Theater Review: “Crack” — A Theatrical Meditation on Love, Mental Illness, and Modernity
Cristina Castrillo’s marvelous Crack is too complex and nuanced to be reduced to an anti-psychiatric tract.
By Ian Thal
Crack (“Track”) by Cristina Castrillo. Translated from the Italian by Patricia Ranzi-Gedey. Staged reading directed by Guy Ben-Aharon. Presented by Swiss Stage at swissnex Boston, Consulate of Switzerland, Cambridge, MA. Co-sponsored by Consulate Generale d’Italia a Boston. Cambridge, MA. October 29.
He (Gabriel Kuttner) has gone crack. She (Liz Hayes) looks on, wondering if She can put Him back together again. He wants help, but can’t define what He needs because he does not “want to be rearranged, reconciled or reset.” She, like many who have witnessed a loved one in period of emotional or psychological distress, attempts to discover the cause of why He has gone crack. She files report after report, attempting to probe the fault lines in His psyche, seeking to discover some way to put Him back together again. She gets down on Herself when She fails. It is the traumatic other side of the coin to the mystery behind every love relationship: the lover takes on the impossible task of trying to figure out the beloved: Why do I love you? Why do you love me? By the second half of Crack, She, too, has gone crack — but in a completely different manner.
The playwright, Cristina Castrillo, who is also an actor, director, and pedagogue, was born in Argentina in 1951 where she founded Libre Teatro Libre. In 1980, she fled to Switzerland to escape the military dictatorship whose “Dirty War” on leftist guerrillas had expanded to a war on civil society, making as many as 30,000 people “disappear.” She settled in Lugano, Switzerland, the largest city in the Italian speaking Canton of Ticino, where she founded the Teatro delle Radici. Castrillo directed the first production of Track in 2009. The original title is onomatopoeia (in Italian) for something breaking. Accordingly, every utterance of the word “crack” in the Swiss Stage presentation is accompanied by composer/musician Patrick Greeley making a loud percussive scrape across his accordion.
He and She represent different forms of madness. For She, all human life must be ordered by human reason, every activity must be scheduled and every need must be addressed with greatest efficiency. This modernist project extends to the human self: it must be seen as a simple unity, containing no incongruity, no contradictions – unless, of course, it has gone crack. As She declares early on, “my normalcy is frightening.” For She, He must be repaired, made whole, made simple; He must have logic imposed upon him. Her madness cannot accept anomalies; she demands to know, with certainty, how and why He has gone crack. He is the post-modern man, aware that He is made of parts that don’t fit together, that oppose one another. He describes Himself in terms of mythological figures, perplexing similes, and in not being things no one would imagine Him to be.
His inner life is as incongruous as the toys on the table in front of Him, which in this presentation include action figures of The Hulk, Superman (whose armored “New-52” incarnation has generated controversy among many fans), Woody from Toy Story, and Snow White — characters from four different fictional universes, even if the Walt Disney Corporation owns three of them. He begins to believe that His own parts will never fit together and that the notion that they ever did was a convenient illusion. In contrast to this presentation’s use of toys (borrowed from Kuttner’s own children), photographs from Teatro delle Radici’s production of Track,, directed by Castrillo, show the pair moving large white blocks.
Castrillo’s Crack is too complex and too nuanced to be reduced to an anti-psychiatric tract. Her protagonists speak in a language that jumps from dialogue to monologue and then omniscient narration. The division reflects their trifurcated selves; neither He nor She can gain entry into the modernist utopia of reason or the post-modernist utopia of play – certainly not if they continue to love one another. In the end, they discover they must remain in the real world, where they acknowledge and accept their own incongruous inner states, and if they are to love and be loved that they must accept this incommensurability of the other. Love is irreducible to a code, as He points out, “Words can never touch you like a body.”
The script drops hints about the nature of these characters but never becomes specific. Are She and He lovers? Two lost souls who have found one another while residing in a mental health facility? Analyst and analysand in a relationship where transference and counter-transference have developed into an inappropriate though reciprocated infatuation? To whom does She file Her reports? A supervisor? Her own archive? An imagined authority? It is obvious that He and She are living in an institution that protects them, feeds them, and provides them with recreational opportunities. (During talkback, it was revealed that in rehearsing for this presentation, Director Guy Ben-Aharon and the actors chose to interpret the pair as being in couples therapy.)
This is in many ways a play about the enigmas of mapping, not only the self but the psychic space between people. The dialogue is as much about philosophical inquiry as it is driving a dramatic situation. Thus the success of a performance, even a book-in-hand reading — rests on the actors. Hayes and Kuttner both rose to the occasion admirably, bringing a physical vitality to Castrillo’s words, from sitting at a table talking to sharing a dance accompanied by Patrick Greeley’s accordion score of swelling chords over a bass line.
Crack is, thankfully, out of step with the fashion for realism (or inspiration via musical theater) that pervades too much of American theater today. In truth, the script’s self-conscious absurdity, its high-toned philosophical explorations, says more about love in the modern era than any down-to-earth melodrama. Indeed, it is the piece’s intrinsic theatricality (it would be well-nigh impossible to adapt for film or television — though one audience member suggested a radio version) that gives it its considerable power. This is a short play (the Swiss Stage reading clocked in at roughly half-an-hour. Teatro Delle Radici’s performances last around 60 minutes) but it packs an enormous wallop — this one-act is a thing of beauty.
Ian Thal is a playwright, performer and theater educator specializing in mime, commedia dell’arte, and puppetry, and has been known to act on Boston area stages from time to time, sometimes with Teatro delle Maschere. Two of his short plays appeared in theater festivals this past summer. He has performed his one-man show, Arlecchino Am Ravenous, in numerous venues in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of his as-of-yet unproduced full-length plays was picketed by a Hamas supporter during a staged reading. He is looking for a home for his latest play, The Conversos of Venice, which is a thematic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Formally the community editor at The Jewish Advocate, he blogs irregularly at the unimaginatively entitled From The Journals of Ian Thal, and writes the “Nothing But Trouble” column for The Clyde Fitch Report.