Directed by Nicolai Khalezin
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited
Exiles from Europe’s last true dictatorship, the Belarus Free Theatre delivers a knockout punch with its monumental “Trash Cuisine”, now onstage at La MaMa. An amorphous dedication to capital punishment under the guise of an international cooking program, the show gruesomely highlights socially sanctioned killing from around the globe. Leather straps, machetes, and bulk food items are brought ominously to bear in this expertly crafted, magnificent work.
A symphony of wooden stools kickstarts the performance as the actors simulate methods of execution on one another. Stories of the condemned are brought to life through rigorous choreography, haunting recordings, and morosely imaginative spectacle. The play’s live musical underscoring by Arkadiy Yushin softens the melancholic mood evoked by the relentless tales of death. It is a testament to the gripping nature of these stories that they are even more compelling than the razor’s-edge physical precision of the company. Some of their death-defying feats are exhausting to even watch.
The show stopping number, involving the Rwandan genocide, is sinisterly heightened by the shows’ use of food. The ghastly depiction involves a Tutsi mother’s children being slaughtered, cooked up, and served to her in bed. (With such grotesque employment of meat, the play almost makes a case for vegetarianism.) But “Trash Cuisine”is anything but bleak. Righteous litigators, loving parents, and the occasional exoneration, gives the piece much-needed respite, and a beacon of hope for a better world.
While “Trash Cuisine” skirts genuinely close to perfection, there are a few minute missteps. The production isn’t served by the haughty Shakespeare monologues splashed into the structure; speeches from Claudius and Shylock are only faintly relevant to the action at hand. One ear-piercing gimmick about the sound of an electric chair is more annoying than poignant, but these errata barely cloud the production’s splendor.
Perhaps the executions themselves are trash cuisine, disgusting cultural relics ready for the garbage. Or perhaps the title refers to lives of the condemned, delicate vessels tossed recklessly and messily aside. No matter your interpretation, Belarus Free Theatre defends its crown as the most remarkable experimental company out there. Dark, moving, and unforgettable, Belarus Free Theatre is one for the history books.