Kassys tackles theatre, film, television, genre, and grief in Kommer, a multimedia performance that is as humorous as it is heartbreaking.
Kommer begins with six actors milling about on a spare stage, talking quietly and drinking Perrier from tall glasses. Behind them sit six plant boxes with dour green plants, forming three “walls” of the stage, on a white rectangular floor. Six stacked chairs, two small tables, a tray of sandwiches, and a stereo complete the set. A simple scheme of white lights filters down on the actors, who stand in mostly dark-toned office clothes. A picture of Dutch minimalism.
Quickly the talk turns into distress, as each actor stoops over, in turn, looking sick and somber, before exiting the stage and making an agonized loop back onto the stage. Meanwhile a brass band plays a mournful, inspiring tune akin to “Danny Boy.” They arrange the chairs into a semi-circle around a stereo on a table; this process is hilarious, as some butt in and others are left out. An absurd scenario follows as they turn off the music (the play’s first line is: “I like this music very much but I don’t think it’s appropriate”), then play a compilation CD, listening to some of each song before one of them skips it (“The Rose,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Imagine”). They glance at each other awkwardly, before turning off the music, then dancing muted, uncoordinated dances.
Their somber faces, hesitancy, and courtesy show the primacy of personal space and a preference for following rather than leading. These traits inhibit each character from expressing deeper emotions, submitting all reactions to propriety, and ultimately leading them to perform drastic feats for attention: eating plants, humping plant boxes, destroying plants. These destructive attempts at grief are a result of sublimating emotions, of contemporary banality, and perhaps of depression. In Dutch, “kommer” means sorrow.
The play’s dialogue is lifted straight from a soap opera, and delivered in deadpan, static voices: “I can’t believe he’s dead,” “How can I move on with my life,” “It’s too late now,” “He knows how much you love him.” One character, Ton, says that “everybody is empathizing,” but this is apparent only through the dialogue (which is mediated through media representations of grief) because the characters’ recital is so indifferent. Even Esther’s epiphany, “Live each day with intensity,” is said apathetically.
Momentarily, things pick up when one character, Mischa, begins sobbing and is consoled by the others. One character invites them to “walk around the block,” which eventually leads them all to walk off the stage and out the exit, leaving the “reality” of the drama behind, and breaching the fourth wall between audience and actor. Soon they return, however, to eat sandwiches, and as they do so they turn from laughing to melancholy. Esther, to relieve their sorrow, offers each character a choice of two actions, which they begin, an effort at breaking down so they can build up something new.
Soon they are standing and the screen lowers, the pre-recorded film mirroring the actions of the actors on stage, and introducing a new element into the play and into theatre itself. Kassys has broken down the old traditions and built up a new framework for theatre, combining humor with sadness, the immediacy of theatre with the artifice of film. The film follows the actors backstage as they self-referentially discuss the audience’s reactions, leaving the audience to laugh at how they are being perceived by the actors.
While the film portion likewise has little dialogue, it seems more genuine than the cut-and-paste dialogue of the stage play, and the performances are more affecting. We see each actor living a lonely life, however, stranded, suicidal, endangered, unhealthy, solitaire. Not that the film is without humor; one especially funny bit follows Esther as she destroys an airplane lavatory, and another captures Ton alone eating a mass of disgusting foods with his fingers. I am not sure what to make of the presentation of sorrow in Kommer. Even if the narrative is not complete, even if these are small images of loneliness let to stand alone, I wonder what Kassys wants us to think about sorrow and our own lives today. Perhaps we are merely left to reflect that even within melancholy there a lot of funny moments, and that even in an age where we reproduce what we see in the media as our own true feelings, there are opportunities to break out of the monotonous and build something new.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly