Their newest work, A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique), suffers some simply because most of the audience, I am sure, has never seen a production of the Polish theater artist Tadeusz Kantor, a figure in Poland who is as well-known as his fellow countryman, Jerzy Grotowski. And I too suffered through much of this very complex and sometimes impenetrable play with a feeling of deep confusion. As the intelligent woman from Jerusalem, who sat next to me at the Sunday matinee, said, upon standing to leave, “Do you have to understand a work in order to like it? Because I enjoyed it with having a clue to what it all means.” I promised her that I would try to make sense of it, but I think to do so would mean I would have had to have studied Kantor’s work, and I’ve never experienced a single performance which he directed, let alone the work central to this production, I Will Never Return from 1988. If nothing else, I now am most interested in Kantor’s theater, and will surely try to uncover other works in an attempt to comprehend his directorial methods.
To give Wooster Group director, Elizabeth LeCompte and the often collaborative performers credit—in this case, Zbigniew “Z” Bzymek, Kate Valk, Ari Fliakos (who miraculously gets younger every year), Jim Fletcher, Enver Chakartash, Suzzy Roche, Danusia Trevino, Erin Mullin, and Gareth Hobbs, along with, on film, Kantor’s daughter, Dorota Krakowska—they have attempted to give us a roadmap into what they are attempting to do through extensive use of tapes from Kantor’s own productions anda rather rambling, and somewhat inconsequential interviews in a Manhattan restaurant with his daughter.
The inn-keeper (Fliakos), constantly cleans up the tables, moving the characters about as if, at times, they were mere props; yet these figures, particularly his long-suffering, stalwart, and nearly silent wife, act, challenge, and even threaten their “creator,” while he seeks throughout what is described as “a shadow of a shadow,” a vision of life based on reality but, like this company’s own productions, skewered to make us see it differently, and, most importantly, as something contorted and discomforting.
This is a story of how life and art come together without truly meeting up. The pink chair of the title, (like several of the characters) is merely a prop, something that stands in for the real thing or even a faux antique which might more fully suggest it. Reality, particularly in the hands of Kantor, does not exist. His figures, men with breasts and women with penises, are shifting multi-sexual beings who quickly transform from posturing actors (several in dunce hats) into a beautiful singing chorus—music has always been an important element of the Wooster Group’s plays, and this they sing everything from an Argentinian tango, a Catholic hymn, a Jewish hymn, and remarkable Protestant hymn, “Bound for the Promised Land.”