Notes on ~ The Four Seasons Restaurant~ with admitted disclaimer
23 St. Armory, Sept. 11
Societas Raffaello Sanzio
This FringeArts opening was definitely a theatrical event or a theatrical lobotomy, I can’t decide which~ But Romeo Castellucci’s The Four Seasons Restaurant packed the overflowing rafters at the 23th st Armory with full press, theater colleagues, academia and avid Fringe fans who know a hot ticket when they see one. Castellucci’s impulse to create a view of nothingingness inspired by the famous art episode of painter Mark Rothko not showing his work at The Four Seasons Restaurant. His interest in artist who are more interested in ‘the niche’ than the statue on display, is a very intriguing precept.
As Castellucci explains in a program notes, Rothko’s affinities to a character in the Hawthorne story The Minister’s Black Veil and an unfinished 1798 trauerspeil (mourning play) The Death of Empedocles by Frederich Holderlin are also part of the absurd road to ‘nothingness.‘
But Castellucci’s theatrical black hole turns into much to ugliness to contemplate. Nihilistic, prurient, desperate, indulgent ritual meant to be beside the point of an intriguing theme and in this mind, a sense annihilating , even suffocating experience that still has to lean on questionable shock value to persuade.
The audience is engulfed by this conceit by the assault of its sound design*, meanwhile, onstage an equally battering scenario depicting a religious cult story by Hawthorne, the cast of women costumed in Amish dresses coming on stage one by one to mutilate themselves so they can’t speak. The unblinking realism of this scene was reminiscent of a similar one in Pier Pablo Passolini’s infamous film Salo. So far, subtitles explaining inner combustion of sound physics that has something profound to do with this in the sense of …Nevermind. Onward- soon the women are perfunctorily performing Empedocles by Holderlin, and woodenly depict the story of the ancient philosopher turning his back on society and choosing to join nothingness of nature… I think, who knows, who cares. Ingmar, where are you?
After a while, the women can speak even though they took scissors and- whatever. They are just mouthing the Empedocles drama, their voices removed and dubbed with a 40s radio, as they valiantly try sync the dialogue to perform the play. The characters, seem forced to do this and their faux balletic pantomime has numbing precision, with a hint of unintended humor.
Not soon enough Empedocles has leapt into Mt. Etna (I wanted to join him). ( *****************************************************************************) * cue sonic boom.
Tracking exiting audience members was interesting. Trying to imagine what was going through their heads, would they demand their money back. Would they take a shower together.
Castellucci’s visual aesthetic are alternately captivating, but but the tongue cutting, the inevitable scenes of the characters being humiliated by being stripped naked, the sense of forced cultism, are meant to suffocate. How different is this from grossout teen films where people are forced to dismember themselves. To this eye, Castelucci still leans on shock value wrapped in intellectual hubris.
The ending, and visually stunning ash and thundering wind holocaust with more theatrical point than anything that preceded it. But, this audience, stunned as it seemed in a slow response to applaud, gave an extended ovation I applauded the actors being able walk freely again out of the yoke of this nightmare. I have since read the reviews in Philly and other tour stops for Four Seasons and I‘m definitely in the minority of unappreciation of this piece.
*Even with earplugs in place, the decibel level made me feel like I was in a primally threatening environment. and I couldn’t take it so *(Full disclosure – my mind was already rebelling and after the first mutilation scene, Anyway, admittedly my mind sought refuge by running Lucy in Hollywood episodes that can play in my head at any time. So obviously, these notes could be suspect, but I stick by them.