nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
December 1, 2006
There is some beauty, some vitality, but nothing that can be reasonably described as "chaos" in Kaos, Martha Clarke's new dance-theatre piece at New York Theatre Workshop based on three-and-half short stories by Pirandello and inspired by the 1984 Taviani Brothers' film of the same name. I have not seen the aforementioned film, nor have I read anything of Pirandello's other than his plays, but Clarke has fashioned a frequently still, quiet and elegiac evening that obscures or has entirely extinguished its initial spark.
If Art can be described as the marriage of Craft and Chaos, then at least a glimpse of this Chaos—the formless, turbulence of matter before the creation of the cosmos (or in this case, the play)—must be seen. Indeed, managing the unruly and mysterious urgency that compels one to make a work of art—sometimes called "passion," sometimes "inspiration"— is the art. And for me as an audience member to be truly involved, I must understand viscerally why a play—or in this case, a quasi-film-adaptation, quasi-hodgepodge of short stories— has been written and staged.
Besieged by poverty and political unrest, fin-de-siècle 19th century Sicily, as wrought by Scott Pask (sets) and Christopher Akerlind (lights), is alternately sun-baked and shadowy, and its citizens' dress is culturally rich if financially destitute (in costumes designed by Donna Zakowska). The interesting-looking and authentic-seeming 14-person ensemble (17, if you count the semi-onstage musicians) don't draw attention to themselves; unfortunately, neither does Clarke, nor Frank Pugliese, who has adapted the Taviani Brothers' script. Even the dancing—aside from some inspired "movement"—appears rather generic or "folk," and thus this richly detailed stagescape and its inhabitants have little to do besides synch their lines up with the subtitles projected on the upstage wall (Kaos is performed in Italian).
Also projected on that wall as the play begins is a quote from Pirandello in which he explains that he is literally (though "not allegorically," he emphasizes) a "son of Chaos," for he was born near a forest whose name is "a dialectical corruption of the ancient Greek word, 'Khaos'." Beyond that, I see no connection between the word and the staged experience. The narratives are simple, their intertwining feels arbitrary, and their ironies, when present, are easily anticipated. A good example is the first story of the evening, "The Other Son," in which a slightly off-kilter old woman is obsessed with contacting her two sons in America, while eschewing the one who loyally and benignly follows her around, because, we find out, he is the bastard son of the man who raped her and killed her husband.
That's it. That's all. It's a tragic tale, to be sure, but what do we take from it? In what way is it—or should it be—meaningful to us these days? Like the old woman and her "other son"—and like Pirandello's self-description— Kaos eschews allegory in favor of verisimilitude, but without nearly as compelling a reason.