14 April 2006

Keeping Them Down on the Farm

The night after I saw Impact Theatre's Hamlet I saw Last Planet Theatre's production of Franz Xavier Kroetz's Farmyard, which was everything the former production was not: shocking, well-acted, and well worth an evening out. This was my first show at Last Planet. The San Francisco papers barely cover the major theaters; the smaller ones slip under the radar unless you meet some actors. I realized later that I was coming down with the flu while I watched this play, but it was still absorbing. A married couple lives on a farm with their retarded adolescent daughter. They have a farmhand, a middle-aged man, who starts having sex with the girl; the girl gets pregnant. These are inarticulate, emotionally withdrawn people with rough lives. The fascinating thing is that the play is always on the verge of something horrible (perhaps I should say even more horrible than semi-consensual molestation of an underaged retarded girl), and until the last moment you're not sure if the parents are going to kill their daughter. Instead they help her give birth. There's nothing cheaply "life-affirming" about this action; the way I'm tempted to say there would be if this were an American play. Instead these are people who give in to their fate. The daughter was well-acted but clearly not an adolescent girl; I assume this has to do with the pool of actors available and not with the usual cushioning which prevents us from having to see, and be complicit with, molestation.
Between scenes they played different songs by Shirley Horn (again, what a contrast to the generic rock after every scene of Hamlet, no matter what the scene). What an inspired idea. This is the role music so often plays in our lives: a more beautiful and elegant version of the dreary pains we suffer. Maybe that makes it sound too decorative: a transmutation of pain, banal and tragic, into a deeper form.

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