BWW Review: The Lawful Ways of Love in Oliveira's THE CONSTITUTION
The concept of love has been practiced, contemplated, adored, divided into types and just plain old sought after for years upon end. It is everything from an action to a philosophy; from a happy thought to something that makes us double think our moral choices. Love is subjective but collectively understood as the driving force towards good; it is what people should never find absent in their lives.
Picture four people in a room, possessing just short of enough free will to be there but knowing that they can walk out if the mood strikes them. Four actors who base their lives on the truth of the untruth, forced to write a constitution applicable to all the actual people they have played - people who rely on their logic and experience to shape a universally "good" future. Four souls trapped in a room, compelled enough by the attraction of love to write a new Constitution based upon it. Six days are all they have to write something with no boundaries, no rules and no expectations.
Shouldn't be too difficult, right?
Frigid New York @ Horse Trade, in association with Saudade Theatre, presents the United States Premiere of Mickaël de Oliveira's The Constitution, now in performances at UNDER St. Marks. Translated from its original Portuguese by Maria Ines Marques and now directed by Jill DeArmon, The Constitution is so special a show not only because of the diversity and talent of its cast, but also because of how the basis of anything political is proven to exist in the basic human need for philosophic clarity. Four actors who are well acquainted with one another (a wackier sort of Sartre's hell, in a way) must decide the premise on which the new Portuguese Constitution is to be written. In six days, they must not only come to an unanimous opinion of what humanity is and deserves, but seek to understand it within themselves...and then as something applicable to each Portuguese citizen. Love is what makes this show go round, and it is also love that the audience will feel towards this compelling story.
If you think about what each decision in this world consists of, it all comes down to the use of basic sense and understanding. Even though opinions differ and diversity among people runs quite rampant, an understanding of what we all need can be figured out. The premise of this play is the concept of love - how people, in pursuit of it, govern their actions accordingly and presume that what they do because of it is ultimately for the "good" of the matter. Love makes people try harder, live more exuberantly and find reason for much of what is acted upon in our lives. But is it everything? Can it govern a people when it is so subjective, so unpredictable and so unlimited in how feeling can sometimes not reflect one's given actions? In this vein, what ensues is a conversation about love and how four human beings must quell their feelings towards each other in order to find what is so special about this clause of their new constitution.
Four actors, chosen by the Portuguese government to write a new Constitution, must stay together and complete their task in six days. There are no clearly acknowledged reasons as to why these people were chosen (given their lack of "proper" experience), why they even accept the task and where character ends and actor begins. After two days, amidst talk of articles, sections and essentially what format the Constitution should take, the group decides on the concept of "love" as its premise for what is to follow. Although the vote it almost unanimous, one character cannot accept that a pure sense of love can ever truly be felt or even exist, let alone govern an entire country. Over the next few days, these four actors discuss, play, yell, fight and confess what their reasoning is behind using love as the supreme (albeit possibly flawed) premise of their Constitution. What follows is an intense, thought provoking discussion that goes across the threshold of "acting" and into unrestrained self-expression to speak of love - a concept that is not as indisputable as it may seem.
The Constitution is an intense, thought provoking and overall fascinating show that turns a discussion about love into more of a hell that people cannot escape until they have exhausted themselves of their own beliefs on the matter. Character emotion ranges from simple agreement to being consumed by fits of rage, all the while determining their own opinions on said matter and understanding themselves before offering their revelations to the Portuguese people as law. Watching this show is like being present for an acting exercise that acknowledges reality as right there but is still an ambiguous mix of reality and pretend, where the truth is truth regardless of whether I am of my character's mind or actually only now discovering it. Actors playing characters are really just figuring out who they are, and I perpetually questioned throughout the show what each new element introduced meant. I very much enjoyed the intellectual roller coaster, but I liked how raw the entire experience felt. It's as if to say that, no matter our task (or burden), we are still people who must first figure out why we feel love after having practiced it for so long. Making it a theoretical law only proves how far we have to go in the matter.
In my opinion, the show and its premise are really quite wonderful.
Credit must be given to everyone involved, from the actors to the creative team. Maria Leite, Filipe Valle Costa, Diogo Martins and Pedro Carmo are exquisite on that stage! Really a remarkable job making the audience feel welcome at one point and then slightly uncomfortable the next, all the while relating to us as people. Joining them in the wings are Pedro Marnoto Pereira as Assistant Director, Vanessa Varela (and Filipe Valle Costa) as Producers, Jaden DeArmon on Sound Design and Board, Helen Blash and Will Zebetz as Technical Directors, art direction under Salvador Salazar and stage managed by Nicole Amaral.
So, what is love and why write a show about it? It's definitely a question you should stop by UNDER St. Mark's to have answered.
The Constitution began performances at UNDER St. Mark's (located at (94 St. Marks Place) on August 31st and will run thru September 10th. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased in advance at www.horseTRADE.info. Performances are Thursday thru Sunday @ 7pm and run about 70 minutes with no intermission. There is a bar within the theater if a drink pre-show is desired.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Vanessa Varela