… 17th century opera meets Planet of the Vampires …
First of all I have to say that La Didone is a tremendous lot of fun. It’s exciting and spectacular — many things are happening all the time though not too much to keep track of. What a lot of smiles! How refreshing!
Two stories are played on stage concurrently. La Didone, a 17th century opera based on Virgil’s Aeneid is beautifully sung and performed. It’s the real thing, in a sense, and if you love opera, here’s a good one, but if you’re one of those people who find opera long and hard to take don’t stay away on that account, the Wooster Group makes it immediate and — you could never use the word “stuffy” about anything they do. The other is Terrore nello spazio after the 1965 film Planet of the Vampires, populated with Star Trek look-alike talk-alike cosmonauts in metallic jumpsuits, and complete with a spaceship that you’d swear lands and lifts off with plenty of G’s in the course of the play. Live actors interact with video monitors showing the same, or different, or partly the same actions. The sensory upload feels terrific.
Why put the opera and film stories together? Both are about quests to discover new worlds that are interrupted by involuntary landings on unknown territories. By the end, Aeneas and his crew and some of the cosmonauts escape but not without great loss: they leave behind their souls. The cosmonauts literally leave their souls behind since aliens take over their bodies, dislodging their souls. For Aeneas, loss of soul is a metaphorical expression of his parting forever from his beloved Dido whom he abandons … or is that more literal? The parallel story lines raise lots of interesting questions. The two stories bump into one another now and then but for the main they’re separate.
What does all this staccato excitement add up to? The language of La Didone is poetic and given the long line by operatic singing. Gestures are slow and grand. Not so in Terrore nello spazio where Cosmonaut Deadpan is spoken: “Check the meteor rejector!” “What the — ?” Gestures are clipped and muscular — you know it because you’ve seen it. Titles projected above keep things straight and highlight the wild contrasts of style, a wonderful counterpoint. In La Didone people are willing to throw away kingdoms for love and die for it, fully sung. It’s the emotion of fear that drives the cosmonauts crazy — in few words. The stories are from different epochs and told in entirely different modes but — here comes a favorite Wooster Group message — one’s as conventional as the other. They’re just different conventions.
The Wooster Group follows a totally original path. Often they’ve dismantled expressive conventions, this time they play off one against another. To my mind, this is the best work they’ve ever done — a culmination!
The Wooster Group La Didone plays at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, through April 26. A video opens the site.