Review: Paradisiacal Rites

by Lynn on June 11, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Paradisiacal Rites

At the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Conceived, Written and Directed by Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell
Set by NKO
Costumes by Robinick Fernandez
Lighting by John Torres
Choreography by Jessie Smith
Video Projections by Juniper Shuey
Performed by:
Thomas Vincent Chapel
Darren Dewse
Matt Drews
Garek Jon Druss
Sara Edwards
James Kent
Brian Lawlor
Carl Lawrence
Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell
Lily Nguyen
Douglas Ridings
Kate Ryan
Jessie Smith
Alan Sutherland
Calie Swedberg

The Story. From the website of the Luminato Festival that describes the piece: “Paradisiacal Rites is artistic provocateur Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell’s most ambitious piece to date. A non-narrative exploration of American hysteria, nationalistic vanity and utopian fervour. Paradisiacal Rites examines the delirious final moments of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, the madness attached to the Charles Manson murder trials, and manic derangement through an obsessive commitment to the Oscars. It transforms elements of ballet, symphony, opera and installation into hypnotic and visceral performance. Everything and nothing is sacred.”

The Production. The production is divided into three acts. Act I: cute little bastards hewn with tears. Act II: My Tender Antigone which in turn is divided into three parts: Part ONE from Cain to Aesthete, The Break: It isn’t a break; it is a drowning. Part TWO; Tutelary Goddesses: Madness & Death. Act III The Dead. The italics on some words is intentional. The point of that specificity is a mystery.

Also listed in the program before each Act is something called KNEE I, KNEE II and KNEE III with a paraphrased comment by Jean Genet, seemingly the idol of the company (hence its name, Saint Genet.) But there is this for KNEE II by Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell that is “a piece of text cut and forgotten: misery has shaped itself like ecstasy inside a twisted body done. to. death, but not yet dead…just left on the floor, or behind a shed, in a ditch…whatever…waiting for a shroud, or a veil, or decay to wash the face away…away…away…beautiful and silent and alone.” That should give you an idea of the esoteric and, dare one say it, incomprehensible dialogue in the production.

The set design and Art Direction by NKO (who is also a performer in the piece) is mighty impressive. The whole room looks like an art instillation. Downstage right is a mound of earth like a freshly dug grave. Beside it is an undulating ‘carpet’ of silver sharp tipped peaks. Behind it is a ‘field’ of high wheat? Grass? Savannah vegetation? through which creatures in human form but with headgear that looks like hedgehogs, revolve and move in their space. A man far left blows up a balloon and then sucks in the air as he releases it then blows it up and sucks in the air again. I worry about him inhaling all that carbon dioxide. At the back above several pheasants twirl on the wire holding them. At the back are electric keyboards and the people playing them. One man plays an amplified viola. All the music is loud, pulsing and unvarying drone-like. It often drowns out what is being said. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

One wonders why Mitchell is intrigued by crimes that are decades old: Jonestown (1978), and those of Charles Manson (1969) with his trial in 1971. The only reference to these incidents is in the program note and not, as best as I can tell, in anything in the performance of the piece. As for the “manic derangement through an obsessive commitment to the Oscars” that seems a stretch. There is an extended scene of an awkward, linguistically halting man giving us a rundown of all the movies that had two actors or actresses from the same film nominated for the Best Actor/Actress Award, beginning in 1935.

And as for the piece being “a non-narrative exploration of American hysteria, nationalistic vanity and utopian fervor” again because of the non-existence of any story, they could also say it is about a chopped liver sandwich with the same incomprehensible results.

Act I sees characters walking slowly around the set in a stylized walk, both arms swinging in the same direction at the same time. A woman drinks from a bottle of wine, kisses a man, transfers the wine from her mouth to the other and then the wine is spit in the face of the first person who drank it. This happens three times. The pace is deliberately glacial. The music is so loud you almost get a headache.

The lights come up to mark the end of the Act and over the drone of the ‘music’ a microphoned voice says it’s the end of the act. The music still plays. Some performers remain cleaning up the stage of the wheat/grass.

In Act II the tone is different, livelier. The company dances in repetitive steps for the whole hour of it. I believe it’s this act that the performers gather the bits and pieces of the wheat etc. in large sacks. As they give their sack to another performer, they are given a pop can to drink for their labours.(Is this the Kool Aid of Jim Jones?) The man pops the can in anticipation of the person who will take it. The performers, all drink from their cans as they circle the stage.

A man is almost sodomized several times by a group of people he knows. At the end of the act he is alone on the stage, still dancing his repeated steps until he leaves. Again, the music plays after the lights come up.

Act III is presumably about The Dead, certainly not James Joyce’s The Dead. Here we are visited by a Jean Genet clone who says several times into a microphone, “Frail ghost, I love you.” He and several characters have wine poured over their heads followed by a thickish liquid that could be oil or honey. An anointing? Dunno. The microphone doesn’t work the first time so a woman in black, (a techie?) comes on and adjusts it. When the microphone isn’t needed anymore the woman walks in between performers and just takes the equipment off. Are we to assume she is invisible because she’s wearing black? How theatrically mundane for a company that seems so iconoclastic when it comes to ‘traditional theatre’.

At the end the cast slowly exits the stage, sweaty from the exertion, wet from the wine, sticky from the honey, perhaps exhausted from the almost three hours of performing. The musicians drone on. A smattering of weak applause results. And confusion. Is there a curtain call? (No, how mundane would that be?) Do we leave while the ‘band’ is still playing? We do. One wonders if the violist remains playing his one sustained note until the very last soul in that audience leaves.

As we exit the building in the lobby is an accumulation of the pop cans and wine bottles used. Another art instillation? Or tomorrow’s garbage?

Comment. Jorn Weisbrodt, the Artistic Director of the Luminato Festival, says in his program note that he does not understand the work of Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell and his company Saint Genet but that’s why he likes it. He says, “It is important to support an artist who is working on a form and language that we do not understand yet or maybe never will.” Mr. Weisbrodt doesn’t actually tell us why it’s important to support such work.

He is impressed by Mr. Mitchell’s ambition, audacity, rigor, boldness. He says further of Mr. Mitchell: “His work is extreme and it is intense but as he says, so is reality and nothing that he could imagine is anything that could not happen in reality. If we are really honest, I think we will admit after seeing his work and Paradisiacal Rites in particular that he is absolutely true. If we know who the demons are, we know who we are.”

Ah, no. If the piece is non-narrative, dare one say, incomprehensible then we would be hard pressed to know a demon from a darling. Any connection of the performances to the actual expressed themes in the program is again wishful thinking.

The endurance of the company is mighty impressive. I would also say the same of the audience that stays for the whole performance. But I don’t get the sense from Mr. Mitchell and his creators that the audience is actually considered, unless it’s to see how much repetitive droning; inexpressive ‘acting’ and ‘non-narrative’ incomprehensible written twaddle it can take.

Commissioned by the Luminato Festival. Produced by Saint Genet

Opened: June 10, 2014
Closes: June 14, 2014
Cast: 17; 13 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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