By Pier Paolo Pasolini; Directed by Ivica Buljan
Off Off Broadway, Adaptation
Runs through 12.18.15
La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street
by Mateus Ciucci Ferreira on 12.14.15
Tunde Sho and Marko Mandić in Pylade. Photo by Theo Cote.
BOTTOM LINE: The clarity of the Greeks, the raw intellectuals of Pasolini, and the boldness of La MaMa make up for an invaluable spectacle in New York City.
It is hardly surprising that one of the boldest and most unsettling theater productions in New York City has Greek DNA. When have we not turned to the Greeks or to their mythology and culture in order to supplement our lacking arguments or strengthen our awareness of our political system? Add to that clarity and tradition the raw intellectuals and the carelessness for the politically correct speech and etiquette of the controversial Italian genius Pier Paolo Pasolini and you might begin to understand what is being produced at La MaMa by the Great Jones Repertory Company and Marko Mandić, a Slovenian actor and their special guest.
Pylade, based on The Oresteia, carries the name of its protagonist. Pasolini's play, here in a rather dry and unmoving translation by Adam Paolozza and Coleen MacPherson, starts after Pylade's request to Orestes (Tunde Sho) for revenge of Agamemnon's death. Here, acquitted of his crimes by the goddess Athena (Maura Nguyen Donohue), Orestes returns to Argos to create an Athenian democracy. Met with approval by the citizens of Argos but with skepticism by Pylade (Marko Mandić), Orestes' enterprise meets resistance. Too little would the new democracy do for the poor, objects his cousin, thus begetting a revolution. Electra (Mia Yoo) plays a part in convincing Orestes to allow space for the goddess Athena while also playing a dangerous game of seduction with Pylade. When all the cards are laid out, we have ourselves a modern day allegory of politics and the questioning of wealth distribution and consumerism with communist undertones.
Such a densely layered production could not be without its discomfort and hard choices. As if purposefully balancing between the political provocation and the to-this-day shocking values of the naked body and explicit sex, director Ivica Buljan appropriates the gratuitous to ask us what savagery bothers us the most: that of our rights or that of the flesh. As more characters shed their costumes and present us with their flesh and as the eroticism-bordering-on-pornography increased, I browsed through the faces in the audience and saw opinions divide. Nervous giggles, derisive laughter here and there and eyes that wondered in the opposite direction of the watermelon—all valid reactions to a substantial work. Nonetheless, despite the apparent extrapolation of the vulgar, Buljan's rendition comes out a winner. By establishing a dialogue with Pasolini's aesthetic and being as naked in his proposal as most of the actors are on stage—Mandić being the ultimate and greatest personification of naked truth I've seen on stage in a long time—Buljan manages to turn vulgarity into a powerful reminder of how selective our political minds and how biased our morals can be.
Pylade could surely profit from a translation that allows for a bigger contrast between the scenes, or, in other words, that is not so stiff sounding. One of the warmest and most telling moments is when Pylade curls up to Valois Mickens' lap, sucks on her tit, and in a spoiled infant-like tone calls to her Mamma, mamma. It's as if a whole new world of intention and nuance opens up before our very ears.
The ensemble, although a talented and colorful one, seems to be unevenly explored. While some are fully present, some others almost became pawns lest the choreographed scenes hadn't worked so beautifully on stage. The bare stage or public plaza expands and contracts with a conscientious use of lighting design by Mike Riggs and costume design by Ana Savić Gecan. Even if sparsely used, the costumes presents an interesting range that takes us from Ancient Greece to a 1970s Italy when Pylade is imbued with a Pasolini flair as he takes us into arms to the fields in a call for freedom and for communism.
Pylade is a beautiful and stark example of theatre done in dialogue with those who came before us, who were aware of their zeitgeist and not afraid to get dirty, messy and raw towards a complex goal beyond entertainment: awakening.
(Pylade plays at the Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East 4th Street, through December 18, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7, and Sundays at 4. Tickets are $20-$25 and are available at lamama.org or by calling 646.430.5374. The play runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission.)
Pylade is written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, directed by Ivica Buljan with translation by Adam Paolozza and Coleen MacPherson. Lighting Design by Mike Riggs. Costume Deisgn by Ana Savić Gecan. Music composed by Michael Sirotta with additional music by Yukio Tsuji and Heather Paauwe.
The cast includes Great Jones Repertoire Company members Mia Yoo, Perry Young, Chris Wild, Cary Grant, Eugene the Poogene, Maura Donahue, Valois Mickens, John Gutierrez, Tunde Osho and special guest Marko Mandic.