Friday, December 3, 2010

Pan Pan, ‘Oedipus Loves You’: Oedipus, You Punk

Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Nov 15-16

A few thoughts on Oedipus Loves You coming up just as soon as I fuck up the marinade …

“Hello, my name is Oedipus. Oedipus Rex. And I think I have been unhappy for a long time” - Oedipus

“Shut up ye tit. It’s just about the band. It’s all about the band” – Antigone

“It’s really for you to decide. What does the plague mean to you?” - Tiresias 

Oedipus Loves You is a punk. 

First of all: it desires no association with mainstream tradition. There is a deterrence that informs every grain of it towards the alternative. Secondly: it’s intimidating. Its bold attitude has no solicitude of shame, and is hardly sensitive, forget sympathetic. Thirdly: it knows how to play good music.

Pan Pan’s rendition of the Oedipal myth stays true to the relationships that define Sophocles’ characters and presents them with a fury of pop-cultural elements, notably Freud’s psychoanalysis. Similar to how Gavin Quinn and company used the frame of ‘audition’ for The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, Oedipus uses the idea of ‘therapy’ as a familiar context of exposition. Tiresias the prophet is a therapist (and bassist), and Oedipus and his dysfunctional family attend his session to try to resolve their problems. Such breakthroughs made only expose the self-grossed instincts and insensitivities that impair their relationships, and ultimately these fail to be addressed as the concern of the ‘plague’ becomes a more pressing issue. As in the Sophocles classic, the universe and all its prophecies and delegations are against them. They only have each other, and the only time these misfits seem to co-exist harmoniously is when they play garage rock together.

Quinn revealed in a pre-show talk that the music was devised quite early in the process. Having brought in musicians to teach the actors to play various instruments, the realized band – Gordon Is A Mime – wrote a selection of songs from a punk-rock Oedipal perspective. Songs such as I Fell In Love With A Girl With A Limp and Every Hardonne Needs Love stick to the roof of your thoughts like chewing gum, and are highly addictive.*

* The entire Gordon Is A Mime album rocks. Highly recommend getting your hands on a copy. You can listen to some songs on their MySpace.

As I said, Oedipus is an intimidating punk. This is attributed to the maverick aesthetic of Pan Pan which seems to be pumped into overdrive here. As Quinn writes in the programme note at the beginning of the show’s script: “In an age of post-modern theory and the birth of post dramatic theatre, this project explores notions of aesthetics and meaning between the artist and the viewer using the Oedipus Myth as the common ground material to experience”. Such an exploration has resulted in a de-hierarchization of one main theatrical locus, leaving our spectatorship splintered into an array of possibilities. We must consistently make a decision as to where to direct our focus, whether it be at the actors performing in the spotlight, the actors performing in the background, the live monitors above the stage which show sections of the set from different perspectives, or indeed at Quinn himself who is operating in sight at the side of the stage behind a see-through panel.** There is a point of objectivity with which this tableau operates – one which has the performers acknowledge each other as well as the audience. We as an audience are not closed off by a fourth wall and are very much invited into this gaudy domain of half-cooked barbeques and undignified ballads.*** Obviously influenced by the entrepreneurial workings of the Wooster Group, this ferocious tampering of theatrical mechanics measures up to the same effect of de-territorializing established texts and submerging them in untapped waters.

** Can anyone recall if there was any point in the show that our concentration only had to address one locus of action as opposed to choosing between them, or is the pre-curtain stage the only occasion of this?

*** What is it with barbeques in the modern renditions of classical myth? Both ‘Oedipus’ and ‘Penelope’ seem to associate some feat of masculinity (or lack there of) with the act of successfully cooking raw meat on an open grill. Can’t wait to see Gordon Ramsey play Odysseus. 

Quinn’s presence as a ‘live director’ in Pan Pan’s performances merits some interesting discussion. In both Oedipus and The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, Quinn is present onstage in his capacity as director, and is usually crucial to the action as he may direct his actors or feed lines to them. Sara Keating wrote a piece in the Irish Times in regards to Quinn’s performance, in which the director asserts that his decision to partake in the live action was one out of necessity as opposed to one out of some excessive control over his production. Quinn is more of a live mediator than a God, ensuring that he, his cast, and his audiences all experience a different show each night, making it consistently fresh and true. Some define the role of ‘director’ as a negation of being a live entity in the performance, but Quinn disproves such notions, and opens up discussion to the possibilities of the role as opposed to the limits. 

Oedipus Loves You is awesome in its vision and innovation. Its raw aesthetic is intimidating in its departure from conventional decorum, and is a cerebral experience to contend with. Structure aside, Pan Pan assembled a mighty cast here to deal with the challenge at hand. Annemarie Gaillard’s antagonized Antigone ticks many of the boxes of a decimated teenager: troubled, misunderstood, sexually pressured; all of which she channels through the crackling tune Miss Dun Leary. Dylan Tighe shoulders his impulsive Creon with a daftness and insecurity, not to mention a formidable guitar, and Ned Dennehy is memorable more for his smoked wit as Tiresias than his eh … you know what I’m talking about.**** Really standing out here is Gina Moxley, who crafts a Jacosta made from stone. Mighty, self-assured, cynical, and incredibly funny, Moxley’s queen never seems to crack, even after fate defeats her. Rounding off the cast is Bush Moukarzel as the doomed king Oedipus. Impaired at being a good father, husband/son, or indeed king, Moukarzel’s questioning of why life has forsaken him is a very vulnerable and moving moment.  

**** Apparently Andrew Bennet played the role of Tiresias in previous productions. It really is a no-win situation, isn’t it?

Pan Pan have presented Sophocles’ doomed individuals as punk heroes. Hilarious as they are when they argue, it is when Oedipus’ family unites to crank out their outrageous tunes and test their survival as a band to the audience that’s tantalizing. Personally, my favourite moment of the production is when the wounded Oedipus is handed the keyboard by his brother Creon and together they all perform the accepting Waving Ourselves Goodbye

Oedipus Loves You is a punk, and even punks have feelings. But when the going’s tough, the philosophy is simple:

If the universe won’t cut you slack, then f*ck the universe. 

What did everybody else think?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    Firstly, thanks! It's good to create a forum to talk about theatre, especially when it's west of the Pale.

    The point about punk set me thinking. One potential reading of Pan Pan's play is their version displaces the Chorus and the function of the Chorus. This is done through the main characters doubling as the band, the modern harmonics of rock instead of untied vocals, the 'director's writing and the display of text. I'm thinking now - is technology the chorus? or at least what has replaced the function of the chorus. I think they were to express or explicate the private thoughts of the central characters involved in the action of the play. Pan Pan replace such direct interference with the modern chorus for the age of mechanical reproduction?

    Just a thought..

    Looking forward to more.