Like Under a Microscope
Sunken Red began its life in 1981 as a novel, in Dutch, by Jeroen Brouwers. It relates the author's life from his childhood imprisonment with his mother in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, through his adulthood, to her death. Guy Cassiers, a Belgian director (invariably referred to as Flemish), has adapted it into stage monologue, Sunken Red, presented at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Cassiers focuses on the most personal elements of the novel. The script is good, not great, intensely self-absorbed, reminiscent of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.|
Alone throughout, the character addresses us. Apart from the Japanese guards who terrorized him as a child, there are no men in his memory. He speaks of his mother, his wives, his daughter, his mistress, in an objective stream-of-consciousness. He's obsessed with sexual organs. Unfortunately, Cassiers jumps on this character element and includes a masturbation scene that caused one yuppie couple to march up the aisle. Indeed, it's an ill-advised choice, unsuited for the context. The character climaxes, but the play doesn't - it just continues, as if libido counted for nothing. Moreover, Cassiers disregards his character's basic drive - to analyze in order to avoid experiencing.
Cassiers' great accomplishment is to cast Dirk Roofthooft, a Belgian actor. His solo performance is brilliant, insightful in analysis, fluid in technique, subtle and expressive in emotion. Our man is speaking soon after his mother's death, he's skipped the cremation, and he's embarked in an intense introspection to solve some indefinable problem of life. He's complex, course and vulnerable. Roofthooft brings the character as close to us personally as we are aurally - we can hear him soughing. With exquisite control, he reveals the emotion beneath the character avoids. "At times I'm half crazy with fear of undefined things" he observes, and we wonder if this is one of those times.
Cassiers constructs the script with a late climax dwelling on a particularly horrendous experience the child had as a prisoner of war. He throws his tech at the moment. Like the set and the other obvious directorial choices, it's superfluous. Cassiers should have remained unobtrusive and concentrated on supporting his extraordinary actor. Roofthooft is so commanding and absorbing, that he needs no mis en scène. We want to explore his work in isolation. It suffers examination like a perfect gem under a microscope.