The Tragedy of Maria Macabre
nytheatre.com review by Mary Beth Smith
October 20, 2011
With Halloween just around the corner, Rachel Klein’s new performance dance piece The Tragedy of Maria Macabre comes at the perfect time. After being workshopped for the past two years in various venues, the latest incarnation opened on Thursday to a receptive and friendly audience.
We first meet the title character as she becomes lost in a world that is not her own. Is it a dream? Or is this reality? It is hard to say, and as the production progresses it becomes more and more difficult to decipher who is living in who's world. As an audience we function much like Maria, watching from the outside, horrified and mesmerized at the events unfolding. Wanting to be a part of the action until the moment in each scene when the action turns darker, we are afraid to move forward but also afraid to leave. We are truly hypnotized until the end, wondering where the story tellers are taking us and questioning if there ever is an ending to the menagerie of characters and situations.
The off-kilter, sometimes circus-like choreography fits perfectly with the Burton-esque feel of the costumes, makeup, and sound. Klein is able to create what feels like an underworld with her gothic-like characters existing in a black and white world, with brief surprises of reds and oranges at the perfect moment. Exaggerated expressions done with the use of makeup are perfectly aided by the grotesque scenes she creates with characters with names like The King and Queen of the Dead. Klein and collaborator Sean Gill put together a superb sampling of music from artists such as Philip Glass, the Tiger Lillies, Mozart and many others to complete the dark and twisted world that Klein has created.
While The Tragedy of Maria Macabre is a lot of fun to experience and a true designers' piece, the overall story falls short. Klein sets it up in a epic theater style by giving us the titles to each new scene we see, which helps tremendously in determining the story of each new dance we experience. The bigger problem however, is that it is never fully understandable how the pieces fit together. We start in the present, and then travel back and forth between centuries without a real sense of why and how these stories relate to the title character. We know that this is Maria’s story, because she is slowly stripped away emotionally and physically of her innocence throughout the piece, but it is never entirely clear why. How does she fit into the different centuries that we travel between, or is it entirely in her mind, or is this a completely different world so standard rules do not apply? Toward the end, the show becomes a little clearer, but I found myself walking away still unsure about key aspects of the story. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we are supposed to project what we think and how we feel as we travel through space and time with Maria, connecting our own dots rather than those of a fictional character. I had my own interpretation of the story while fellow audience members thought varying other stories were being told. If this was the goal, Klein’s production wholeheartedly succeeded.
If you are searching for something different this Halloween season The Tragedy of Maria Macabre may be right up your alley. While the throughline of the story may have gotten a bit buried, the design and choreography of the show are not to be missed. Klein knows how to get at the heart of our subconscious and rattle us around for forty-five minutes of fun with a little debauchery thrown in for good measure.