Critique of the Week

Okay here’s my question to the LemonHeadNation; was Andrea really drunk when she wrote this review, or was she just really, really sober?

THE IMAGINARY LIFE OF THE STREET SWEEPER, AUGUST G
Andrea Kittelson – LA Examiner

When critiquing anything French I look to French philosopher John-Paul Sartre for inspiration because Sartre asked a lot of questions, and in the case of Casa 0101 Theater’s American premiere of The Imaginary Life of the Street Sweeper, August G I have a lot of questions.

First, why a play that is all exposition about antecedent action?

While playwright Armand Gatti is a known resistance fighter with plenty of reason to resist the status quo (at one point he was captured, tortured and forced to live in a concentration camp), he breaks too many rules with this play, and some rules exist for a reason.

The reason such exposition is to be used as sparingly as a flamethrower is that it detaches the audience from the action. It is officially a no-no because it leaves for an audience too little to get riled about. It is mired in the past and devoid of any present danger.

While Gatti’s play is an homage to Gatti’s father, who was, according to Gatti, a terrific storyteller, this capturing of his father’s storytelling doesn’t quite captivate.

The play takes place after, not before, the title character is brutally attacked and is resting comatose. The lead sits on a gurney covered in blood and tells stories about how he got there.

Because the hero is already injured and near death, there is no tension or suspense. What could happen to him, now, to make the audience fear or hope for him? Nothing.

Secondly, if one must choose a play that is all exposition, why deploy so many mixed-level actors rather than one riveting storyteller?

Arguably, the only place where extended exposition about past action works is an intimate setting, such as around a campfire, where the storyteller’s face is awash in flames and he is physically close to his compatriots and his artful use of suspense enthralls.

In Casa 0101’s production of The Imaginary Life of the Street Sweeper, August G, the storyteller sits to the side away from his audience telegraphing the action, which is then acted out on the peripheries of the stage by a mismatched acting army of veterans and new-recruits.

If one must utilize exposition and two dozen or so troops to play it all out, why do so in this ‘tell then show’ way, rather than the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ (or at least ‘show’ and ‘tell’ at the same time)?

Why take from the Erma all of its ammo?

There is nothing in this fray for the audience to fear. No riddle to solve. No puzzle to piece. No war to win.

And if you do resort to ‘tell then show,’ why reenact everything on the edges of the stage rather than downstage center where the power is?

In this particular production the actors barely touch downstage center. Ever.

Certainly, the director is purposeful in his avoidance of downstage center because in nearly every scene the actors stand alongside it and even glance at it with trepidation as though it were a landmine, or as though it were not only emblematic of an oppressive regime but a portal to it.

Downstage center is used only two or three times during the entirety and most prominently by the so-called villain, the White Baron.

In a show about empowering the working man, why is the most powerful position on the stage reserved for the rich guy?

Lead actor Serafín Falcón infuses much passion into his recounting – as much as he can, given that he is on the side in the relative dark competing for focus with 30 others and sharing with his audience details they aren’t personally invested in.

But Falcón’s passion can only ignite an audience’s interest so much.

Sure, Sartre would say that it is up to the audience to deliver to a play its own interest, but he might also say that in order to do so it would have to be lured into an awareness of the play’s presence.

Without a surrogate up front living a tricky life in the present, the audience is not so easily lured in.

One way to lure in folks, and to provide a touch of missing pathos, could be through music. But the music of this so-called musical is barely there. It is absent from the entire first half of the first act, and, when it arrives, is seemingly random. It’s a bit of absurdist Abert Camus tossed into a bio-play of John-Paul Sartre.

Translator and director Emmanuel Deleage likely chose this play because of its timely message. In an age when we are all held captive by plutocrats, we must unify as workers – those of us who still have jobs – and rise up.

We must rise against oppression and acknowledge that “it is the street sweepers who will bring forth the dawn.”

It is those who do, not those who have, who will bring to bear fruitful life.

Sartre said that man is essentially nothing – that he constructs his existence of his choices and actions. Man is not the result of any one of his actions, though; he is the cumulative result of all of them.

I would assert, then, that Casa 0101 is not the result of any one of its plays. It is the canon of all.

And so long as Casa 0101 continues to build on its legacy of enfranchising the disenfranchised through thoughtful art and theater, it will forge a future of stalwart significance.

Casa 0101, founded by Josefina López, author of Real Women Have Curves, and led by López and her husband, Emmanuel Deleage, strives to make art and theater accessible to all people, not just those who can afford it.

Casa 0101 aims to bring together and build up community.

This particular play, despite any questionable aspects, is at least – and perhaps at most – an opportunity for the community to gather (with 31 performers, there are plenty of people to gather) and to discuss the play, its messages, the director’s use of theatrical elements, the relevance of theater and more.

The authorial and directorial choices become comestibles for a conversation on theater, history, politics and revolution – past and imminent.

The discussion and resulting actions then become the play’s purpose.

And the fact that such a play exists in a climate where art is diminished is surely something.

My final question?

What is up next on the Casa 0101 stage – who will Casa 0101 Theater next become?

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. If I remember correctly the events of that evening, I was neither drunk nor sober but was twitterpated, and when I am twitterpated I wax existential. Or something.