The Gurs Zyklus May 18, 2012

by Julia

The order to execute Garcia Lorca is given by Morse code says the balding man in the white shirt with the commanding, operatic stage presence (director, writer and performer, Rinde Eckert). The three women in black sing the Morse code. The words appear on the screens above with the dots and dashes but they are not about execution they are about coffee.

I see the code, I see the letters, I hear the voices and I try to match the prosaic words to the decision to kill Garcia Lorca.

I shiver. It's a moment that stays with me from last night's performance of Trimpin's The Gurs Zyklus, a quirky and beautiful tribute to people from his town in Germany sent to a prison camp in the south of France at the onset of WWII.

The show is essentially a staged libretto. It's an attempt to imagine what it was like to be there and in doing so to understand, to pay tribute, to mourn, to soothe. 

In this attempt to imagine the show finds both its impetus and its limitation. A show built around an ethos of respect - for the dead, for their letters, for their story - can never quite get inside it and bring it to life despite the powerful readings of actual letters by Mr. Eckert.

It feels like a memorial and it's beautiful. The music emanating from the instruments onstage is extraordinary - broken blues scales dangling over drones, the stylized clack of a train passing stations, the voices of the three women sliding in odd harmonies and dissonances and Mr. Eckert's own voice piped directly into the mason jars.

Visually the three-sided stage feels inviting. It radiates openness and the warmth of metal and wood, magnetos and solenoids, glass and wire humming with intent to make accoustic noise. Live flames burn inside glass tubes on top of the sawn-off player piano, tall mason jars lit with whiter lights glow in the pile of dirt at the front of the stage, silver metal rods dangle above them and the copper strings of the dissected piano with its motorlike attachments expose themselves to the hot stage lights.

The three screens above are used minimally, less effectively when the minimal text mirrors the content of the action onstage, most effectively in the staggering Morse code sequence.

The staging is slow, sparse, ritualistic, centered around making sounds, the three women in black with gorgeous voices evoking a faintly European stoicism that conveys their mournfulness but threatens at time to stymie a sense of life. We must see and experience life before we can mourn the death, I couldn't help feeling. Mourning death all the way through is less compelling.

Yet overall the show conveys nothing if not human empathy, the force of creativity, the power of community, the dignity of indignity. In one passage involving a scroll of player piano paper Mr. Eckert suddenly reminded me of William Kentridge, the white South African artist who inserts himself into many of his pieces, matter of fact and always in a white shirt, magnifying the dreamlike events swirling around him, a sort of translator who gets caught up in the events he is trying to translate. This part crossed over from respectfulness into interpretation of moment, emotion, circumstance and it was wonderful.

Air, said Mr. Trimpin to me after the show. He is so friendly, I asked him on a whim what his favorite element of nature is. We need air to breathe. It surrounds us, it is where we come from, we need air to make sound, in our voices, in the air, to communicate.

The air in this show is warm with sound and communication. There is something in the weightiness of the subject and the seriousness and beauty of the treatment that, despite its minimal dramatic qualties feels immediately like a relief, a respite from the days chatter of lattes, dead famous person du jour, cat pictures and the new Jack White solo album, a reminder, a look at real events that happened to real people, an attempt to remember and understand.