Surrealism is alive and well in The New Stage Theatre Company’s production of Fernando Arrabal’s Garden of Delights. It is a stimulating, modern production, full of techno music and video projections, including snippets of Bosch’s famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. The 80 year-old Spanish-French author, associate of Breton, Tzara, Jodorowsky and Warhol, is even attending performances, and it looked like the chorus line of half-naked women dressed as sheep met with everyone’s approval.
What’s so shocking and/or relevant about a play written in 1968 which features semi-erotic dancing by girls in a Catholic orphanage? As far as I can see, the story is mankind’s attempts to avoid pleasure, and when those attempts fail, the pains and scars of pleasure. Even though it’s funny onstage, Christianity enshrines suffering as well as salvation. So when the orphan girls Lais (Kaylin Lee Clinton) and Miharca (Belle Caplis) act out the nativity of Jesus, can they be blamed for including the circumcision, too? When Lais meets the dashing, glittery gold helmet-wearing Teloc (Brandon Olson) outside the orphanage’s walls, she wants to be with him. She debates whether she can lift her skirt, blame it on the wind, and go to confession afterwards. This production gets a lot of laughs for showing people clinging to the trappings of order because they can only live with a little chaos.
Meanwhile, Lais has escaped the orphanage and has grown up to be a famous actress. She keeps the hairy, lusty ape Zenon (Christopher Tanner) locked in a cage in her living room. Zenon seeks to distract her from a phone interview about her acting career so they can instead sit in an enormous egg which looks like it came out of the aforementioned Bosch painting and make orgasmic noises. A triumphant sheep-dance scene follows.
The projections and videos by Laia Cabrera and Isabelle Duverger make for an incredibly colorful and sensual performance. Scenery changes every few seconds, and video projections show Lais’s soliloquies from many different angles. Add in Federico Restrepo’s intimate lighting and Jon Gilbert Leavitt’s original music and you have a pleasantly confrontational theater environment. Egle Paulaskaite’s costumes are just astonishing, unless you’re used to discussing existential questions while dressed for a night club on Halloween. The principal cast members mentioned above as well as assorted religious types and animals are all strong, and thankfully they are miked so they can run, fight and talk at the same time. Catherine Correa and director Ildiko Nemeth choreographed the piece, giving a very much appreciated degree of happiness to the struggle onstage. I would see NSTC’s next show, and would probably see it several times.
Innovative Theatre Awards 2013:
Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play (nomination)
Outstanding Innovative Design (nomination)