(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in the New York Times, 10/17.)
No matter what the laws of physics decree, there is untold and explosive energy in resistance. Or such is the evidence of “Burning Doors,” the Belarus Free Theater’s bruising exploration of the dynamics of resistance — the kind that occurs in the intersection of art and politics — at La MaMa.
This galvanizing production, which runs through Oct. 22, finds a host of able-bodied young women and men subjecting themselves to, and transcending, a spectrum of trials and tortures. These include being wrestled repeatedly to the ground, interrogated in a circular infinity of verbal assaults, harnessed to bungee cords while running desperately in place, strung high in nooses and dunked again and again in a bathtub, while trying to recite a poem.
The woman in the bathtub knows whereof she speaks, or gasps. She’s Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot who made international headlines when they were imprisoned for staging an anti-Putin performance (of 40 seconds’ duration) in a Moscow cathedral.
Then again, it seems safe to say that most members of the Belarus troupe, which is banned from performing in its native country, have firsthand knowledge of the repression they’re re-enacting and responding to onstage. (Program biographies include references to arrests and prison terms.)
Only blocks away from La MaMa, at New York University’s Skirball Center, another set of visitors from abroad are channeling recent history into confrontational drama. There’ll you find the Freedom Theater, a storied West Bank-based company that describes itself in the program as “a platform for cultural resistance.”