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the last seven words of fernando pessoa.

October 31, 2011

on friday night, i went to see a play at the sfu fei & milton wong experimental theatre. i have many thoughts about it, and i’m not sure that i’m yet done processing, but let’s start with the best part: sfu is a school that takes its arts seriously, and it makes me happy and sick at the same time. woodwards is a gorgeous, gorgeous building – i’ve had the privilege of even having my brave new play rehearsed there – and to have so much space dedicated to things such as dance and acting and theatre and photography – ugh. it makes me ashamed for the schools that i have attended in the past – and present. ubc boasts a great number of very talented writers, but the school allocates its money to the science departments. it’s so depressing – our building doesn’t even have whole steps (they are smashed) yet sfu is blingin’.


i had heard of fernando pessoa. i liked the idea of a person who writes through different characters – who has an array of heteronyms in his hands. that he died and that they found a trunk with writings from all of his alter egos in it! that he died with only one book of poems published in portuguese! that he called poets “fakers”. a melange of things that make for a character who should theoretically be interesting enough to hold his own as the main character of a play.


Linked from the SFU website.


i like the visual of theatre in the round. or whatever it’s called. you know – that stage that is thrust out, with chairs on at least three sides of it. i like it because it makes the actors move around the stage, and there is no real bad seat. it makes for a fluid, mobile kind of performance. lots of jumping around. keeps you involved in it. maybe i have a wandering theatre mind. maybe i’m a product of my fly-attention-span generation, but having the actors a breath away from me works very well for me and the way i watch theatre. you feel as though they are staring at you.


okay this is what’s what: i have trouble with a performance when it mixes together different time periods. this would have been set in the early 1900s, so why outfit a character in hotpants and braids? why have some heternonyms (acted by both men and women) dressed appropriately, as the time period would permit, and one not? i don’t know – that’s just me. the set was very sparse, which was fine, but there was a projection of computer-typed on the huge screen behind the stage, which immediately ripped me out of the 1900s and into present day. and there were interludes – one in which two unidentified characters, unnamed, not given a time period at all – mouth words to each other – words that correspond with words being projected behind them. the projection screen i could have done without. i realise the breadth and strength of words – the importance of them, especially when writing about a poet – but it was one element too many.

because there was music. one member of the cast did not act, but instead played combinations of guitar, mandolin, drums, and piano. sometimes he sang in a creaky, high-pitched, off-kilter voice (thought: was he supposed to be singing in falsetto?). i guess i’m a girl for continuity – if music is to be used in a play, use it throughout and use it continuously, start to end. don’t just bring it in randomly in the middle. the music was utilised in a pretty robust and effective manner – i didn’t really understand the role of that one musician, who at one point during a music interlude dnaced across the floor with his shoulders hunched and his little feet skipping (was that a joke?) but there was one moment in which the music did work extremely well – and the moment that i thought should have been the end of the play. the musician, armed only with a microphone and a wooden chair, made a guttural beat by tapping that microphone against that chair, and all of the heteronyms danced around pessoa – house lights way up – in an almost mitilaristic manner. it gave me chills – was really excellent. the moment ended with the beat getting fast and faster and the characters running faster and faster in a circle around the unwitting poet.


it was hard to keep track of the play. if i hadn’t had a bead on the story before seeing the play, i would have been so confused. it seemed to all be hinging on two narrators – pessoa himself (a boring character – was this done on purpose, leaching him of all of his vivaciousness because all of that said vivaciousness was held in his aliases?) and an unnamed woman holding a video camera, who seemed to be almost making a documentary film on pessoa. and maybe this was classified as experimental theatre – it was in an experimental theatre, after all – and some elements did work – the singing, surprisingly, and the percussive interludes. the heteronyms moving together and yet apart, a mass and also individuals. bringing some of the more lurid and vivid heteronyms to the forefront. giving them a chance to speak. showing us the story between pessoa and his lover.


would i recommend it? yes, of course. it’s an MFA final project on stage – of course you should support it. it was only 10 dollars for a student ticket. was it confusing? yes. was it well acted? at times – yes. some of the heteronyms stood out more than others – a man-loving poet, a women dying in her window. was it well staged? pretty good. the cast made use of the stairs that lead up to the balcony, and made use of the balcony, and also made use of some doorways in some really great ways. did it endear pessoa to me? no. he was wooden, hard, egotistical – though this is not a comment on the playwright, and may have just been the real character himself – the real pessoa, the poet, the man.

lots of thoughts for an hour and a half performance. which i think is what theatre is supposed to do. hallelujah.

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