I suspect I’m one of the few audience members who recognizes, before we’re specifically shown process, that the artist/protagonist of Incantata is creating potato prints. Cutting a shape into half the divided vegetable, dipping it into paint and pressing it on paper was something we did as children. (If you’ve also ironed crayon shavings between sheets of wax paper, you might be familiar.)
Inspired Set Designer Rosanna Vize offers a studio with many of these prints taped to the wall. All are covered with multiples of a shape we’re later told represents a jagged mouth. A work table is viewed both from real angle and through the lens of a video camera (yes, again) mounted to a chair. There are unreliable lights (intermittently buzzing off), suspended rolls of paper, and a large pile of potatoes. The jump-suited “man” creates, bouncing to pop music.
He is, as I found “incantata” to be translated, spellbound, locked in cyclical memories (passages are repeated verbatim) of a beloved dead wife, also an artist, who failed to inform him of her cancer. “I thought of you tonight, a lot…” Draping the camera successively in a shawl, coat, and hat, he addresses it as if it were she, at times gently lifting and moving the body.
We hear about their meeting, her appearance before and during the disease, character – “You had a winningly inaccurate sense of your own worth” – idiosyncrasies, admonitions. Towns, music, food, events…Passion morphs from fixation to obsession to abjectly painful anger as the episode spirals.
The Irish poet and teacher Paul Muldoon has been highly celebrated for his craft. This incredibly dense rant, stuffed with erudite literary and cultural references as well as, one gathers from the program, exercises in poetic format likely detected only by academics, does not work as a play. Though an arc is present, it’s too obscure by half, frustrating and enervating over merely an hour.
Issues with Incantata in no way reflect on actor Stanley Townsend who does a marvelous job inhabiting mercurial emotion with every fiber of his being, moving about the stage puppeted by unleashed feelings of impotence and regret.
Director Sam Yates is wildly imaginative in his presentation of unsuccessful exorcism. “The man” is at all times driven, relating to ersatz recreation of “her” with great variation that never seems false/concocted. A bit less yelling would serve. Otherwise, the piece is masterfully helmed.
Sound design by Sinead Diskin employs just the right music at just the right volume to contribute, not distract.
Jack Phelan’s video design is effective though, as I’ve opined, I find it a theatrical crutch.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Incantata by Paul Muldoon
Directed by Sam Yates
Starring Stanley Townsend
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through March 15, 2019