Waiting For Pessoa
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
August 9, 2013
A scene from Waiting For Pessoa
This theatrical event by Eileen Fischer is based on the work of Fernando Pessoa, a writer in early 20th Century Lisbon. A shy person, his brilliance came to light when it was later realized that pieces of fiction published under seventy or so pen names (or "heteronyms") were all by Pessoa. If this sounds a little like Kierkegaard, another similarity is a tone of ambiguous, existential humanism. But from there, you're on your own as you enter the confrontational world of the 100 year-old theater piece "The Mariner" written by Pessoa and adapted by Eileen Fischer.
Three watchers wearing whiteface (unnamed, portrayed by Patricia Dodd, John Sannuto, and Basil Horn) sit before a coffin ringed by glowing candles. They have beautiful things to say, but their attempts to connect are anticlimactic. "Every action interrupts a dream" is one gem, shortly followed by "your words remind me of my soul, perhaps because they're not true." Awkward lighting changes and and jarring music slice into the dialogue. The saving grace for these characters--and the innovation over the original script, plus the fact that the three watchers are no longer sisters--is Alvaro de Campos (Shawn E. Lockaton) who was one of Pessoa's heteronyms. He enters the play through some almighty voiceovers, then speaks with the others about Pessoa, who he believes is a separate person. Death is kept at bay, at least for those outside the coffin. There is even some dancing.
It's difficult to talk about plot or acting here. As a commentary on reality and creator vs. created, it's quite nice. Perhaps it's easy to understand how such extreme modernism came out of Portugal, whose monarchy had just been removed and was at a midpoint in its recent 200 years of decline. The show is nominally about mariners, wherein people have waves in their souls and train themselves to look only for the appearance of change. Writer Eileen Fischer has added an extra layer to a work that was already heavy-meta, and Director John Sannuto has tried to make it funny.