If stones could speak, what might they say?
Perhaps, in their rock-hard silence, they nevertheless 'speak' as silent witnesses of what has gone before, as prophets of that which might be said afterwards regarding the results of war, destruction, and displacement. What fragments of past(s) are disclosed when stones 'speak'?
In Speaking Stones, silence and actions 'speak' as much as words. The performance montage juxtaposes words, images, actions, and music. The montage text and performance score have been generated from newly authored text by Kaite O'Reilly; textual fragments edited from sources such as Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero by Brian Rotman; Kazuo Ohno's The Dead Sea; and A Chorus of Stones by Susan Griffith; and images, movement, and a physical score generated during rehearsals and workshops.
About the context of the performance space in Aflenz, Austria. [ link to photogallery ]
12th of September 2002
Director: Phillip B. Zarrilli
Writer, Dramaturgy: Kaite O'Reilly
Translation: Frank Heibert
Costumes: Alexandra Pötz
Lighting: Sabine Wiesenbauer, Monika Kanduth
Sound: Phillip Neudeck
Cast: Laura Dannequin, Christian Heuegger, Uschi Litschauer, Gernot Rieger, Klaus Seewald, Monika Zöhrer
That which comes after
If you want to see the full range of work by Wales’ cutting-edge playwrights, you’re probably used to going a bit further afield. This time you would have to go a little further than usual: Graz in Austria, to be precise. Here, Kaite O’Reilly has been collaborating with American Director Phillip Zarrilli and the Austrian company Theatre Asou to create Speaking Stones. It is a montage of images, voices and fragments which describes its subject as “that which comes after…” It requires the full journey of the evening to understand what this means.
The show opens with a sung lament, and a stage divided by laboriously built dry stone walls. We could be in rural Wales or the mountains of Greece. One of the walls comes crashing down covering the stage with stones, and a farmer’s son remembers the harshness of the land. Gradually we meet characters whose lives are rooted in this landscape and in the fruit of the land: stones, which are transformed by the love and tenderness the performers lavish on them. As they move across the rubble, creating images that remind us of the wars of the twentieth century, we seem to be in many places at once, but the sense of dispossession, of being uprooted is the most immediate and powerful impression. Marching songs, poems, lullabies and the terse communications of soldiers provide the score for a dance of transformations as the performers leave their human characters behind becoming abstract shapes, ‘zeros’ and finally stones, like those they hold.
The power of these transformations is their ability to resonate with a multiplicity of interpretations, which never stray into the gratuitously beautiful, are always rooted in a place and a sense of belonging. At one and the same time these people are earth and human, living on their land and being evicted, surviving and being ethnically cleansed, possessing and being dispossessed.
Credited as both writer and dramaturg, Kaite O’Reilly and her collaborators offer powerful political theatre, which defies aesthetic categories and reminds us of our humanity. Perhaps unsurprisingly the work has not been well received in Austria where right-wing nationalism is on the rise, and the issue of asylum seekers is even more fraught than it is here. It is an understatement to say that this is a great shame, as it might mean that the work does not get seen elsewhere in Europe, another stone in the wall of insular, parochial nationalism which the work so elegantly demolishes.
“that which comes after…” may be survival, or it may mean joining the stones in the field. The choice is left to us. It seems unlikely that you will get to see this work… I hope this has offered you a fragmentary sense of its power and immediacy.
Scripted by Kaite O'Reilly, directed by Phillip B. Zarrilli and performed by Theater ASOU (Graz, Austria), 'Speaking Stones' premiered in the Theater im Palais in Graz on September 12th, the day after the anniversary of the mass destruction witnessed by the world in America last year. This piece represents an attempt to engage with devastation in the aftermath of war and to explore the possibilities of dissolving barriers and bringing about reconciliation.
Stillness, gestures and text are all of equal importance in this complex, finely woven montage of images, gestures and music. The six performers are stones, ancient witnesses to the history of humanity. The performance is an answer to the question, what would stones tell us if they could speak?
The entire piece is rock-like in its formation: interwoven into Kaite O'Reilly's text are fragments from Brian Rotman's Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero, Kazuo Ohno's The Dead Sea and Susan Griffin's A Chorus of Stones. It was crafted together with Phillip Zarrilli for an ensemble whose commitment to their art has led them to engage intensively with and internalize an extensive range of theatre practices from several different cultures: Japanese, South American, Chinese and Indian. Add to this synergy the influence of Artaud's writings and visionary ideas, a set with lovingly built stone walls, superb lighting and the end product is a virtuoso piece of theatre which could not have more relevance to our times, where devastation and human suffering are regular occurrences.
The opening tableau - one performer moves at a glacial pace behind cleverly positioned picture frames carrying a large ticking clock - arrests the spectator with its visual beauty and takes them gently by the hand into the world of the stone, into a different zone where seeing and not distraction or quick-fix gratification is priority. The same figure moving in the opposite direction relinquishes the spectator back to the 'real world' at the end of the piece, after affording them a range of insights, which might be described in the words of Walter Benjamin as 'images blasted out of the continuum of history'.
More than the subtlety and grace of the performers' movements, the technically irreproachable quality of their voices and song, were the honesty, vulnerability and generosity of their performance, which clearly also reflects on a relationship of deep trust with their director. These are performers whose years of ensemble work and finely so well attuned to one another that they can be present to themselves before their audience , giving the spectator a sense of privilege to be there. They are indeed what Artaud calls 'athletes of the heart'.
The local journalists reacted badly to the piece - an unfortunate circumstance, which will probably prevent Theater ASOU from touring with 'Speaking Stones'. At a time when Austrian politics seem to have forgotten the mass destruction caused by fascism, it is regrettable that this highly sophisticated and beautifully crafted.
Context of the performance space: Phillip Zarrilli