A group of people go through various daily routines
Photo: Bohumil Kosthoryz
d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 02.02.2018

And now for something quite different: Strangers is the second cooperation between the TNL and New York’s Circle Theater. La invención de Morel has been revisited by Sloan Bradford and Isaac Bush, who wrote the text for the show and are also two of the five actors on stage. Anne Simon directs.

Adolfo Bioy Casares, the Argentine writer, published the novella in 1940. His friend and mentor Jorge Luis Borges contributed the preface to the first edition.

In the near future a fugitive ends up on an island, where he watches a group of people of different ages go through various daily routines, yet he is unable to cut through invisible barriers and communicate with them. His boat has been destroyed, his shelter has been torn away in a storm, and the sun burns down relentlessly. It is impossible for him to sleep, and there is no fresh water. When he is told to stay away from one particular woman, he spies on her, of course, and falls in love, which makes him even more aware of his solitude. Is this real life or purgatory? A dream or just a cruel game?

In any case, it is impossible for the newcomer to fit in. He meticulously records his experiences and impressions day by day, creating a kind of oral diary that acts as a solace when it is played back to him on his tape recorder. This helps him preserve his identity as well as his sanity – and may one day delight historians.

Various metatheatrical moments ask the really big questions and guide the audience through the show. ‘We all run away from something’, we are told. Death, the biggest disease of all, has become the ultimate taboo. Yet would living forever actually be an attractive option or a curse?

As you enter the theatre space, you are invited in by the actors who are wearing costumes with spiky sci-fi shoulders. You feel surrounded by all sorts of sounds and noises almost instantly, the musical composition by John Anthime Miller adding an extremely powerful, atmospheric note throughout the show.

Most of the action happens around a tall grid-like metal structure that can open up and divide into two. There is plenty of energetic running, there are a lot of staccato movements and some very beautifully choreographed dance scenes since those ‘others’ on the island seem to always be having loud parties. But there are also quiet, poetic moments as Faustine (Elisabet Johannesdottir), the fugitive’s love interest, sits on top of a ‘cliff’ watching the sunset every day. Moments filled with both sadness and longing.

All in all, an intriguing evening which raises crucial questions about identity, about our perception of reality and our ambitions. When Morel, the inventor who presides over this uncanny world, states: ‘I am hungry for progress. I want to be remembered as the patron to this progress,’ he knows that people will get hurt in the process, but he does not mind.

He even claims that his latest machine does not only reproduce reality. It captures the souls of individuals and creates images which can be replayed again and again. The people recorded in previous experiments have all died but, in his eyes, that is a price worth paying. We are reminded of the fact that losing your humanity in the name of what you see as progress has long had quite sinister references. And the race is still on…

Morel hopes to one day build a machine to resurrect people. Still, all he is concerned about currently is editing out the odd mistake he made during his career since he is busy constructing his own flattering biography as a visionary inventor.

In Strangers there are lots of ideas, lots of questions, different fragments and patterns of behaviour that never really coalesce into a whole we can hold on to. The boundaries between fantasy and reality have been lifted. And there is no ferryman or saviour in sight.

But then, to finish on a much more down-to-earth note, I would like to mention the three dogs that added a special playfulness to the show. How they ended up on the island is one more mystery to solve!

Strangers premiered on January 27; it is showing at 8 pm tonight and at 5 pm on Sunday, February 4.

Janine Goedert
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