Ödipus der Tyrann,
by Romeo Castellucci
(Paris Autumn Festival, November 2015). Great piece – but then Romeo can do no wrong – for some of us! Nevertheless, what actually remains mostly in my emotional memory are the opening 20 minutes, which is Romeo Castellucci at his cinematic(?) best: images, music, emotional cadences and transitions in perfect scenographic flow. It is the preamble to the play, telling us without words of the desperate plight of Thebes, invaded by the plague: the dreadful, seemingly unjustified divine wrath that finally obliges the reasonable and politically-correct king (the Athenian meaning of tyrant), Oedipus, to acquiesce and call in (drag in) an unwilling, ill-reputed, transsexual blind seer, Tiresias, whose oracular visions tell him clearly that the foundations of Oedipus’ reasonableness are totally corrupt.
Sophocles’ tragedy is exemplar (and even more so in Hölderlin’s version) in how it deploys and thickens the revelation process: how the clear and good-willing honorable king Oedipus slowly opens the doors of his own hell: he discovers he has killed his father, and fathered children with his own mother. He is the very rank cause of the deadly plague. Romeo handles brilliantly, no question, the classical tragedy. Granted. This time, his is a great contribution to classical (German?) dramaturgy.
His version is set in a Gregorian nuns’ monastery, where one of the nuns is dying of the plague. The whole cast is women, except Tiresias; and beautifull, elegant women at that. Oedipus is therefore played by a woman. My question: why not a desperate decadent brothel? Why not a desperate male transvestite brothel, for that matter? We have very near us the verdict of those who said the AIDS pandemic was a Sodom and Gomorrah-type plague punishing our decadent mores. My question is rhetorical, and a bit cliché, but I ask it in order to open reflections on the role of “anima” in such choices, especially in artistic creation and in its critical thinking. I think it applies particularly (I feel like saying “numinously”!) to Romeo’s imagistic genius. It is my answer to his monastic choice and to the predominant presence of women. I saw Romeo’s anima quest vibrating at its strongest in his piece titled “Hey Girl” – which I saw, basically, as a dialogue with a young woman-actress who, if I remember correctly, actually disparages his work calling it « gothic symbolism » or something like that. I do think Romeo is to a huge degree an “anima-ridden” Orthodox genius (of the Ravenna-Rimini mosaics kind) – and I see this as the anima background to why and how he confronts so intensely, passionately (and brilliantly) the fundamental questions of iconoclasm, and iconodulia.
Nota 1: one of the writers of the Paris Ödipus program notes writes that it would be “interesting” to study the role of women in Romeo’s performances… I was actually aggressed in 1991 for having invited his Gilgamesh. One of the reasons was the feminist outrage at his figuration of the goddess Inana as a very, very large woman who sat motionless and wordless, naked, in the background, as a mother-earth figure with water and mud pouring down on her… At the time I remember telling Romeo that I hoped one day he would take on the myth of Jesus Christ. He did in his 2011 piece Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio – to violent fundamentalist Christian protests – in what I would describe as a very Christ-like gentle piece!
Nota 2: another image-genius whom I also see as being ‘illuminated’ by the implications of the orthodox medievalism of the Ravenna-Rimini mosaics is C. G. Jung, especially in the recently published Red Book. Jung’s medievalist images are more Gothic-Germanic. Romeo has a very elegant Italian designer side – and the cryptic cunning of the Italian trans-vanguardia figuration movement.
This short article is only a blog post. The question of anima alone merits a book, of course. So I will post only my main reference here: it is James Hillman’s: Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion – in which he glosses on all the passages mentioning anima in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. It was C.G. Jung who revived the notion of anima in contemporary psychology.
Two Pantheatre notes on this:
- Pantheatre invited Romeo Castellucci for the first time in France, to its 1991 Myth and Theatre Festival at la Chartreuse de Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. He presented his Gilgamesh, which remains the greatest piece of theatre I have seen. I have missed only two or three of his performances since then. The director of the Chartreuse at the time was Daniel Girard who, after the performance, phoned his colleagues at ONDA in Paris (the French think-tank that decides on grants for performance tours…) Two of them came down for the next day’s performance. Romeo was invited to the Dijon festival the following year, and soon after to the Avignon festival. See my article on the early pieces of Romeo Castellucci.
- The 2016 Myth and Theatre Festival (July 5 – 17) will have as its study theme: Spirit and Soul. The notion of anima belongs to a parallel lineage to that of soul which comes from the Germanic Seele. Anima is a Roman notion – mostly appropriated by Christianity, as in the French âme. Anima follows on from the Greek figure of Psyche. The tale (myth?) of Psyche and Eros, in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, will be our main study reference for the festival. Keep posted!
My gratitude to Linda Wise, Amy Rome and Anna Griève for ‘animating’ these thoughts.