03 Apr Silent Murmur
Blood on the Cat’s Neck or Marilyn Monroe vs. the Vampires, or maybe Zeitgeist, or the story of a diseased society…
The dramatic structure of the play Blood on the Cat’s Neck, performed by the theatre company of the “Hieronim Konieczka” Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz, written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is based on the work of two collectives – one representing modern society, while the other is embodiment of a mysterious stranger from outer space. The first is made up of a group of actors not only working together but – given the meaning of the word “collective” – also representing a lens of modern democratic society. The acting collective initially functions as a homogeneous body consisting of a number of members. Actors, dressed in similar nude tone clothes, move across the stage holding hands. Their bodies intertwine in bizarre configurations, while their response to internal stimuli is identical. Individual traits of some of the heroes emerge gradually, but once they become clear, the spectator finds in the play the entire menagerie of personality types, their images distorted in the mirror of grotesque. The protagonists are the people involved in supremacy-based mutual relations of power.
The other collective works together under a single surname: Phoebe Zeitgeist. Who is this mysterious character with a wordy surname? She belongs to a very different order, a different world – literally. She comes from another planet, from which she was sent to learn about the life on Earth. Naturally, Phoebe has learned the language of humans, she recognizes words and knows the rules of grammar, but she is still not able to decipher and understand the whole communication system. By repeating bits of their conversation, she deconstructs the language in a specific way, and thus their interpersonal relations. In the spectacle directed by Anja Suša, the key feature of Phoebe’s character is that she is divided into eight voices belonging to persons outside the
By repeating bits of their conversation, she deconstructs the language in a specific way, and thus their interpersonal relations. In the spectacle directed by Anja Suša, the key feature of Phoebe’s character is that she is divided into eight voices belonging to persons outside the theater system and represented by a group of amateur actors. Their naturalness, the lack of a distinctive manner, years of training, a certain timidity and confusion is in contrast with the work of professional actors comprising the first collective.
The creators of the play from Bydgoszcz opted for the theme of general communication crisis, exposing the paradoxes within a democratic society. It is assumed that democracy is a national system based on communication between a number of individuals (of the collective?). The decisions made, at least the theoretical ones, reflect the views of the majority. However, what if society fails to establish rules that would benefit most people? What happens to a sick community that is unable to find common, “healing” language? What can result from the inability to communicate at a very simple level, when we deceive ourselves and our loved ones?
The crisis of language and communication results in a crisis of society and democracy. Man is trapped in the noise of worthless testimonies, in total absence of mutual understanding. Although he is constantly speaking, he is actually mute. Being frustrated, he becomes the element of the aggression perpetuum mobile. There is no escape. Unconsciously, we become a part of the repressive mechanism – only the roles are interchangeable: in one case we play an executioner, then a victim, and then a witness.
In this context, there is also the question of the theater itself, its engagement in socio-political issues and driving force. It is significant how the creators of the spectacle referred to a fragment of the text The End of Participation, written by American art historian, Claire Bishop, in which the researcher underlines that participatory art, in this particular case theater as well, has a double ontological status. On the one hand, it is an event in the world, and on the other – removed from it. A man becomes a spectator and a participant in the events. Key sentences are pronounced in the end: “Participatory art is not a privileged political medium, nor a ready-made solution to a society of the spectacle, but is as uncertain and precarious as democracy itself; neither are legitimated in advance but need continually to be performed and tested in every specific context”¹. Therefore, a largely engaged theater of Bydgoszcz is in an awkward position. It is no coincidence that, after all, a fictitiously created stage area is being undermined by the Polish Theatre logo, promotional materials of certain spectacles or a photo with the autograph signed by one of the actresses who play in the spectacle. One of these auto-thematic objects is an advertising balloon inflated for the play Romville directed by Elżbieta Depta, and at a certain point burst with needle by one of the characters. This can be understood as a metaphor for the artificially generated theatrical illusions that disappear under the pressure of reality, and with a mission to change the world.
Blood on the Cat’s Neck is an effort in giving a diagnosis of contemporary society living in madness of communication crisis and violent interpersonal relationships. The creators also strongly address the current issue of shaken system of democratic values. However, by primarily asking important questions about the role and meaning of theatre itself, they create an unusual spectacle, played at a high amplitude of extreme emotions within the limits of human vulnerability.
¹ The quotation is taken from the Blood on the Cat’s Neck play programme.