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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Salvation of Anarchy: Review of The Disappearance

The Salvation of Anarchy: Double Edge Theatre's "The Disappearance"

"Only a freed imagination offers the possibility to act upon our dreams and create a fulfilling and just reality."

- Stacy Klein, Director, Double Edge Theatre

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Double Edge Theatre's Farm in Ashfield, MA, a center with several performance spaces (including 100 acres of New England countryside,) an archive and library, and resident and artist facilities. To set the stage for this review let me say, Double Edge Theatre goes far in achieving one of its core, most vital beliefs: that theatre can and does save lives. In their collaboration with writer Ilan Stavans, DET explores issues of dislocation, identity, and loss, as director Stacy Klein puts it, "an ever-present fight against fear of the other -- the stranger, and perhaps the fear of not knowing oneself."

The Disappearance (from Stavans story of the same title, 2006) tells the story of Holocaust survivor and Jewish actor Maarten Soetendrop, played by master actor Carlos Uriona. The performance opens with a confrontation between Soetendrop and his detached, unsympathetic mother (played by Carroll Durand) who sent young Maarten away when he was a child so that he wouldn't perish in the Nazi's liquidation of Europe's Jews. The complexity of the story and the development of the relationships to follow are established immediately, with both emotive candor and urgency.

During a rehearsal of The Merchant of Venice, Maarten expresses dissatisfaction with his role as Shylock; he feels it perpetuates the stereotype of the wealthy, successful Jew -- a preoccupation that significantly narrows his vision and on which he can hang all his inner feelings of alienation, desolation, and despair. After a dispute with his friend and colleague Yosee (played by lead actor Matthew Glassman), also a Jew, nearly escalates into a physical altercation, Maarten decides to publicly protest his "perceived renewal of Anti-Semitism" in his community, angrily parading around downtown clad in a trench coat and a sandwich board that bears a crossed out swastika. Consumed with rage and indignation, Maarten hurls accusations and allegations into a megaphone, though without the desired affect. He's ignored, written off as a crazy old man. He takes refuge in his daughter, played by Jeremy Louise Eaton, though her consolation serves only as a temporary balm.

Unhappy that his message may have fallen on deaf ears, Maarten stages his own kidnapping by ransacking his dressing room and leaving behind a fraudulent note from his Anti-Semite captors. The media quickly picks up the incident, causing a national sensation. Though when Detective Demotte, incisively played by Adam Bright, launches an investigation, it's not long before Maarten's ruse is discovered.

The climax of the performance comes when Maarten is confronted by his colleagues -- Maria Pique (played by Hayley Brown) and Yosee, who plead deliberately with Maarten to explain why he committed to his actions without careful consideration, actions that heaped shame upon both the company and the Soetendrop family. Even his daughter cannot pacify him. Speaking to the actors, his family, himself -- and to all of us -- he yells, "We're supposed to love each other. But the truth is that I hate you, and you hate me."

Maarten's existence, it could be argued, is a paradox: while his early escape from certain slaughter preserved his life and was without question an act of love, it was also experienced by Maarten as banishment, first from his family of origin, then from his national identity, and ultimately from his "self" or his "knowledge of self." This deeply embedded inner conflict, or anarchy, is no doubt the driving force behind Maarten's life as an artist -- there is no distinction between Maarten the human being and Maarten the actor; occupation and individual become enmeshed.

Though The Disappearance examines issues of Jewish identity and the horrors of the twentieth century, it raises the larger question of the relationship between our outer and inner lives. It is no mystery how Double Edge Theatre earned its moniker. This performance challenges its audience to participate on the most intimate plane, if for no other purpose than to witness our own fears, horrors, and nightmares.

by Ryan O'Connor


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