In the Solitude of Cotton Fields
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
January 6, 2012
La MaMa and The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival’s presentation of In The Solitude Of Cotton Fields, a two-man performance piece with music, directed by Radoslaw Rychcik, is a kinetic and stirring production that examines the politics of sexual intimacy, addiction and alienation. It is theatrical and unflinching. It is also very difficult to watch, but not for reasons you may think.
Wojciech Niemczyk, who plays the Dealer, and Tomasz Nosinski, as the Client, perform the text by Bernard-Marie Koltes in Polish. What the Dealer is selling may be drugs, sex or both, but it is not pleasure, only a “filling the void of desire.” Like a character out of a Genet play, the Dealer of vice behaves at first more like a conservative and middle-class shopkeeper, with much greater self-regard and control than the Client.
When the two actors enter the stage at the top of the show, right away we see the difference between their personalities. Both dance a whole song performed live by the Polish alternative/electronica group Natural Born Chillers. I don’t know much about their genre of music to describe it, other than that I found most of it exciting and fitting with the piece. Their bio compares their music to the groups SoulWax and Justice, if that helps.
As the Client throws his arms around in abandon, prances across the stage and leers lasciviously, Nosinski also reveals to us the hollow shell beneath the “life of the party” persona. His grins and grimaces are a cross between the Joker and the Emcee in Cabaret. His black eye makeup is a relic from the 80’s. Mick Jagger did those dance moves forty years ago. It’s as if he’s armored himself with pieces of pop culture to construct an image and any authentic feeling has been blasted away by addiction and fear.
The Dealer, however, dances not to be seen, but as if it were part of his job, which it is. The other part is to look out for customers. The nightclub or party is just his office. When the two connect by a gaze, Niemczyk describes his services like a waiter reading the specials of the day. He will not only provide what the Client wants, he will do so humbly and “almost tenderly.”
To me, the most moving piece of the production is how that is done. Nosinski strips naked, although in a great character touch, he does not do so wildly, but meticulously folds each piece of clothing before setting it on stage. He is then naked, his expression softened and vulnerable. He crosses his arms over his chest and shivers. Niemczyk, after a moment of consideration, humbly and indeed, just almost tenderly, but with real human connection, takes off his jacket and places it gently around Nosinski’s shoulders.
The gesture is too human for the Client. With an expression now of contempt, having been sated, he holds the jacket out like it’s contaminated, drops it to the floor and then dresses as if going to work. The Dealer shows no emotion at this at all. They turn their backs on the audience and a fifteen-minute film, edited by Marta Stoces begins. It’s a collage of European and American porn, cartoons and old movies and starts with the words “nothing” and “no.”
It seemed like this was a further exploration of the masks of identity and how we use entertainment to distract more than connect. Like the Blues Brothers-style suits worn by the actors, it all comments on how pop culture tropes are used as a replacement for genuine and individual expression. I think, however, the point was made clearly before the film and although I was interested in it, I didn’t feel it was essential to the production.
What is necessary to fully appreciate and understand this production, however, if you don’t understand Polish, is to be able to read the projected supertitles in English. This is, unfortunately, what made the piece so hard to watch. The titles were placed too low on the screen behind the actors.
The show started late because of a projector problem, so maybe it was replaced in the wrong position, but on the night I was there, half the audience on my side, house right, including myself, ended up standing against the side wall to see the projections. Stage fog was another obstacle to reading the text. It gets really cloudy, so if you have a chemical sensitivity to the stuff, don’t sit in the first four rows.
Then there were strobe lights and bursts of ultra-bright lights like in a rock show, which made the text completely unreadable. Although the actors’ movements are very expressive, it’s not a dance piece and you need the words to fill in the story. I do hope that issue will be resolved because the performers are excellent and deserve to be understood as well as seen and heard.