Graphic examination of suffering and dignity Mar 18 2013
Avant-garde Italian play ‘On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God’ to be featured at this year’s Festival Bo:m

A devoted son takes care of his aging, ill father. He clears his father’s mess, strips him naked, washes him and changes his diapers. The son repeats the same cycle every 15 minutes, every time his father spills the contents of his diaper all over the white sofa and the floor of the stage.

The audience then has to endure the odor that fills the theater, while watching the son clear the brown liquid on the floor.

One of the most controversial European theater pieces in recent years is being staged in Seoul this month, as part of Festival Bo:m, an annual avant-garde visual and performing arts festival. Titled “On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God,” the play is the latest output by Italian artist Romeo Castellucci.

The visionary Italian director is often described as one of the greatest contemporary artists by the European press. Born in 1960 in Cesena, Italy, he studied painting and scenography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. In 1981, jointly with his sister Claudia Castellucci and his wife Chiara Guidi, he founded the famous Societas Raffaello Sanzio, a contemporary theater company.

Undoubtedly one of the most experimental, if not disturbing, pieces produced by the company, “On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God” created much controversy in Europe in the past few years. The graphic play is said to delve deep into the theme of suffering and dignity, as well as the helpless cycle of devotion and sacrifice.

While the ill father repeatedly sobs in humiliation, a huge of image of Jesus Christ ― reproduced from a Renaissance painting by Antonello da Messina ― looms large behind him and his dutiful son. The face of Christ stares relentlessly at the two and their sufferings throughout the show. It’s unclear whether he is the generous savior or the very god who allows their sufferings. The sacred image is juxtaposed with the brown stains onstage.

The use of the image has enraged Christian groups in Europe in the past. In 2011, a number of Christians interrupted a performance in Paris, holding “placards with the slogan ‘Stop Christianophobia,’” according to The Guardian in the U.K.

“Watching this piece by Castellucci requires endurance,” said an organizer from Festival Bo:m. “It demands the audience to face the reality and its brutality. It asks us to think about the theme of punishment, sufferings, despair and sacrifice.”

Some of other notable pieces presented by the festival include French artist Jerome Bel and Zurich-based company Theater HORA’s “Disabled Theater,” which features actors with learning disabilities; local artist Chung Hee-young’s film “Stranger,” in which the filmmaker revisits her childhood home and meets up with those living there today; and Singaporean choreographer Daniel Kok’s “Q&A,” a contemporary dance piece that questions modern democracy and economy.

The upcoming Festival Bo:m celebrates its seventh edition this year, and presents a total of 26 avant-garde, cutting-edge works from Korea and abroad.

“The Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God” will be performed twice during the festival, on March 23 and 24 at HanPAC Arko Arts Theater in Daehangno, Seoul. The festival runs from March 22 to April 18. For more information, visit www.festivalbom.org.

By Claire Lee

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