Bleak Joy @ Theatre Y

4 Stars out of 4

Controversial  and prolific Austrian writer Peter Handke is probably best known to American audiences for his collaborations with filmmaker Wim Wenders.  His work is heavily influenced by growing up in a troubled home in the Soviet portion of Berlin just after World War II: there is a darkness and obsession with the smallest actions of self that characterize most of his writings including the current rendering of his 1966 work Self-Accusation currently on view at the charming Lincoln Square storefront/art gallery that is home to Theatre Y.  The piece as realized by directors Hector Alvarez and Theatre Y ringleader Melissa Lorraine is as much an imagistic movement work as it is a nonlinear verbal story, layering meaning upon meaning as the monologues go on through the 85 minutes with no intermission.  Lest you doubt this brave and tight knit ensemble who invests this endeavor with centered energy and deep commitment, let me tell you that one of the cast members was rushed to the ER just before curtain and the director stepped in with voice overs from the stage manager, creating an additional weighty layer of Big Brother commenting on the goings on, and adding a high level of risk in an already hazardous production.  This cast comes together to create a period of intensity and grace, even as we are all broken and searching. Theatre Y’s Self-Accusation is a finely played work of anxious theatre that is a worthy statement of this moment in time. 

This is not Sam Shepherd or David Mamet style theatricals: the cast essentially spins out a list of all the actions or thoughts one could engage in, becoming more absurd and transcending increasingly horrific social morays. There’s a point where it appears they will burn a cast member at the stake. They speak of killing themselves and others.  They breathe helium from a heart shaped balloon and speak unmentionable inner claustrophobic thoughts. Their inner thoughts have become outer monologues we ought not hear and there are children present: Zahrah Pillay is as steady a colleague as one could have and she is but 9 years old. There is a decidedly Eastern European sensibility of this work that holds up even when translated into English.  

The production starts and will return to a platform in front of the storefront windows, so there is an audience on the street, and we audience in the theater and audience on the street eyeball one another: which of us, after all is part of the play?  All of us.  There is a moment when a large black man covers himself in white powder.  Later this same man will carry a tree and a flaming torch down the street outside the big picture window. And finally as the audience fatigues,  we hear: I came to the theater, I heard this play, I spoke this play.   Isn’t that all it is?And it is so much right there.

Theatre Y is taking on challenging work and applying soul and elbow grease to create truth.  It’s quite exciting, but you need to be ready for it.  It’s not entertainment: its visual poetry. 

Self-Accusation is playing weekends through April 28th at The Ready, 4546 N Western Avenue in Lincoln Square in Chicago.  Theatre Y is committed to making theatre free so it is actually possible to make a reservation without paying anything: Donations are welcomed. For more information go to Theatre Y or call 708-209-0183