03 Apr We are all Aliens
Divided into eight amateur actors in the Blood on the Cat’s Neck play from Bydgoszcz, the heroine, Phoebe Zeitgeist, is sent to Earth to find out more about the world. She should, first of all, learn about human democracy and write an eyewitness account of it. However, she faces major problems, because even though she has learned the words, she does not understand human language.
“Society Is Mean” – sang Dorota Masłowska a few years ago, and a similar conclusion had been reached forty years ago, though using different means of expression, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The author, also known as the enfant terrible of German film and theater, was a brilliant observer and critic of the reality that surrounded him. Pessimistic diagnoses made by the author, who worked in many fields of art, although presented with humor and grotesque, continue to represent the perfect type of lens in which a society is reflected as mired in hypocrisy.
Long, though intriguing, a title of the Fassbinder’s drama was nothing but a joke, public ridicule, toying with kitsch, applied by the author, who was often considered arrogant. “Cat’s neck” is not a metaphor, and it would be futile to look for Marilyn Monroe or vampires in a world that he had created. Taken from the American comedy The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist, the name of the heroine more likely underscores the absurdity of her experiences on our planet than it resembles the intertextual relations. It seems that the only horror are the alien’s observations, illustrated on the stage, on the subject of democracy and human diagnosis. The reflection of reality presented by Anja Suša, even though distorted, still seems true and close to us.
Pleasant words are not used about humanity and its problems in the play from Bydgoszcz. For instance, in order to achieve our goal, we must above all adapt ourselves to the rest of society – seems to be suggested by the creators of the play. If we find such a perspective unsatisfactory, we can just as well shoot ourselves in the head. We should not think that somebody will drag us away from that idea, but they will more likely hold a glass of water for us with which we will take a pill for the eternal sleep. The literalism of these statements is essential because the text and theatrical interpretation of Blood on the Cat’s Neck make us understand that we are overcrowded in this society. This is depicted by the protagonists closed in the box-like theater space, that from time to time enter the bright yellow wall or absurdly bang their head against it.
Before the stage characters are shaped and become concrete protagonists, the actors take a long time to move in a group on the stage. Dressed in nude tone clothes, they outrageously gaze and then laugh towards the audience. Holding hands, they stretch their limbs in different directions, as if unable to separate from the body. They look like a homogeneous organism from which they will be separated the very next moment. Now as individuals, they come into the world full of irrelevant conversations and meaningless events, with no possibility for any cooperation, and where it is too boring to listen to each other’s stories.
The spectacle, directed by Suša, is free from pathetic dialogs and with the engaged music, discussing the existence, ontology or philosophy. The Soldier, the Policeman, the Butcher, the Teacher, the Widow, the Lover, the Model and the Girl, at one moment, sit at not so lavishly set a table and are having a dinner, not depicted from the commercials or trite television series, but rather from a nightmare family. You can hear the stepfather say: “Your mother is a street-walker”, while the wife can say – “I don’t want to see you again, I’m with someone else”. In that world, an employment contract is terminated with a bullet, and the only way out of a difficult situation, which represents life, is a vial filled with pills or knife that slits the wrist or, as mentioned in the title, the neck. Fortunately, the blood is ketchup for now.
“What will I represent when I’m old?” – asks the Model, who raised her nose from “snorting” the next line of confetti. We are witnessing sexual transactions, racist auctions, ramblings on the subject of low wages, unpaid pensions, and unwanted pregnancies. The world of the stage painted in too bright colors, in which the scenes of jealousy or the father who abandons a group of children – provoke laughter, as the strategy of the director who gladly uses the grotesque gags. The actors, who play different characters, switch roles and play with the film, theater, and pop culture conventions, often at the border of deliberate kitsch. It can be said that their stage existence is based on their non-existence. The scenes that follow are exaggerated and have no point nor psychological motives, and represent theatrical clownery, with too many gestures, props, and acting expressions.
Economic problems are intertwined with existential ones. The famous play from Bydgoszcz successfully disclose the mechanisms of creating dependence on another man, mutual subjection, and power. Its creators take the theme of loneliness and feelings of alienation. They do not give ready-made recipes – their story is bitter in its wordiness. Nevertheless, Blood on the Cat’s Neck is watched with ease, which greatly testifies to the director’s awareness of the form. The success of the spectacle is a huge merit of performers. I dare to say that after perturbations in the Polish Theatre in Wrocław, at the moment Bydgoszcz has the best acting company in Poland. Their joint work is almost done to perfection.
The balloon of meanings and social problems inflates to unseen proportions, after which it is pierced with flying colors in the scene of shooting all participants of the caricature dinner. The Butcher starts a series of executions – the feast participants fall one after another to the floor in bent positions. From that moment on, the amateur actors are on the stage, whose previously recorded personal testimonies about the world and theater are truly exciting. Confrontation of their characters with other actors who play the role-schemes leads to a kind of nostalgia, longing for community, desire for sincerity in relationships. Such a feeling can still be an incentive for the action, encouragement to the desire for real change. Thus, Suša’s spectacle is both social and political one, but it is not inspired by a dime opinion journalism. Feelings of alienation and loneliness, present in Blood on the Cat’s Neck, at a certain point is summed up by the Teacher. “Each one of us is afraid” – he says. Often of another man. This primarily generates frustration, but it can also be a cause of depression, alcoholism, suicide. Earth is probably not the best place for living. However, at one moment Phoebe says in a voice of an amateur actress: “Basically, it is good that there are differences in the world”. Perhaps the mysterious alien should take us all to her planet, so we can create a more empathetic and happier community in the new reality.