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Reseating Perspective

By Nick Fracaro at 5:32 pm on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s been my privilege to work with playwright/director George Hunka, performer Gabriele Schafer, and the other designers on theatre minima’s debut production of What She Knew. George, Gabriele and I had an especially rewarding collaboration.  We began working on it together in a reading back in February.  I am quite proud of my contribution to the nuanced, commanding performance and production of a vital theatre text.

The mise en scene suggested in the script is minimal: White cyclorama, without entrance or exit. So white curtains curve along the walls of the small stage at manhattan theatre source.

The lone set piece created by artist Russell Busch is very distinctive, so particular in design that Gabriele felt she needed it for her home rehearsals. So for the past week, I have been carting it back and forth to the theater. Yesterday, after parking the car, “the chair” and I waited on the sidewalk for someone to open the door to the theater.   Almost every passerby had a smile or comment.

“Ha! Weird!” “How do you sit on that thing?” “Ha! Funny.”  “What do you use that for?”  “Ha! Cool.”   “Is it for sale?”

It’s as if the object’s original function as chair(s) has been decommissioned, subverted by the fusion of the two into one. The imagination of the viewer is challenged to invent some new utility for the object.  Weird, funny, and cool – this breakdown and reassembly of function – this “reseating” of perspective and meaning.

George Hunka’s What She Knew is a retelling of the Oedipus story imagined from the perspective of the mother/lover Jocasta. Like many of the classic Greek tales, the story of Oedipus Rex is a tragedy that befalls members of a royal family.

Nothing in a home speaks to the notion of family quite like the dining room table and its set of chairs.  Chairs function both individually and collectively as a set.  Arranged symmetrically around the table, the chairs are reflective of the hierarchy within the family structure.   The head of the table is often designated with a chair that is different than rest.  More expansive or ornate, the head chair is usually constructed with armrests, asserting its prominence among the others.  Throne-like, because the family’s hierarchy mirrors the kingdom or whatever larger social construct encompasses it.

In their deviant coupling, these two errant chairs would disrupt the whole of the dining room set, the whole of the family, the whole of the kingdom, the whole of the natural world.

What She Knew opens tomorrow, Wednesday and runs through December 11, Wed-Sat at 8pm.  There are just eight performances with limited seating, so please book early.   It is a remarkable piece.  Simple and powerful in its writing, design, and performance.   Pure theatre.  The perfect debut for a company and aesthetic named theatre minima.  For more information and tickets visit theatre minima’s website.  For further thoughts by the author/director George Hunka visit Superfluities Redux.

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Comment by Jacob Zimmer

November 30, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

Hey Nick –
love the chair
thinking a lot about Argentina lately – as well as a version of Antigone we’re doing.
say hi to Gabriele and Russell for me.

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Comment by nick

December 1, 2010 @ 8:47 am

Hey Jacob! Great to hear from you! Yes, let’s get back to Argentina.

Are you in Toronto now?

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December 1, 2010 @ 9:09 am

[…] play and Jocasta will now have to speak for themselves. Dramaturg Nick Fracaro, however, offers opening-night thoughts on the production here, and I’ve contributed just a few thoughts on the show itself in […]

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