Soulographie

(Photo:  Jubilith Moore in Rehearsal, January 2011)

San Francisco audiences will experience the world premiere of Cordelia, but we already know that, in November 2012, this production will be part of a larger project called Soulographie, a theatrical event and conference including productions of seventeen plays by playwright Erik Ehn.  This event will take place in New York, at the iconic La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, which has been a springboard for notable playwrights and theater artists since the early 1960s.  

Jubilith Moore, director of Cordelia, recently spent three days on retreat in Northern California with the playwright and several other directors who will participate in the Soulographie project.  The purpose of this retreat was to continue a process that this same group began in 2010, to learn enough about each other’s perspectives and directorial styles so that, when all seventeen plays are performed on the same bill next year, each play will be effective not only in itself but also insofar as it reflects upon or provides counterpoint to others. 

According to Jubilith, one invaluable experience of the retreat was a quasi-rehearsal, in which each director worked through one section of his or her play on an improvised stage with other directors in the acting roles.   As they “rehearsed,” the directors educated each another about the dramatic forms important to their work.  Jubilith led her colleagues in a warm-up, explained different aspects of Japanese Noh drama, and gained insights into the performance styles and social context of American vaudeville. 

The word “Soulographie” is French and means “habitual drunkenness.”  It appears prominently in a poem by Jacques Prévert in which the poet asks whether the earth itself is drunk on bloodshed.  Accordingly, violence and specifically genocide figures into many of the plays. 

I confess that it took me some time to accept Cordelia as a rumination on genocide.   Then I recalled that, in King Lear, behind a vivid foreground of tempest, generational conflict, mental breakdown, and war, a perceived insult results in the extermination of a family line.  Thus Cordelia, with its post mortem perspective, occurs in the aftermath of genocide.

The resolution for Lear is, however, not entirely bleak.   Even if his life cannot be saved, Lear is granted lucidity in his final days, awakened by Cordelia’s kiss.  Similarly, in a Noh play, the dramatic retelling of a character’s story almost always leads to an exorcism to which the audience is witness.  Like Lear, the Noh protagonist is saved by an expression of empathy and faith.  In Cordelia, it is Lear’s daughter whose anguish at having been the impetus for tragedy and later, as a warrior, a vehicle for violence cries out to be placated.  A collective act of witness—ours—allows her mollified spirit to depart in peace.

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