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Postcard announcement of Tight Right White. Photo: Courtesy of dar a luz. 18 U PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 Body/Politic The Ecstasies ofReza Abdoh Gautam Dasgupta In a decade and a half, his biological half-life, playwright, director, and filmmaker Reza Abdoh has, with a potency unequaled in recent times, let loose a torrent oftheatrical energy evocative ofArmageddon. A maniacal (some might say, demoniacal) spirit guides his actors' actions on stage. Whatever the putative subject matter of the plays, the sclerous bodies of the actors, conspicuously magnified by the brutal application of epidermal scoriae (in varying hues and tonalities), leathery accoutrements, and severe fright-wigs bounce, flail, thrash, and charge across the stage in frenzied bacchanalian rhythm, a choreographed mayhem that is as unsettling as it is deliberate. Ear-splitting sounds, heavily-amplified music, and the miked grunts, groans, and sighs of these denizens of another world, a netherworld perhaps, punctuate a narrative that is itself fractured by multiple and overlaid texts. Add to this melange multi-media technology, television monitors, excessively detailed and cluttered stage sets vying for attention, and an ambulatory theatrical experience with audience members herded into separate areas, and one gets a fairly general sense ofwhat it is like to be present at a Reza Abdoh/Dar a Luz production. To be present is to do so at one's peril. There is much at stake here, as Abdoh's nightmarish and, at times, diabolical visions unfurl with mounting intensity before our eyes. Not for the faint ofheart his gruesome depictions of mutilated bodies and sundered genitals, gory intimations of cannibalism and physical torture, and the vivid display of tormented individuals writhing in pain and crying out for release and redemption. In this marriage of heaven and hell, we are forced to contemplate in all its sacred terror a Boschian landscape, to bear witness to the evils that surmount us on all sides. And yet, despite searing images of unrelieved horror, there emerges a glimmer, not of hope, but of courage, at having faced down or faced up to the monstrosity that we are all capable ofinflicting upon one another. There is no catharsis, no purgation, in Abdoh's worldview, firmly situated and framed within a Manichean universe. Good and evil co-exist eternally, although good, for now, seems to be in retreat against the overwhelming forces ofevil. Evil, in Abdoh's cosmos, however, is not a moral principle, but a life-denying attribute. It is a negative axiom that enters the world through social, political, and U 19 Reza Abdoh. Photo: Michael J.Vitte. 20 E PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 cultural denigration, and the abuse of power. It afflicts not only social relations among classes, races, genders, and diverse cultures, but, worst of all, denudes the body and the self of vital sources of nourishment. Not that I wish to underplay the social forces that activate Abdoh's dramatic instincts (the exploration of racism in Tight Right White, the brutal examination of the psychic manifestation of violence and the media in The Law ofRemains), but what remains, for me at least, are the haunting images of shattered bodies entombed in their own private nightmares, of bodies in pain. To do justice to Abdoh's theatrical visions is a daunting task. His prodigality is such that all attempts to render the complex vision that unfolds before one's eyes perforce minimize the impact of their theatricalness, their overpowering presentness and immediacy. The rapid-fire succession of images, the unrelentless compounding of theatrical metaphors that motor his pieces do not make for easy transcription onto the page. But even if that were possible, something would still inevitably be lost in the translation. What Abdoh's theatre gives us is, in a sense, unwritable, or unspeakable, for it is, paradoxically, the ones unspoken for, those without a language, who are given a voice in his work. And these voices, unheard of within the dominant social framework ,or, when audible, painfully attenuated within the prevailing social, political, economic, and linguistic construct, seek out new models of being in the world or in a culture from which they are alienated. It comes as no surprise that early on in his...


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