Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Presented by theater et al at St. Marks Studio Theatre, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC, August 16-27.
After Maurice Maeterlinck, Michel de Ghelderode is Belgium's leading twentieth century playwright. Currently, all of his plays are out of print in English. theater et al has attempted to correct this oversight with a production of de Ghelderode's scandalous 1928 play, "Chronicles of Hell." Unfortunately, this production, which has been adapted, designed, and directed by Brian Rogers, seems little more than a director's project.
The play takes place in Flanders, apparently during the Middle Ages, and concerns the circumstances surrounding the death of the Bishop. It explores the themes of greed, lust, faith, and amorality. At once symbolic and surreal, the play was once described by its author as "an oral symphony." Performed in the black box theatre of the St. Marks Studio, this production is at its most successful when creating the claustrophobic sense of clerics living in the close quarters of an hermetically sealed world.
Five actors (Richard Aviles, David Green, Sheila Lewandowski, Rebecca Sokoll, and Felice Yeh) play multiple roles, including having the women play priests. This, at first, suggests that they are nuns, until the script makes it obvious that they are men. Rogers' use of overlapping speech at the beginning of the play adds to the confusion, resulting in the loss of much of the dialogue.
The set design of a modern skeletal structure, and the exclusive use of the colors red and black, are atmospherically eerie, but also fail to aid in clarifying the play. Alan Sporing's lighting design draws attention to itself, without creating a spooky enough stage picture. Ultimately, this was an ambitious attempt to stage a rarely seen play which was not entirely successful.