(photo credit: Jeff Busby)
Taking the Risk to be Loved (and Hated)
by Chad Dembski
I need to confess that I do not know what to say about “Ganesh versus the Third Reich”, that opened last night at Usine C as part of the Festival TransAmériques. Since the show ended at 9:40 p.m. I have been confused, inspired, frustrated, lost and upset about the piece which is challenging, unsettling but ultimately extremely rewarding as well. Back to Back theatre is an Australian company which employs full time creators who are mentally disabled to create and perform their work.
There are two worlds in “Ganesh…”, one with the actors, the writer and the director speaking directly about the piece to each other, figuring out the script, having conflicts about whether the show is right to perform, and if they have the right to play Jews and Indian Gods. The other is a story of Ganesh going to Nazi Germany in 1943 to claim back the swastika from the Nazis. These two worlds contrast by their aesthetic; the world of 1943 is full of spectacular curtains, video, animation, and costumes and the other is an extremely bright empty room (after all the artifice has been stripped away).
As the piece develops I got the sense that the historical story of Ganesh was not nearly as important as the conflict between the performers and the director. At first the director (played by Luke Ryan, the one non-disabled performer) is kind, gentle, and thoughtful with his cast, giving support and praise for all of their work. Over time arguments arise over the content, who is going to play what role, the varying quality of the performers' talent and script itself. For me, the structure seemed to be constantly falling apart, the two worlds seem to constantly collide and not help each other in any way. Still as I stuck with the piece it began to overwhelm me as the conflicts went from verbal to physical and the astounding musical score became more and more epic. A play within a play has been done before, many times in fact but possibly never with such a risk of content and a direct challenge to the audience (at one point we are accused of watching freak porn). On one level the piece is challenging the notion of what is allowed on stage, what is proper or right and then there is the question of why are we watching this show, how do we dismiss or forget the disabled, ill, and aging in our society every single day. The incredible strength in the piece is its ability to forgo the answer to the question, to leave you challenged and uncomfortable.
At one point in the piece, one of the performers diffuses a conflict by simply hugging the other performer; this simple, touching and heartbreaking gesture helped ease the tension that had built up. I wanted to feel that everything is going to be OK after reflecting on disability, the horrors of World War II, and the intense conflicts that happen in the artistic world despite best intentions. The ending is incredible (I do not want to give it away) and helps me reconcile the fact I did not enjoy the piece but left feeling exhilarated, emotional and with a deep desire to shatter the assumptions I make about people every day of my life.