“Do we not all spend the greater part of our lives under the shadow of an event that has not yet come to pass?” Maurice Maeterlinck published his play in this intriguing perspective, The Intruder, in 1890. Things from Before, a Los Angeles based performance collective out of CalArts, provides us with the exciting opportunity to see a remarkable adaptation of this rarely performed short play.
Remarkable not just for the outstanding quality of the performances, but for its intellectual rigour, understanding, and presentation of the symbolist genre.
The Intruder is set in a family’s sitting room, where the blind grandfather awaits the arrival of the father, the uncle and the three daughters, who in turn wait for the priest and the sister to arrive. In an adjacent room, the ailing mother has given birth to a child, who lies asleep in yet another adjoining room. Without sight, the grandfather has lost a means of communication with the outside world, but his other faculties function normally – and his hearing is particularly heightened. Through to its dark climax, remainder of this eerie story contrasts his perception of reality with that of the others in the room.
If, as Maeterlinck said, “we diminish a thing as soon as we try to express it in words,” then either it must remain unstated, be accepted as inadequate, or be formulated differently in another medium (which in itself can only be an approximation). Hence, the actors, constrained by words, trapped in a plot and confined to a set, seek to break loose from the chains of reality and escape into a world of symbolic interaction in which other modes of expression can be deployed. Accordingly, we have the juxtaposition of original text with contemporary movement and music.
There is satisfying sense of cohesion in this holistic production. The stunning set is intimately intertwined with the actions of the performers and succeeds in raising questions about the nature of perception. The haunting, shimmering original score that accompanies parts of play perfectly suggests the presence of dark forces. Combined, they remind us of the inadequacy of language alone to convey meaning. The actors give an appropriately stark performance. This is in marked contrast to the energy, vitality and exuberance of the music and movement interludes that delve into diverse modes of communication. It is a penetrating exploration of the complexities of symbolism.
This a complex production, the full depth of which may only be appreciated upon reflection. It is remarkable not just for the outstanding quality of the performances, but for its intellectual rigour, understanding, and presentation of the symbolist genre.