Though dramatic theorist Antonin Artaud's radical ideas on the Theatre of Cruelty helped shake up, and shape, much of contemporary drama, his name isn't widely known. "We use his ideas every day," says Duke Theater Studies professor Jay O'Berski, "but he's kind of slipped into the background."
But then, Artaud wasn't really into the whole PR thing. After contracting meningitis as a child, he fought depression and mental illness his whole life, spending most of his last years in psychiatric hospitals. In this new solo work, O'Berski plays Artaud as he draws from his letters and writings for a lecture on theater at the Sorbonne. (Or at least, so he thinks; actually, he's in an asylum at Rodez.) "We go back and forth between his rants and his philosophy, the light and the dark Artaud," O'Berski says.
Director Ellen Hemphill says that Artaud "was good at reminding us not to get staid and stuck in what theater is ... how to be current with an audience, and true to yourself. But when you read his work, you realize he struggled with it."
Afterward, guest playwright DenisGuénoun speaks on his adaptation of Artaud's correspondence, produced in France last year. Admission to the 7 p.m. show is free. —Byron Woods