Academic Parables : Review of Isolde

Isolde. new York City Players. Isolde. new York City Players.

There are various legends and myths about the young queen Isolde who falls in love with her husband’s nephew Tristan, and none of them ends happily. In this rendition of the story Isolde is an actress who is losing her memory and therefore her ability to act. Playwright and director Richard Maxwell gives extensive notes about the meaning and effect of mythology, pointing out that it is deep in our DNA, and unavoidable. I think Kenneth Burke once said that literature is “Parables writ large.” I tend to agree with Burke.

This particular myth is about the consequences and tribulations which await those who commit adultery, certainly less germane today than in the Middle Ages. Mathew also writes of leaving the method acting style of so many American performers and creating a persona who is losing the very memory necessary to perform. He says the actors were told not to pretend to simply be “what they have to be to tell the story.”

The story is about the actress who is losing her memory, and ability to act, caught between her lover, an architect who is such a perfectionist that he can produce nothing and her husband who is a pragmatist and a contractor. There is also an enigmatic persona called uncle Jerry, a bit of a thug and very close to the husband.

The effect of all this theorizing about acting and the stage and the very minimalist set is a very dull and monotone play which repeats certain phrases in the maddeningly boring style of post modern deconstructive literature. It may indeed resolve certain theories about the theatre but it breaks the greatest rule at its peril. It is ineffable boring.

Perhaps it is my enormous age, but I wish to go to the theatre to feel something or to laugh out loud or even be fed a conundrum. I am too old and too uninterested in this kind of experiment to truly enjoy it. I did feel compassion for the actors who looked bored and uninterested even as they were having sex on stage.

I succumb to my younger colleagues some of whom I met and who genuinely enjoyed this piece. I believe it was a very academic play and that may be where I would like to see it remain.

Isolde played at the Maison Theatre as part of the FTA on June 2 to 4.