nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 27, 2008
Antonin...mon Artaud, the latest play/multimedia installation/performance art piece by Roi "Bubi" Escudero and her collaborators at ETdC Projects' Lab, is an ambitious and intriguing exploration of the life and ideas of one of the seminal figures of 20th century theatre.
Through a series of tableaux and vignettes, many of which include musical and/or multimedia components, the play traces the chronological history of Artaud's life, literally from its very beginning (the second scene is entitled "The Primal Scream" and features Escudero herself as Artaud's mother, giving birth to the soon-to-be-genius, against the backdrop of a sonogram showing a fetus in the womb) to its very end. We see Artaud's early efforts as an actor and designer in French theatre (and some terrific film footage of him as well!); we see/hear about some of the often-surprising influences on his work, from Copeau to the Marx Brothers; and we watch his growing dependence on drugs and his increasing departure from so-called normality. Eventually he winds up at Rodez Asylum, where he is treated with electroshock therapy; this scene—which follows a startling transformation scene that I will not describe so as not to lessen its surprise—is particularly vivid.
Dazzling video and sonic imagery pervades the entire piece, much of it the work of Escudero, with the help of collaborators ranging from visual artist James Ewan to musicians/engineers Miguel & Donald McCluskey to composer Ludwig von Beethoven. One sequence, in which abstract and representational pictures are projected onto two dancers on stage, is especially enthralling.
Actor Andy Chmelko (who is also a playwright; NYTE published his comedy Office Sonata last year) takes the demanding title role, and carries it off with brio: it requires him to remain onstage for nearly the entire one-hour running time of the piece, to execute complicated movements while straitjacketed (his character is "subdued" in this fashion for most of the play, a fascinating touch by director/creator Escudero), and (literally) to rant and rave (as the crazed Artaud) in at least two languages.
Lending invaluable support are Escudero herself, Jennifer Loryn as one of Artaud's "alter egos" and a variety of women and others whom he encounters during his life, and Eddy Rimada, very impressive as "Panic-King," a half-man/half-goat presence inspired by the god Pan who proves to be an apt reflection of the greatest aspects of Artaud's life and art as depicted here.
Antonin...mon Artaud doesn't assault its audience perhaps as much as you'd expect from a work about the creator of Theatre of Cruelty; but it demands and commands our full attention as it makes use of so many theatrical and performance disciplines to help us discover the essence of the important artist who is its unwavering and essential focus.