the chorus, theater

the pierced mask scene

Last night, after watching the Senators for an hour and a half, (“That’s just not true.” “That’s not true.” “That’s Senate inside baseball”…) and drinking Smirnoff mixed with something that contained 15% cranberry juice, I crawled into bed and dreamt a fully staged version of a scene which doesn’t exist.

I was in the lobby of the auditorium of Q School, where I taught LYSISTRATA workshops two weeks ago, hanging out with my friend and co-teacher JF and some of our high school classmates. The next scene to be presented was the pierced mask scene from King Lear (there is no such scene) and the director was our former teacher and mentor, Ted W. I was bantering with friends, other teachers, and laughing – and suddenly I decided I couldn’t miss Ted’s staging of this famous scene.

Distracted and drunk in the dream as I was in sleep, I rushed into the auditorium (proscenium with raked seating) late, almost disrupting the scene, and to the extreme disapproval of the students’ parents sitting around me. I slid down in my seat.

Two seated narrator birds in white beak masks spoke in a synchronized unison whisper, one from the back center of house right, one from the stage. Their lips were amplified visually somehow – I could see nothing else. The whisper, like feathers or snakeskin, was present in every corner of the auditorium, which had house lights up and the stage dimmed. They spoke in verse, which I cannot remember.

I was annoyed that they already knew how to do choral speaking – why had we bothered with the workshops? They were so good.

A diagonal chorus of four, one man and three women, in gold half-masks ran down the house right aisle, all facing the house right wall, all with the skin of their torsos gleaming under red cloth. They announced the arrival of the king, I think, also in verse and in unison. Their spacing was beautiful. Mechanical. Each head was a foot lower than the next.

The young king appeared from the same aisle entrance I had used. He was being played by a student I taught last year. He was elaborately made up, but unmasked. He was cloaked.

He called, in verse, for the appearance of the pastries (I am not making this up!) and a conveyor belt carrying syrup-oozing golden stacks of hexagonal sponge cakes, topped with raspberries, ran behind the chorus, through the center seating block of the audience. The cakes kept moving, and the chorus speaking.

Suddenly there was a lighting shift. House lights went dark, and there was abrupt movement and sound on stage. (In the dream, I remember not understanding how the actors got from the aisles onto stage, but in my reconstruction it’s clear that there must have been a second, identical group of actors on stage, and the instant darkness created the illusion of their transport.)

A terrifying pattern of light which looked like an enormous staple, or a 3-sided rectangular gate, moved through the darkness from upstage left to downstage center/right, with a sound like a screech.

The gate stopped and revealed the young king, immobilized, bolted to a chair like that Bacon painting, and screaming. In the dim light all you could see was that he wearing a grotesque mask, grey-white, bulbous, and with eye-slits. The mask was like half of a white pumpkin turned on its side.

It was as if the moving gate had been his chair being pushed out.

Above his head and stage right of him, on a pole, or midair, was a fool/Dionysos/trickster character, an actor combined from a friend of mine in LA and another former student, shrieking and laughing at him.

Dionysos began his monologue, which I knew was to tell the king that the pierced mask would never come off his face again, and I woke up.

This dream certainly owes a lot to Richard Foreman’s WHAT TO WEAR, which I saw with Chris Danowski in Los Angeles at REDCAT, and I think the “pierced mask” as a group of words is somehow taken from the “pierced chair” that the Popes were supposed to have to sit on to have their gender checked. But otherwise, I think I may have finally had an original idea. If by original, you mean Dionysian.