Western news media balks at honest talk about the economic catastrophe long surging and sloshing through world markets. When French theater company Le Théâtre du Soleil puts on a brief giant marionette-play about “Justice” and the economic crisis in Greece’s Syntagma Square during huge Indignados protests this past weekend, it receives no televised and little print attention in the States. It should, because in a globalized world crisis is contagious—Fukushima is another pan-national crisis being softpedaled in the U.S.
As a perfect modern example of art allegorizing in circumstances that stymie direct discussion, this 5-minute skit’s telegraphic brevity still channels some resonant themes:
Justice, dressed in white and uncannily bridelike, enters Greece’s Syntagma Square blinded in one eye and bloodstreaked in a way that strongly suggests stage portrayals of Oedipus Rex (witness Pasolini’s and this 1896 theater photo). Justice should be blind, but here is clearly blinded—but at her own hand, as Oedipus was?
Her expression is one of pain, surprise and rage; she dances briefly as introduction, and then is set upon by a horde of birds à la Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (but these are black like carrion birds) while canned orchestral music rich in strings and woodwinds plays with live percussion accompaniment.
Two-sided banners in French are flourished: “Strength without Justice is tyranny—Pascal” and “Yes, I am Justice, let me speak.” Behind her is a banner quoting Nobel laureate Romain Rolland: “When the law is unjust, disobedience is but the beginning of justice.” She finds her footing after the bird attack with a rousing enfilade of rallying drums, and struts the square until curtain.
TdS had its genesis in the 11-million strong 1968 strike in France, which was both the largest general strike in history and the first wildcat general strike in history. The impetus of those revolutionary times persists because artists like TdS, and particularly founding director Ariane Mnouchkine, preserve it by connecting it to current events.
Her need to transcend the spatial and conceptual limitations of theatre architecture has fostered her troupe and career development in an old ammunition factory (an apt metaphor in itself). Fitting, then, that she should bring performance to the public square of an embattled country and shoehorn it into the international media using cameras trained on protestors.