The Last Dreams of Helene Weigel or How to Get Rid of The Feminism Once and For All
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
July 15, 2010
"I have inherited a rage which cannot be expressed or shared communally," Helene Weigel begins her last soliloquy. As the production draws to a close, I'm forced to agree. The Last Dreams of Helene Weigel or How to Get Rid of Feminism Once and for All is an exploratory opera that follows Helene Weigel, actress, wife, and "perfect woman," as she confronts various surreal, feminist dilemmas and has visions of her doppelganger, 12th century scholar, Heloise d' Argenteuil. Highly ambitious, the performance ultimately suffers from an over-saturation of under-explored concepts.
Helene's journey is attended by a singing chorus of lingerie-clad women and men also sporting traces of femininity—Bertolt Brecht, Helene's deprecating husband, wears a corset over his waistcoat. Flash-style image and text sequences projected behind the performers parallel the libretto. This striking visual work by Liz Jenetopolus and Esther Neff (as well as Lena Sands's costuming) is often more expressive and enlightening than librettist/director Neff's text. Neff's work has clearly been diligently researched—Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir make textual and physical appearances, among others—but it is unfocused and lacks cohesion. Amidst the live performances, video performance, images, pre-recorded audio, and live music playing upstage, it's hard to give your full attention to the text. All these elements are meant to support each other but with none given space for full development, it's rare for any to make the impression the Panoply Performance Laboratory wants.
It's hard to identify a concrete plot but it's unlikely this young, experimental company means you to. Helene is robbed by linoleum salesmen, kills a swan (her husband in a feathered suit), and identifies with Heloise's suffering at Abelard's hands, among many symbolic, esoteric vignettes. Andrea Suarez, playing Helene, is often out-acted and out-sung by members of her supporting cast, especially Katie Johnston as Heloise and Matthew Stephen Smith as Abelard. However, all the actors are consummate performers, committed to every gesture demanded by this opera.
Between the performances and the audio/visual work, there is much to admire. I can see a lot of work went into this performance but I would have gotten more out of it if the piece had been edited and re-filtered. However, if you are interested in highly experimental, raw but enterprising feminist musical work, this could still be a production for you.