“We must have darkness above all,” Villon proclaims in Murray Mednick’s rumination on the 15th century poet-pimp now at the Odyssey Theatre. The work is a tapestry of disparate couplings – light/darkness, vice/virtue, piety/profaneness – applied over and over. As the audience is plummeted by the raging cataracts of Mr. Mednick’s creative white waters, the occasional gem sparkles to catch their eye.
“The gods sail through the sky fueled by human blood.”
“We fade into the ground and are gone eventually like the rain.”
But we are not permitted long to meditate on these, as Mr. Mednick, who also directs, heaves us onward in the grip of his dramatic rapids inflicting a sense of disorder . And an audience should be inflicted with a sense disorder, for in that way they are kept off balance by the playwright for whatever purpose he devises, but they should never have the debilitating impression that the playwright is himself out of control.
A twisting plot enthralls only to the point of suspecting you’re going around in circles. Regretfully, this suspicion smothers “Villon”.
The stated goal of the evening was to infuse the audience with a sense of risk and danger, yet that objective was crushed beneath the playwright’s inability to impose clarity of purpose on his narrative. For without clarification, no communication between the staged event and the audience is possible.
Being a playwright who tends to direct his own works, it pains me to say this, but Mr. Mednick would have perhaps benefited from having another set of hands on the helm.
The historical reign of Charles VII, the period the piece is set in, was a time of turbulence, and the story of François Villon (1431 – ?) is one surfeited of sex and bloodshed. The great innovator of French poetry, Villon’s own works have survived the test of time, even “inspiring” certain songs in Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera”.
It was Charles VII who Joan of Arc fought for, and it was Charles VII who betrayed her to her fate when captured by the English. It is a fascinating time in history that due to Mr. Mednick’s lack of narrative structure holds no interest on stage.
The actors suffer from this most of all, for no drama can arise from characters undefined. Kevin Weisman as Villon has some splendid moments, but is unable to sustain those in what seem less like a chiseled characterization and more like a collection of footnotes hobbled together as a “role”. Only Peggy Ann Blow as the aged brothel baratress Clotilde succeeds in distinguishing her presence on stage, but whether this is attributable to Mr. Mednick or Ms. Blow’s own sense of self-preservation I can’t say.
An aspect that Mr. Mednick’s tapestry of contrasting coupling touches on is the tension existing between what is real and what is illusion.
“It is the stage that makes it possible to be someone,” Villon affirms to the audience.
But this is only true when the actor has been provided with a solid foundation by the playwright and a sturdy guidance by the director. There is no doubt that Mr. Mednick is capable of providing both of these requirements, that he is able to do these in tandem is made doubtful here.