Hieronymus Bosch’s 15th century triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” never fails to amaze and intrigue. In Fisher Stevens’ exceptional Before The Flood which examines global warming/climate change and shadows Leonardo DiCaprio’s quest as United Nations Messenger of Peace on climate change, Stevens references Bosch’s work.
The Garden of Earthly Delights which hung over DiCaprio’s bed when he was a kid becomes a the monumentally symbolic metaphor at the central point of Before the Flood.. The director elucidates the triptych and reveals Bosch’s progression from panel to panel. Mankind was given the power of the beautiful Garden (our planet Earth) and in seeking forbidden knowledge of good and evil, created a nightmare world that his very nihilism and self-hate (sin) currently is effecting the destruction of his own species, every other species and the eco-systems of the planet, which results in a hellish state (panel three).
Corinne Donly’s Wood Calls Out to Wood, directed by Sarah Hughes currently at The Tank until 12 November presents a different interpretation of Bosch’s work. However, before one travels to The Tank to see the production which translates Bosch’s work from wood and paint into a live play creation, shimmering, colorful, fanciful and more, acutely review the Bosch triptych.
The assumption the playwright makes is that the audience carries around the detailed visual memory of the three panels and with that prodigious knowledge can correlate the dialogue, actors, sets, costumes and objects used with the various panels. I admit my own failing. Without nary a projection of Bosch’s triptych, I became hard pressed to recognize various associations. However, I gather, that was one theme of this work, as abstruse, opaque and self-possessed as it was.
The often poetic dialogue and nonsensical ramblings of the characters inspired by a few figures in Bosch’s work kept one interested by its sheer dense ridiculousness. Experimental theater reaching out for someone to make sense of it, to hang a truth on? OK. I can move with surrealism and absurdism. But even surreal, “out-there” work hangs on a point of revelation throughout and most importantly at its conclusion. Indeed, if the production was meant to end in a whimper, or a fabulous new insight, I confess, I missed it.
I do appreciate the exertions of the actors who seemed to have their sense memories and in-the-moment behaviors lined up appropriately. And the couple who love and comfort one another were adorable.
Of course the irony in all of this remains that Bosch’s triptych replete with spiritual symbolic significance of man’s own inhumanity to himself was no where to be viscerally found. Wood Calling Out to Wood exists as an exercise. It is an exercise in the fun, lively, innovative, experimental, weird, often incompletely executed extrapolation of the three panels because that is what it is attempting. In the attempt it becomes the esoteric for esoteric’s sake. A Foucault for those who would attempt to make meaning of it and get tripped up on their own inadequate philosophies. It perches on the edge of Fuzzy Thinking as a mind blowout for those who will go there. If one will, make sure to have enough rest. It may be a flip to follow along. But you may also flip into the unconscious and post haste, fall asleep. Have coffee beforehand, and preferably not decaf.
My reading of the script helped me to understand what the playwright had intended. If the production could be given a proper mounting, with visual projections of Bosch’s work for those like this obtuse writer, I do think that Corinne Donly’s Wood Calls Out to Wood might find itself marvelous.
As it is, if you enjoy supporting The Tank (312 West 36th St), and favor the sheer nonsensical fun of attempting to make heavy-duty meaning out of the curious, you will enjoy the silly, frenetic quality of Wood Calls Out to Wood which runs for 50 minutes without an intermission. As for Bosch? Well, don’t expect any of his magnificent visuals, so review his works, exercise your memory and go prepared.