Thoughts on Catastrophe @ Knoxford Drama

This is not a review. You can find rightfully strong reviews of this show from ArtsKnox here and KnoxTNToday here.   

Call this an appreciation of sorts.

It's been almost a week now, and I can't shake it. The feeling I'm left dealing with after Knoxford Drama's staging of three short plays by Samuel Becket at the Hive  is akin to the time I discovered a dead man in the backseat of an abandoned car when I was a teenager.

I mean that in a good way. 

Stop looking at me like that.

Let me explain:

Imagine these things.

The ragged figure of a man standing on a pedestal, his face obscured, shivering.

Wait. Just Look.

Three matching women in matching coats with matching hats and matching expressions seated on a bench.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Just Look.

The rhythmic ceaseless relentless nine always nine always nine hollow footfalls of an ageless woman pacing back and forth across a length of floor suspended in space.

Wait. Wait.


Just Look.

Just Look.  

Just. Look.

Just. Look.






What is this? What am I looking at? What creatures are these? How long has this been here? What does it mean? Where did it come from? What is it doing here?

What am I doing here? Not here the theater; but Here here. 

Then its gone.

I'm just-here again, just-looking again. Waiting again. Waiting for something and waiting for something to happen - anything to pull me away from the -

"Why the hat?"

Thank god.

Thank god this isn't all there is. I don't know what it means. Why the hat? I don't care. Who said it? What hat do they mean?  Who are they? Whose hat? But at least something was said. At least there is something other than the waiting; something to cling to other than this figure of a man on this pedestal whose face I cannot see.

Aaaaaand you're still looking at me funny...

Let me explain:

"We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all."

- Antonin Artaud The Theatre of Cruelty

Look, you're not imagining it right. If you weren't there; if you didn't see it, then the images you're imagining aren't right. They can't be. They don't make sense on the page because there are certain signs that letters alone can't make.

These are theatre signs: stage-signals in stage-space. They are things to be looked at only; objects in themselves seen by the watchers themselves: 

A Shivering Man.

Three Matching Women.

The Pacing One.

No no, it's no use. I could tell you that together they form a triptych made of almost nothing, and that the nothingness gnaws... 

But that's just me.

That's just how it makes me feel. It's not what they are

Let me explain:

"...crazy man. Dennis takes a  great deal of bravery in a town like Knoxville to produce these plays and to produce them in such a way that he knows not everyone is going to enjoy or appreciate. Some people def super hated it. But his unflinching staging tho! His liberal use of ultra-long unforgiving pauses to force the viewer out of the banal world and into the world of symbol is damn near heroic in terms of respect for the text and for the audience too. It works very well for most of the production,  toward the end of the third piece it was beginning to lose some of its impact. But that's just sheer fatigue I think. Still this presentation created a moment in time where the only thing that mattered was the image and the language occurring on stage. It created space for meditation... a difficult thing to accomplish in a culture that, outside of church, doesn't have codified sets of presentational norms / rituals designed to foster a conduit with the 'divine' or to strengthen that special pathway to a deeper world ... allows and even forces the audience into a different state of mind. Def not for folks looking to have a super fun date night ... They are unafraid ... unquestionably well constructed and well-executed moments of vibrant theater."

- Unedited excerpts from JP's notes on Catastrophe

It is a clear day and winter. The dead man in the back seat of a car is a dead man in the back seat of a car that I am looking at. His cheek is pressed against the window and it has curled his lip up like Elvis. Elvis has definitely left the it is just supposed to be Tuesday. What am I doing here? I am looking at him but he is not a him anymore. He is not a he anymore and he is not Here. I am Here. He is not. But there he is anyway. There he is: an object in space. It's not pleasant. But it's not without a dark little joy. The show I mean. The show is not pleasant. But hell, most things in life are like that though. Right? I mean, right?

The Theatre claims to imitate life, but usually it just imitates advertising. The Theatre is usually lying to you. 

These plays are not lying to you. They understand: they don't have the time.

They're too busy frantically signaling to you from the stage

Signaling from across the empty space

Signalling you to wait

Signaling you to look

Signaling to you before

"Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Oh, thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.—
Pray you, undo this button. Thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips.
Look there. Look there. O, O, O, O."

- King Lear, Act 5 Scene 3

"There's our catastrophe!"

- Catastrophe

"Catastrophe", "Come and Go" and "Footfalls" were excellent, hard, and undaunted theatre. They were staged at the Hive by Knoxford Drama. Director: Dennis E. Perkins. Producers: Zack Allen and Caroline King. Featuring Tyler GregoryBiz LyonsKevin CollinsCarrie Booher Thompson, and Caroline King. 


-- JP Schuffman is the Managing Artistc Director of the Knoxville Theatre Club, a critic, and not usually such a raving loon.