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Theater 30.2 (2000) 144-149
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A Delicious Meal:
Needcompany's Morning Song
At first the setup looks familiar: five microphones and stools lined up downstage. I know what I'm in for. But off to the right is a fully equipped kitchen, and far upstage a broken-down sofa. Center stage is bare. There are no video monitors anywhere. The actors enter casually, sit on their stools, watch the audience settle down, and then begin to discuss how political affiliation affects eating habits. They speak in the mock-urgent, throwaway tone I expect. The woman to my left says, "That guy in black looks like Grotowski wearing shades." Suddenly the stage conversation merges into a rhythmic chant: "Man, you got to move on, man, you got to move on, man, you got to move on, man." Rock music starts, and the actors move gracefully into a pop song that has nothing to do with the politics of consumption. At the end of the song a woman in a short white lace dress and bare legs runs onstage and throws her limbs about violently, tossing herself around as though she's inside a blender. "Very De Keersmaeker," says the woman to my right. As the dancer walks off, an actress of considerable stature enters and tells us that she grew up in an unsightly village outside of Antwerp. She indicates a map behind her, which unscrolls to reveal an archaic rendering of Venice. And on it goes: delightful, demanding, and in need of context.
On tour as part of New York's New Europe '99 Festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, Needcompany--a Flemish collective founded in 1985 by artistic director Jan Lauwers--returns to the United States after a ten-year absence with Morning Song, the second part of a larger work entitled No beauty for me there, where human life is rare. A self-proclaimed "burlesque," Morning Song recounts the doomed loves of the once-aristocratic Grandiflora family and their colorful retinue--eccentrics, rebels, and castaways all--who forge the most dramatic of lives: tragic, politically encumbered, transgressive, and lovelorn.
Morning Song's characters include matriarch Liliane Grandiflora; her aged, ineffectual husband Leopold; nymphomaniac daughter Lena; homosexual brother Leonard, a chef; ex-lover and son-in-law Harry, a Nicaraguan revolutionary; Lena's former boyfriend Tchi, a naive Taiwanese-Chinese taxi driver; Leonard's partner Eddy, a Basque nationalist; and Harry's dejected ex-girlfriend Ushi, a New York attorney. They recreate their pasts on a stage, and in a state, that one can only assume is heavenly. Long dead, these lovers cannot resist the memory of their lost lives or the compelling desire to compose and choreograph, [End Page 145] choosing moments they feel are stageworthy and then staging them, leaving the rest to exposition.
Yet Morning Song is echoed rather than told, assembling itself as collective memory redacted before our eyes. Characters cannot even begin to speak without a chorus of voices reiterating their line, or changing it just slightly. The play takes frequent detours, incorporating music and numerous dance interludes. Throughout the performance, Leonard cooks Harry and Lena's wedding feast. It simmers away on stage, wafting its spicy aromas up into the audience while the narrative cracks open in frenzied discussion, skips through the exposition, stalls under the weight of Ushi's sorrow, explodes into emotion when the wedding turns traumatic, and finally subsides as the characters meet their ends.
Needcompany's creation of Morning Song was inspired by several sources: a passage from Flemish writer Guido van Heulendonk's novel Strontium describes the fateful wanderings of a radioactive particle released in Nevada after a nuclear test; dialogue from Albert Camus' Caligula suggests another theme:
CALIGULA People die and are unhappy.
HELICON But this truth does not prevent them from enjoying a delicious meal.
From these seeds, the company developed a tragicomic script, musing on the pain of human longing, the heroic search for justice in a cold and dangerous world, and the inevitability of death.
Harry, the play...