THE FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT (Societas Raffaello Sanzio): Fringe Review 36

FringeArts produces Philadelphia’s annual Fringe Festival but has little to do with many of its shows. Producers pay a fee, and FringeArts puts them in the guide and handles ticketing. However, just as the festival’s vitality requires low-budget productions in art galleries, it needs some top-notch non-traditional theater and dance at its core. For the second year in a row, Romeo Castellucci (On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God, 2013) provides the bloody heart to the festival with FringeArt’s centerpiece production of his THE FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT.

Mark Rothko ponders one of his canvases. Commissioned for the Four Seasons in NYC, the cycle is on display at the Tate Modern in London, and worth a visit.

Mark Rothko ponders one of his canvases. Commissioned for the Four Seasons in NYC, the cycle is on display at the Tate Modern in London, and worth a visit.

The title alludes to Mark Rothko’s cycle of works commissioned by but never displayed at the New York restaurant. Castellucci’s piece is a sort of abstract impressionism on stage: it begins with the sound of a black hole, translated to audible range and playing at a volume intended to showcase the vibratory rather than auditory qualities of sound (ear plugs are provided). Women dressed in Amish outfits come on stage, cut out their tongues, and act a version of The Death of Empedocles, about a charismatic philosopher who turns his back on society. He dies, the women are born into a death crouch, stripped, and leave the stage naked. Curtains rise and fall, lights flash, a dead horse appears and disappears, the stage erupts in black paper, a huge image of a face appears, naked women gaze at it. In retelling, the precis is disjointed, in person, the work is a sensory feast, a Rothko painting exploding on stage. It’s implications about what art represents, the emptiness of creation (of art and of the universe), and our longing for something (god?), are left unsettled. We too leave unsettled, disturbed by the power of Castellucci’s theatrical experience. This Fringe Festival has a pulsating heart. [23rd Street Armory, 22 South 23rd Street] September 11-13, 2014; fringearts.com/the-four-seasons-restaurant.

See Kathryn Osenlund’s review here.

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Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.