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Christ's Suffering Continues

Fabienne Dorge has a report on a rather unusual new theater piece by Romeo Castelluci, Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio, playing at the Avignon Festival this month. The action on the stage takes place in front of -- and eventually behind and even within -- a detail of the face of Christ from Antonello da Messina's painting Salvator Mundi, painted in the 15th century (shown at right). Here are a few excerpts from Dorge's review (Castellucci arrête le Christ à Avignon, July 22) for Le Monde (my translation):
This face watches us from the back of the stage, where a large-format reproduction was installed. Beneath this impenetrable gaze, the action that unfolds is of an unbelievable triviality. The set, surprisingly realistic for Castellucci, showed an immaculate apartment, where one saw two men, an old man and his son. The father is suffering from diarrhea and incapable of containing himself. Three times, his son, in the moments before he has to leave for work, has to change him and clean everything, done first with love and patience, then with discouragement and anger.

Romeo Castellucci directed this long scene with a realism that made many spectators uncomfortable and caused some to leave. There is nothing anodyne in this, in the theater of Castellucci, who always overturns one's expectations as a spectator, to see a naked old man have his butt wiped, be put in a diaper, and cry like a child because of his loss of control. The Italian artist spares us nothing, not even the odor of shit.

The spectacle then enters a completely different dimension. As Castellucci himself wrote in the program notes, "we pass from scatology to eschatology." The face of Christ disappears in shadow before reappearing. One, two, then a dozen children arrive -- there are children in almost all the performances at this year's Avignon Festival. From their book-bags [cartables, those briefcase-backpacks that identify the schoolkid in France] they pull out little toys that look like grenades and bombard the painting as best they can, without being able to affect its surface. Antonello da Messina's face of Christ remains impenetrable, unattainable.
Far from being blasphemous, at least in intention, Castellucci has a theological explanation of the meaning of the work.

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