprehend; and their justifications for their unfathomable acts, as portrayed in playwright Kate Fodor’s imaginative creation, are by turns disturbing, puzzling and shocking. The facts are that Heidegger never backed off from his pro-Nazi stance. Arendt, on the other hand, reversed her position, first calling for Heidegger’s dismissal as a professor and then begging for him to be reinstated. The provocative play is a gripping story of passion and principle, culpability, responsibility and forgiveness, set against a backdrop of unspeakable horror. Under the banner of laterthanever productions, the drama is getting a marvelous Southern California premiere. Francine Chemnick has chosen a wonderful cast and directed them with precision. Christina Barsi and Stan Madruga are superb as the title characters, and the rest of the cast provides excellent support.
You may not always understand, you may not get answers, but these plays will make you think. And as Hannah Arendt put it, “ideas have weight and consequence.”
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.