- Viol d'aprés Titus Andronicus de William Shakespeare
In the opening moments of Viol(Rape), the French premiere of Botho Strauss's adaptation of Titus Andronicus, salesmen snake their way through a contemporary Roman crowd hawking real-estate deals for what Americans would recognize as gated communities. " Terra Secura!" they shout, where safety and beauty are guaranteed and women and children need not fear "theft, rape, and kidnapping." Performed in unforgiving shafts of white light among fragments of classical Roman civic architecture rendered modern in dark wood, the prologue immediately situates the action in an urban landscape plagued by violence and fear. For audience members who had recently witnessed nightly news images of rioting French communities, this bleak setting seemed depressingly familiar. The production's location only reinforced its thematic impact. With the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe's historic building under renovation, the production was banished from the terra securaof central Paris andrelocated to a former opera warehouse on the periphery of the city, only meters away from the banlieuesthat had recently been depicted in media images as teeming with hooded youths and burning cars. This adaptation of a Renaissance crafting of an ancient Roman saga, steeped in violence, proved hauntingly contemporary.
Structured in seventeen scenes, the first half of Violcontains much of the action of the first twoacts of Shakespeare's play, culminating with Lavinia's rape and mutilation by Tamora's sons Demetrius and Chiron. However, the adaptation veers off-course in its second half. A remorseful Chiron romances Lavinia, who now communicates through her translator, Monica. Lavinia forgivingly invites him to her bed, but Chiron is repelled by her tongueless mouth and icy metal prosthetic hands. While Lavinia leaves in search for an aphrodisiac, Chiron rapes Monica. Titus discovers Chiron in the act and kills him, sawing off his hand and positioning the knife's blade through the mattress, pointing upward. Lavinia returns, and seeing Chiron dead, she lowers her body onto the knife, killing herself. Violence continues to emerge in striking images; in the penultimate scene Tamora plucks her son's hand from a tureen of ragout. She then attempts but fails to stab Titus, who kills her.
Violconcentrates its tensions on the experience and imagery of violence, emotional exhaustion, and survival. In a scene strategically placed outside the action and substituting for onstage representation of Lavinia's rape, an unnamed woman describes to an interrogator what she sees in a series of images not revealed to the audience. She portrays the depicted events as if they occurred out of time, somewhere between nightmare and reality, involving but not involving her: rape, genital mutilation, a tongue (whose?) cut out with the jagged top of a cat food can. After viewing the images, the investigator asks her what she feels. "Nothing. I feel nothing. These are incomprehensible phantasms. Nightmares. Everyone has them. Every night. On every pillow," she replies. "They are images of a bestial depravity. How does one live with that?"
"Comment vivre avec ça?"The play does not answer the question. Significantly however, the most visually shocking and brutally realistic scene in Bondy's riveting production is not Lavinia's rape, but its aftermath, the moment one starts to "vivre avec." Covered with blood, her clothing in shreds, the extraordinary German actress Dörte Lyssewski as Lavinia crawls slowly out of the toppled garbage dumpster in which she had been left for dead. A blood-stained wad of crumpled plastic wrapping trails from her body, peeling away with a dreadful sound, while discarded aluminum cans and other garbage roll out on the ground with her. Gérard [End Page 313]Desarthe, as a powerfully lumbering and brooding Titus, stands frozen at this incomprehensible sight and then begins washing the blood off her face with water from a puddle. Gurgling blood, a black patch running down her legs, Lavinia moves in shocked silence with halting steps, like Frankenstein's monster...