Radoslaw Rychcik is not always easy to understand, and that’s not only because he’s speaking fractured English into a crackling cellphone on the line from his home in Cracow, Poland. The real language barrier is that he’s trying to explain something that’s probably best experienced first-hand: his notion of “hysterical theatre”. Fortunately, Vancouver audiences will be able to do just that when Radoslaw Rychcik/Stefan Zeromski Theatre presents his take on French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltí¨s’s In the Solitude of Cotton Fields as part of the 2011 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
In the PuSh program, Rychcik describes his approach as one that’s “based on extreme emotion, where the spectator is slapped in the face, gets a moment’s break, and is slapped again”. Continuing with this theme of body contact—and paraphrasing the philosopher and critic Roland Barthes—the director compares his style to another highly ritualized form of performance.
“Wrestling is the art of fighting,” he says as a way of indicating the outsize emotions he hopes to present. “It’s not fighting itself, but it’s the art of fighting. It’s a fake fight, where the gestures are more interesting, more exciting, than true.”
It’s both ironic and apt, then, that the script he’s working with is all about the impossibility of making a meaningful connection. In the Solitude of Cotton Fieldshas only two characters: the Dealer and the Client. They’re engaged in some kind of transaction, although whether they’re negotiating the purchase of drugs or sex or mutual funds is unclear. And they never address each other directly, either. Instead, they deliver alternating soliloquies to the audience—backed, in this production, by live techno from the band Natural Born Chillers.
The approach sounds deliberately stylized and more than a little alienating—the polar opposite of the naturalistic acting that’s the norm in North America.
“The main idea is a kind of high emotional theatre,” Rychcik says. “People on the stage are different from people in their lives, you know. And the difference demands some kind of high emotional level. When you meet a girl or a meet a man, you love a girl or love a man, you want to shout, you want to break something. And I like this emotion in theatre. The hysterical theatre is some kind of spectacular way to describe our feelings. It’s very emotional, very touchy”¦.It’s not psychological theatre, but a theatre of demands.”