Dark, apocalyptic and profoundly disturbing, Bernard-Marie Koltes's Night Just Before the Forests is kick-you-in-the-ass theater -- just the sort of thing Infernal Bridegroom Productions does so well. Produced in cahoots with DiverseWorks in its spare black-box performance space, the ambitious hour of avant-garde theater rails against nothing less than the terrors of fascism and the steely heart pounding without mercy in the core of our new world order.
Featuring IBP favorite Troy Schulze, the play is an hour-long monologue spoken to an unknown "you." At the opening, foggy stage lights lift over a bleak terrain, a dystopia of black-gravel ground littered with the detritus of postmodern life: a banged-up, rusting metal drum, a useless box of metal grating. To make matters worse -- exponentially worse -- a constant gray rain falls across this landscape, soaking everything unfortunate enough to be stuck here. This is no place to spend the night, but when we first meet Schulze's character, an anonymous man dressed in black, he's lying on the ground, huddled against the elements. It's clear that something traumatic has just happened to him, though we never find out exactly what. He rises, looks out and moves toward the edge of the stage. "I ran after you as soon as I saw you," he says straight out to the audience. He wants a room for the night, or just part of the night. He wants someone to hear him, to drink coffee with him. Disaffected, marginalized and lost, he wants most of all for someone to notice him in a world of wealthy, beautiful people. And because he is speaking straight out to us, the audience, we are pulled into his nightmare and made somehow culpable, like it or not.
There's no real narrative to this script. Instead it works as an accumulation of images -- a collage of words and phrases that repeat and resonate off one another as the speech progresses. Poetry, rhythm and a clear, admirable, even beautiful aesthetic drive the angry politics. "Me? In a factory? No way," says the man, his hands balled into fists. He rages against a ubiquitous "they," a "cabal of fuckers ordering us around up there." He wants to form a "union on an international scale"; he wants to "stop getting hard-ons," because women, especially beautiful blonds, are dangerous. He speaks of the "sad light" and of the "lovely faces of the elite who get off on our expense." Koltes's cry against a hierarchy that creates a constant longing in the have-nots of the world accumulates power as the images begin to accrue. His argument against an economic structure that allows "the little gang of bastards with killer faces" to rule becomes a mighty one. We see the repercussions of that system as they play out in the miserable life of one anonymous man.
Night Just Before the Forests
DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-335-3445.
Through June 4, $10-$15.
Part of what makes Koltes's argument so profound is that he's never reduced to the vice of sentiment. We learn details about his central character's life -- that his father was all "blood and muscle and bone," that he fell in love with a woman he calls Momma, that he has worked in a factory and knows what it's like to be a slave to a wage -- but the story is never turned into a narrative in which we're asked to feel sad for this character. We are asked to think about how he got to this dark place; we are asked to think about a world order that could create this kind of discontentment. But because the character remains a relative unknown, the audience is never allowed the relief of feeling like his story is over once the play is over. He could be on any street corner; his story is detailed enough to make it profoundly real, and elliptical enough to make it disturbingly universal.
Rail-thin and ghost-white, Schulze, who is physically perfect for the role, looks almost extraterrestrial as he hobbles around in the shadows of the stage, his skull wet from the rain. He directed himself in this production, and in that regard his biggest strength is his unique visual intuition. He uses Kirk Markley's astonishing set to create painterly images, standing or walking into places on the stage and creating visual shapes that often underscore Koltes's statement about the disaffected. Schulze leaves us with a crawling feeling that there's something profoundly wrong with the world.
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Risky and powerful, Night Just Before the Forests isn't easy to watch, but the intellectual rewards of sitting through the hour-long rant will last long into the night.