Just in from (the lovely!) Renee Renouf in California. Ed
Matthew Bourne's The Car Man
October 31, 2001
The ambiance of The Car Man proclaims itself in much the same style that Mark Morris starts Platee with the curtain going up in silence and the stage characters going about their business, drawing an amazingly older audience into its thrall. In the tradition of European theater, Les Brotherston's set is elaborate and of a complexity rarely seen in American-originated ballets. Its complexity is even more startling when one sees it as a study in seedy, sleazy very common American life. It may be a mid-Western town, but the element of boredom in a small community circles rings uncomfortably close to my wartime adolescent memories: all quivers with not much diversity in a country California town to make the burgeoning impulses bearable. Which is to say Bourne's verisimilitude is amazing.
Since San Francisco has, in Michael Smuin, a choreographer who has specialized in motion picture choreography, and adores strong sex depicted in violent ways, Bourne's theme is not particularly surprising, though his realization certainly displays the clear derivatives of plot and characterization. I had not read the voluminous articles written by local as well as other colleagues, but was able to pick up the Marlon Brando slouch without difficulty and the connection between the character of Lana and The Postman Always Rings Twice. For some reason the notion of a mid-Western Italian-dominated town didn't quite ring true for me, though it grounded the earthy directness of the women. The energetic pursuit of sex and coupling tended to remind me more of the Bronx than the banks of the Wabash or some analogous river near the Ohio.
Yet Bourne is so consistent and thorough! Is it the spread of U.S. un culture that makes mostly English dancers appear so American? Is it the comparatively recent grounding in modern dance technique, coupled with more than a fair share of pointed toes and startlingly beautiful legs? Will Kemp as Luca was surely testimony to that and his grace when he catapulted himself and his victims around was breathtaking. It was fascinating that the two dancers playing Luca and Angelo trade roles. Ewan Wardrop as Angelo was marvelously effective as the dreamy young victim who suddenly takes life into his own hands when he is molested by Darren J. Fawthrop in his savage portrayal of Dexter, quite the fascistic jailer. Vicky Evans' Lana made one feel the sudden gutsy excitement of Luca's animal charms, contrasting with the dullard Dino, so well conveyed by Adam Galbraith. Evans' high waisted, deep bosomed torso helped make her Lana particularly suited to the Italian subtext while Heather Habens' consistently sisterly Rita was a small masterpiece of yearning, resolve and compassionate response.
Bourne piles movement detail upon movement detail like a master poker player, all the more telling because it rings so constantly true. I found myself thinking about my adolescent male contemporaries, how they moved, spent their time. For all their country existence, with family enterprises in cattle, oranges, olives and wheat, their rawness was tempered. Bourne's males seem closer to storm troopers. Luca's cabaret pas de deux as a dead drunk I thought particularly masterful, with the interesting side note that Lana, as culpable in Dino's death as Luca, managed to survive, thanks to her sister's intense loyalty.
The jail scene was particularly enthralling with its use of inmates climbing the bars, moving as much in profile as well as prowling like caged animals, the rattling of same bringing alive the comment about who rattles whose. As prelude to the Dexter-Angelo struggle, the point is made all too clearly.
When the men in Harmony, population 375, come back on from stage right with garden shovels after they have carried off Luca's body, their stance and the pause almost says it all. Yet followed by Rita's pathetic facade of propriety, Lana and Angelo shuddering on either side of the table, tilts the scale back to human dimensions after the tornado and debris of unleashed emotions. Bourne has surely extended the range of dance with an impact for theater that for our hothouse proscenium ranks among the effects of pin-pointed air raids on the crags, crannies and caves of memory and the psyche.