It's a massive behemoth and possibly the closest thing you could imagine to an unfilmable novel. But starting tomorrow, New York City's The Kitchen is doing a stage play of Samuel R. Delany's challenging Dhalgren. Have they gone mad?
The stage play of Dhalgren is called Bellona, Destroyer Of Cities, and it's being put on by MIT Professor Jay Scheib, who's taught an entire course on Dhalgren in the past and took an entire year to read the book the first time. Scheib tells New York Magazine:
"It took me roughly a year to read Dhalgren for the first time," Scheib says. "I would read the same ten pages over and over and over again." The loop structure impelled him to keep coming back. "You get the feeling that the story has been going on like a fugue for millennia," he says. "The second time you read it, it's thrilling. The third time, it makes you high. After that it's like reading philosophy."
Here's how the press release describes Scheib's production of the novel:
In Bellona, Scheib combines passages from the novel with original material, movement sequences and live video to trace several intertwining plotlines driven by a group of characters with shifting identities. Set in a city doomed to revise its cataclysms again and again, Bellona, Destroyer of Cities draws on the labyrinthine world imagined by Delany to express the intricate and at times abstract delineations of race, gender and sexuality today. Performances will take place Thursdays-Saturdays, April 1-3 and 8-10 at The Kitchen (512 West 19th Street). All performances begin at 8:00 P.M. Tickets are $15.
Scheib's new work for the stage, like Delany's monumental novel, is a story about a family struggling to sustain a reality that has long ago become fiction; a young white army deserter from the South who doesn't believe he is a racist at heart but nonetheless pulls the trigger on a black activist; gangs with strange candy-colored technology roaming the broken streets. And then a newcomer arrives on the scene. She can't remember her name but is determined to become a great writer and in this city that continually reconstructs itself, she learns to write. As the story progresses, we don't know if the world and her experiences determine her poetry or if her poetry determines the world. Time slips, and the catastrophes happen again and again.
Movement sequences? Live video? It gets even trippier. According to New York Magazine:
[Scheib] describes the set as "buildings and rooms inside of buildings and rooms," portions of which will be hidden from parts of the audience. Live cameras will provide glimpses into areas that can't be seen directly, mimicking the novel's shifting perspectives and layers of mediation. The way the actors move is designed to evoke Dhalgren's strange prose rhythms. "We've tried to find a physically charged syntax that would stand up to the images and actions of the novel," Scheib says. "We move through dance and extreme physical actions. Things that aspire to be a kind of poetry in space."