Feeling sorry for who?

Note: If you haven’t seen the piece yet, you might wait reading this post until after you saw it as I reveal some parts of the piece that are essential to the experience this wonderful play might offer you…
I was looking forward to seeing Kommer by Kassys for a really long time. I had the world premiere in my hometown (Ghent, Belgium) more than four years ago. I missed it back then and eversince there must be a curse on me making it impossible for me to see that show. After having seen their latest piece ‘Liga’ which I totally adored, I just had to see Kommer too. A reason by its self to buy myself a roundtrip airfare to the US. Still, it almost went wrong again. This time in Portland it was Taylor Mac’s -too- long applause that gave me a really hard time getting at Lincoln Hall in time… Luckily -15 minutes late- they still let me it.
During the first fifty minutes of the piece we see a stripped down scene of mourning, sad people set in a minimal -equally sad- artificial stage design of brownish plantboxes full of dead plants. Nothing significant happens. They condole eachother, they try to comfort eachother, but all in the most unpersonal way you can imagine: “I can feel what you feel” or “I would love to help you but I think I can’t”… The whole scene breathes distance, indifference, discomfort, but pushes it into extremity, making these sad happenings highly amusing. After a while all empathy with the ‘mourning’ performers has made place for malicious pleasure in the misfortune of the people on stage. “Why feeling sorry? They’re just actors, making fun of themselves in a lovely show!”
This seems more than true when the performers leave the stage and a ‘live’ video starts on which we can see the performers backstage having fun and getting ready to go home again. But as fast as we thought Kassys confirmed our feelings about the ‘play’, the group smacks it right back in your face. The extreme sadness of the initial play -”Something horrible has happened!”- makes place for the more subtle, daily ‘tristesse’ of many people’s lives that turns out to be much harder to bear than many of the worst events that could happen to you. In reality TV style, this video follows the sad and lonely lives of the actors, their lives when not on stage. The theatre turns silent again. When the video ends, the performance is finished as well. People go home, looking around, seeing the homeless, the single mothers, the detached… of Portland, thinking about these people’s ‘horrible’ lives, feeling sad…
For a moment even I got caught in this misleading hyperemotional, empathic mood. But I know Kassys, and I know they are not at all emocore-theatre-makers. No, they are a witty bunch of conceptualists fooling you by toying around with the parameters of theatre and performance. There’s no doubt that the misery shown in that ‘reality movie’ about actors’ lives was just as fake as the misery in the funny, ironic theatre piece that preceded it. It’s all part of one big ‘show’. By juxtaposing two ways of presenting fake sadness, it shows us how theatre is able to fool with our feelings of empathy.
As in their latest piece ‘Liga’ (phonetically meaning ‘to lie’ in dutch), ‘Kommer’ is all about the theatrical lie and how we let ourselves fool not only by movies, theatre, but just as well by reality TV and even what we assume to be real such as spectacular newspaper pictures of the Iraq war that are in fact just locals organizing photoshoots for the international media… It’s true that -as Baudrillard puts it- that we can no longer distinct the real from the unreal. By making many people believe something is real, it maybe also becomes real… And this, my dear fellow readers, might be the magic of theater… and our disturbed minds…

by Wouter Bouchez