I'LL SELL THE HOUSE IN WHICH I CAN LIVE NO MORE
nytheatre.com review by Susan Gordon
August 18, 2006
Teatre KTO's I'll Sell The House in Which I Can Live No More is inspired by the life and work of Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. To get what you should from this production, there are at least a couple of things you should know about Hrabal. His most internationally recognized book was translated as Closely Watched Trains, he and his writing had a particular sense of lewd funniness, and he had a thing about fifth floor windows. You won't need to know that he drank a lot, you'll get that by going to the show.
Jerzy Zon, co-founder of Poland's experimental Teatre KTO, directs a cast of five for this play. There are no words spoken, instead the story is told through movement and the kind of sounds that sound the same in any language. Jacek Buczynski's Hrabal is solemn, in a winking way, and Grazyna Srebrny-Rosa plays his merrily worried wife. Marta Zon, Bartosz Cieniawa, and Maciej Popczynski make up the rest of the ensemble. Marta Zon, Bart Cieniawa, and Grazyna Srebrny have choreographed a near-perfect visual song based on Hraba's writing. The players act out in hoppy, shuffly, flittery movements, wordlessly, but with plenty of loud sobbing and laughing. The medieval sense of a bawdiness you can see is evident: this is burlesque—a tragic, mad carnival throughout.
But there is a necessary direct counter to all the brash movement. Hrabal's Prague was the squashed one of the 1940s and beyond and, accordingly, costume and set designers Zofia de Ines and Joanna Jasko-Sroka craft I'll Sell The House in shades of grey. The costumes are black or white depending on the scene. Sometimes they're at least partially black and white, in which case they are polka-dotted or striped, the closest you'll get to the flash customary to the ribald. The shoes are sensible, men's laceups and women's short, sturdy, stacked heels. Skirts are knee-length. Five trench coats count as outerwear.
Director Jerzy Zon works in grey as well. The five players are made anxious, wan, and fretful. All are acutely aware of each other, what predicaments there are are shared ones. What Zon has managed to get across the strongest is that each of the characters is alone, yet placed in urgent, formalized, and droll relationships with each other. These are lifetimes held together by the five holy rites of birth, baptism, communion, marriage, and death. Zon blatantly recasts Hrabal's world in terms of 500-year-old clowning to point out that this is pretty much what Hrabal was doing anyway.
There are two best parts in I'll Sell the House. One is the seductively playful fool, who appears crucially four times, each time pushing a cart with windup dioramas, and singing songs of love and devotion in four languages while cleverly stepping to dances that match each language. The other best part is a stage composition based on sobbing and dresses behaving as ghosts: shadows lit from within floating upon the stage with lives of their own.
At the beginning of I'll Sell the House, the stage is bare but for five steel-colored traveling trunks, which at points will come to resemble coffins. Five shapes drift onto the darkened stage like shadows; a train is waited for. One real-time hour later, the train returns. The stage is dark again, the small group is again waiting for a train, each face deliberate in the light this time. In the end, there is priestliness in the mix as well. The beauty flickering throughout the hour is the kind found in furtiveness, in a cup of tea, or in confession.