PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 23.3 (2001) 103-121
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A Poetic Play
in memory of Michael Ratomski
Recognition was a solo performance with a text by me and developed in collaboration with the late Michael Ratomski, who also appears on videotape. It was a dialogue between life and death, on the themes of fiction, acting, mortality, and absence. Michael originally also performed in the work; he died before we finished. But we had decided that he should remain part of the work at whatever stage he might be. Once he was unable to participate physically, he continued to advise, and the piece became a solo by me, interacting with him on videotape shot on stage, at home, and in the hospital. Of course his death altered the work further.
Recognition began as a play about the fictions we invent to deal with "reality." Its characters are named after its performers. Crucial to the dialogue is the fact that Michael had AIDS; the word is not used, but the work confronts mortality, and whether anyone can represent the experience of another. The play is set in a court, as characters give witness to different personae, places, and interpretations. The court also represents this culture's binary division of issues. There is no judge here, though some of the audience sit as jury.
The video monitor with the footage of Michael functions as a character in the space, "sitting" and being moved in a chair. As I perform, I deal differently in each scene with this: interacting with the technology; witnessing the other on tape; acting as if he were there; playing his part; discussing what would have happened if he were present; layering the reality and artifice within the "play" and the technological artifice of incorporating the real Michael, etc. The "play" and place gradually disintegrate to leave the real absence. The audience is made complicit in the struggle to create meaning in the face of mortality. Video camerawork was by Darryl Turner and Roy Faudree.
Recognition premiered at The Kitchen, New York, and at the ICA, London. It was seen at the Cambridge Conference on Contemporary Poetry, Leeds Conference on Women and Text, and Norwich Gallery. A Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the [End Page 103] Arts and a grant from the Mickery Foundation gave me time to write, which I did at MacDowell Colony. The work was developed at Ohio Theatre, New Dramatists, The Performing Garage, and on residencies at Ko Festival of Performance at Amherst, Downtown Art Company, and Art Awareness. Development was helped by the European Kaleidoscope Fund, Mark Beard, Jenny Holzer, Dike Blair, and Joel Fisher. An early version was seen at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow, Scotland, at Cardiff Art in Time Festival in Wales, at Hall Walls in Buffalo, and at Kutztown University, Pennsylvania.
Thanks to Anna Kohler and especially to Michael Ratomski, who showed me how to write this piece.
The play is set in a courtroom. Twelve of the audience are jury. Michael is on videotape, and is also played by Fiona. There is no judge. The dreams are by the light of video blue, in which the prosecution and defense tables become beds.
FIONA: Why am I asking a question?
I'm giving you a memory to will have had to will have known the answer I'll tell you.
Why am I asking a question? Because words are a honey to why.
How can you not have known? Must I spill in his language, backwards, kneeling, in act without action, naming, act out of action, jobless, cannibal, be him? You knew till I asked you, and telling, blow free in its ignorant giving. But I have a freedom and giving and ignorance you copy in ignorance of knowing that's equal to bearing. I've given all of my place. And I've given the ignorance.
Why am I asking a question?
(In the courtroom, answering that question as witness.)
(Eyes open.) There is death in my language, a grimace, jawless...