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Created and Directed by Romeo Castellucci


The Montréal Review, June 2012



On the Concept of the Face begins with an incontinent old man watching television, and ends with destruction of a gigantic image of Jesus. That got your attention, now didn't it? Although playwright Romeo Castellucci is versed in literary and theatrical tradition-the works of Dante, Beckett, and Antonin Artaud being a few of his creative touchstones-the artistic merits of his latest Festival TransAmériques submission have, arguably, been overshadowed by the controversy it has aroused. Devout Parisian Catholics publicly protested On the Concept of the Face. And Montreal's own La Presse ran a front-page headline branding Castellucci an "Artiste provocateur". Never mind that the combination of feces and Christian symbolism that is central to On the Concept of the Faceisn't anything new-that, about a dozen years ago, the same combination earned painter Chris Ofili similar kind of notoriety. A controversy is still a controversy.

Is all this merely provocation for provocation's sake? Or is there something intelligent, original, unexpectedly reverent, or unexpectedly humane to what On the Concept of the Face accomplishes? Castellucci's play starts off as the story of a helpless aged father (Gianni Plazzi) and his devoted adult son (Sergio Scarlatella). The problem is that, somewhere around the show's halfway point, Plazzi's character goes from "tragic case" to "recurring poop joke." At the performance I attended, each new instance of simulated incontinence sent up new bursts of audience laughter. I realize that Castellucci may be playing with the fine line between tragedy and comedy-much as Beckett himself did-but such play comes at the expense of a character who could have been supremely moving.

Yet there is a more powerful element of human drama at work. And it's hiding in plain sight. The backdrop of On the Concept of the Face is a portrait of Christ by Renaissance painter Antonello da Messina. As Castellucci noted in a recent interview, this tremendous image is "a reflection of the human condition, a mirror before us. The face is inscrutable, complex. His expression is ambiguous, and we can't grasp what the man is thinking and feeling. Is it gentleness, grief, melancholy?"

By confronting us with this image, Castellucci forces us to contemplate it in a remarkable new fashion. Instead of presenting da Messina's Christ simply as an aesthetic object, a museum piece, he presents it as a key to moral and philosophical inquiry-as the source of "a profound questioning." For all its apparent sensationalism, and for all its apparent pretensions to high art, On the Concept of the Face can be an examination of "thinking and feeling" at their most basic yet most compelling. I just wish Castellucci would get his audience's tittering under control.

--Patrick Kennedy


| MORE FROM FTA 2012 |


Written by Ann-Marie Kerr and Susan Leblanc Crawford

Directed by Ann-Marie Kerr

In itself, the stage design for The Debacle is a fine work of art. Almost all of the action in this one-person play takes place on a small platform raised twelve feet off the ground, closed in with shelves and wooden slats, and crowded up with glass jars and a big tub of ice... | read |


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