- by Jon Devin
The name Boris Vian doesn’t ring many bells in the new millennium, but in 1950’s France, Vian had his day. Something of a Renaissance man, he wrote novels, plays, essays, translations and even jazz music making him one of the more prolific writers in wartime Paris. Sadly, many of his works sold poorly, discouraging publishers. He is best known for two novels, Heartsnatcher andFroth on the Daydream. He later invented an American persona and wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan.
One of Vian’s last works to be published in 1959 was the three act play, The Empire Builders.
“I describe it as a deeply disturbing essay on the culture of fear,” says Gene Elliott, who directs the play for New Moon Theatre Co. “It exposes how easily a society becomes the prisoner of its own paranoia.”
New Moon is one of six companies in residence at the unique, black-box facility, TheatreWorks, located at 2085 Monroe Avenue in Overton Square, immediately behind Playhouse on the Square.
Elliott went on to say that the eerie darkness of the play appealed to him and the company, which strives to produce strong pieces of theatrical history no longer appearing in commercial-oriented mainstream theaters.
The plot follows the efforts of an upstanding, middle-class, French family to escape an unexplainable Noise which terrorizes them. The DuPonts and their maid climb the stairs of their apartment building from level to level, finding each time that their living space has shrunk, and that they have lost many of their belongings in the move. Their preoccupation with their possessions and their ability to maintain normalcy clouds the disintegration of their familial relationships and leads them individually to ask themselves about the relevance of their own existences.
Also, they find an unexpected guest. A bandage-wrapped, mummy-like creature, called the schmurz in the script, joins them with every move, and falls victim to their escalating violent behavior as the Noise continues to pursue the family.
Elliott thinks that the technical aspects of the play will give audiences a unique experience. For example, the audience will be seated in a three-quarters round area which actually moves closer to the stage throughout the play. By the end, the audience will find itself practically on top of the stage floor. Due to a large amount of stage combat in the play, young children should not attend.
The cast includes New Moon Theatre members Don McCarens, Melissa Briggs, Natalie Higdon, Sylvia Wilson, Mark Rutledge, and Jonathan Devin.
“Vian, with ruthless precision, paints a vivid and strangely relevant portrait of what happens when we allow ourselves to be ruled by the terror of an unspecified, but always imminent, threat,” says Elliott. “When we give in to this culture of fear, when we allow ourselves to be persuaded that our enemies are everywhere—hidden, faceless, nameless, and always ready to strike—to whom do we give up power and at what price?”
Performed once again in wartime, The Empire Builders may be even more relevant today with society’s deep-seated fear of the unknown terror waiting to spring forth from every direction.
CultureGrits.com is proud to serve as Media Sponsor for The Empire Builders, performed April 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th and May 2nd, and 3rd at 8 p.m.; May 4th at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 for adults, or 2 for $20.00 and may be purchased online at www.NewMoonTheatre.org. Call (901) 278-7025 for more information.