BLACK BATTLES WITH DOGS (COMBAT DE NEGRE ET DE CHIENS)
Gymnase du Lycée Aubanel
Monday July 10, 6pm
Avignon can be a confusing place, as far as languages go - back in 1999, I saw a play by Shakespeare in French, I am soon to attend a performance of Homer's Illiad in Russian and on Monday, I saw Bernard-Marie Koltes's COMBAT DE NEGRE ET DE CHIENS in English, under the moniker BLACK BATTLES WITH DOGS. In the French press, some critics, eager as ever to take arms when they consider France's language and culture jeopardized by barbaric Americans, have said that translating the play into English displaced the issues at stake, but as recent World Cup events prove, racial tensions are a universal given. And the play is so superbly performed, the emotion so raw and intense, that it is really out of place to sneer at the production.
The theater of Koltes is disturbing and heart-wrenching, with complex characters that inspire both pity and disgust. Rather than go with the Theater of the Absurd's quirks, it proves eloquently that even in our times, the theater is an adequate space to address the violent issues that drive our lives and tear our hearts. It is thus a very satisfying theatrical experience, when performed right - some feat.
Janice Akers, Isma’il Ibn Conner, Tim McDonough and Daniel Pettrow are all outstanding and moving. As Léone, Akers is a ditsy blonde one moment, a hopeful child the next, and finally a heroine straight out of the greatest classical Greek tragedies.
Stage director Arthur Nauzyciel has intelligently incorporated snippets of baroque music into the play, which gives the highly dramatic dialogue occasional breathers for the emotion to sink in. Less convincing, in my opinion, where slow-motion sequences; these sudden additional requirements of suspension of disbelief, when the spectator has already settled into a precise set of conventions, took me out of the play, as I found myself wondering 'What the hell are they doing?" when the second before I was very much engrossed in the scene. Similarly, I failed to understand the intrusion of a shower, where a stark naked Cal lathers up while carrying on a conversation with Léone in the middle of the dining room. Was it a clumsy attempt to make us understand that Cal needs to cleanse himself from his crime, or to remind us that he finds Africa filthy and is afraid of germs? Either way, it seemed unnecessary.
But the play is gripping and the cast extraordinary, as the enthusiastic curtain calls proved.