20/05/2013 by funnomad
“The Charge” is a hard play. Hard in many respects, too. While the play was written early in Claude Gauvreau’s career, in 1956, it only made it to stage in 1970 — the year before he committed suicide. In many respects, the play feels like the justification of a poet’s suicide, a two-and-a-half-hour suicide note that excoriates social games and hypocrisy. The poet is scorned, abused, mislead, misdirected, and unpublished for petty reasons that contradict the vitality of his writing. He friends however jeer, “how can anyone seriously consider himself a poet when no one will publish what he writes?” There is a rich humour in the self-consciousness of these critics surrounding this poète maudit that turns swiftly dark upon the recurring associations to Gauvreau himself. This is certainly one aspect of what makes this play hard: it’s confessional, suicidal dynamic. There are numerous direct quotes from and allusions to Gauvreau’s other plays and Automatist friends to bridge the fictional and historical worlds. Is Mycroft’s deathbed reference to Refus Global — “Make way for Joy!” — intended to be as ironic as it seemed to me?
Another difficult dimension of the play is the spectacle of misery that unfolds on the stage. The poet Mycroft has four friends who manipulate him for the sake of a bizarre form of psychoanalysis. They purport to helping him, but abuse their patient in complex games of social politics that unravel rather than reveal him. In the second half of the play, it becomes clear that their motives are sadistic rather than therapeutic. It is hard to encounter such a bilious social environment, however abstract, and witness an innocent destroyed in malicious intimacy.
A third difficult trend in the work is, perhaps inevitably, the poetry. While leaving the excellent production of the play, the English premiere in fact, put on by One Little Goat at the Tarragon Theatre, Gary Barwin and I couldn’t help but joke that we came for the sound poetry and left disappointed for understanding too much of the story. Even I can’t really tell how much of that joke is true!
The first of these gorgeous internal poems — delivered magnificently by David Christo — reads: “Amoneon. Krimonek. Abodayadoc tripav pluviol. Flaxen-haired greenhouses gleam in the periscope of the somnolent plain. Riddled pineapple. Stone-hearted josephs have carved the offering of nigerated nougat on the homas-stomach. Iverlo. Toupla. Imber brec tap-pala-pala. I want to hold in my hand the sacrifical pallid obol. I want the resevoir of the siphon prayer. Eughl! Agbonista. Un piastra klayfec abulec denegra. The genuflexion of the Apotheosis enclave rows along on the epithalamion’s nerve. Bravo.” Christo captures the exquisite embouchure and tonal dynamics of Gauvreau’s lips (please see La nuit de la poeie to see Gauvreau in action).
While this marvelous spectacle of experimental writing should be familiar to any of Gauvreau’s readers for a number of familiar features and gestures and themes, it is enriched by a complex narrative frame through which it is issued. The reader of the poem in the play has written the piece in imitation of Mycroft, while actively working to prevent the publication of Mycroft, hence his intention to supplant the better poet. The co-conspirators, all of whom work to destroy Mycroft, dissect the poem I’ve just transcribed in careful analysis of its deficiencies — as well as the deficiencies of the imposter’s plan to supplant Mycroft. Imitation inspired by bitterness, poets seeking to destroy one another rather than inspire each other or push each other further, careerist mendicants succubating talent. It’s all rather familiar isn’t it? I was just reading a letter from bpNichol to bill bissett that complained of the same thing almost verbatim.
The poetry is not difficult, of course, merely sensual rather than intellectual. Whenever characters ascend to a feverish oratorical pitch their language crescendos with a barrage of neologisms that make sense of their epiphanies: personal, rabid insights gleaned from another dimension. “Bravo” indeed. The challenge of the poetry is likely harder for the actors, who tap dance through staccato arias of words splayed out just beyond the fingertips of sense. They never fell into the common trap of oversimplifying the open language by reducing it to denotative specificity. Instead, they tended to luxuriate in the connotative field evoked by real and illuminated words (what Gauvreau himself called ‘explorean’ imagery).