Friday, January 07, 2011

THEATER: Vice Versa

Photo/Julian Oppenheim
[Part of the Under the Radar Festival]

In "Bull," the second novella of Will Self's 1993 book, "Cock and Bull," a large, homosexual, heavyset young man wakes up to find -- metamorphosis style -- that he has a vagina growing out of the back of his knee. (In the other novella, "Cock," a woman finds that she has grown a penis.) That's a fascinating, daring concept . . . so why has the << ildi ! eldi >> collective adapted it in such a plainspoken fashion, especially since their own struggle with speaking English (the group is French) is now highlighted more than Self's sexual politics?

For the first half-hour, the show is engaging, as the scene in which Bull makes an appointment with a secretary and soon after has his exam (and an unexpected follow-up) is repeated thrice, first as plain dialogue, again with interior voices from the two men (Francois Sabourin and Antoine Oppenheim), and then a third time, with an omniscient narrator (Sophie Cattani) drawing further context from her observations. This conceit cleverly plays on the awkwardness of the moment, with us only understanding Bull's condition after the second iteration, which now makes us view the doctor's attitude -- and his references to "nonscientific observations" in a new light. By the third pass, we're getting to the crudeness of his actions -- "I am now having an affair with a man with a cunt in the back of his leg" -- and yet, because of the revelatory sequence, we can almost accept it, which meshes with this observation: "The abnormal becomes normal through its inclusion in the world of others."

But the play lingers too long in a second, protracted sequence, which hints at how Bull will deal with this new relationship, how he will reassess his own masculinity or the way he has treated sexual partners before, now that he has this new experience. As the two men stand across the room for one another, each at a microphone, the play becomes an interrogation, in which the woman demands that the men find words to address the situation, each minute less impacting, less playful, less interesting than the last. Talk about a reversal!

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