I’d Rather Goya robbed me of my sleep than some other son of a Bitch – Reviving the imaginary with Rodrigo Garcia. (Theatre Review)

I’d Rather Goya robbed me of my sleep than some other son of a Bitch

Théâtre Excentrique at The 505 Theatre in Newtown.

22 August – 2 September

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Emma Lois.

If there is a way to pin down what the emblematic protagonist of Rodrigo Garcia’s I’d rather Goya robbed me of my sleep that some other son of a bitch says in his monologues howl at the moon, it is essential that we include him as the subject who ‘means’ or ‘the subject of enunciation.’ For this speaking being’s own living energy infuses meaning into language. It is in his expression of his select concern that we see the disarming burst of passions that might disrupt the social order. In polite society, we are expected to contain ourselves. We usually have to find a path between the two poles of affect and expressions that overwhelm. For this protagonist, the demand is that language, and in fact life is an evocation of feeling, or more pointedly, a discharge of the subject’s energy and drives. Our protagonist finds himself at a point in life where he is questioning himself. He has sons, who are six and eleven. As the narrative works its way forward, it becomes possible/apparent that the sons are versions of himself – six years into his adulthood and then eleven – rather than flesh and blood children. He is in a birthing process that he enacts via language, but like a true existentialist, he can only live deliberately. We hear his uncensored thoughts in stream of consciousness reflections, but equally they are a plan that both forges an act and disrupts action forced upon his sovereignty. Language is an expression of his subjectivity, but equally he needs language to create his subjectivity.

This conversation he has with himself drives him in a frenzy away from an adherence to childish longings. Goya’s black paintings have become a signifier for the ennui and mocking hellishness of post-modernity. Our man wants to put away childishness and race through the streets of Madrid toward the hell of Goya’s creation. His remarkably skilled “six-year old” reminds him of the post-modern appeal of Micky Mouse, demanding he allow all that is around him to become fodder for subjectivity, but the older self refuses and preferences high art over the Warhol-esque inclination to see beauty in the soup can. Micky Mouse is a capitalist codification of art and beauty and our protagonist will have none of it. His youthful self speaks fluent German, converses easily with philosophers and interprets according to signification, but the older self refuses. Experience teaches him $5000 euro is a lot of money, love will fail him and money language and energy need to be spent on behalf of his project. Above all else, he understands that if it weren’t for the bodily energy that speaking beings bring to (and put into) language, language would have little if any meaning for us.

Like a true existentialist, Garcia’s hero knows he must have a project in order to ‘be’ but at the start of his journey, he is trapped in the language of justification through philosophical, linguistic and artistic tropes. Director Anna Jahjah places him on a large chalk board beneath floating/falling books inspired by a Christian Boltanski installation at the National Library of Argentina. Garcia’s (anti)everyman relates his plans in language and symbols, a coherent combination of European images where Spanish and English collide (a charming ode to a translated text). When his plan for subjectivity comes into being, he is surrounded by the symbols of language. These signs point to the importance of the semiotic, imaginary field in making us into speaking beings. This everyman needs to speak his project to his former self before he can write it, but it can’t exist until it is ‘real’ in spoken text. Here is Garcia’s recipe for our escape from Goya’s nightmare; the nightmare of the post-modern capitalist appropriation of our subjectivity. Speak it, write it, draw your inner child in and be your project. For Garcia, language is everything, but without the semiotic, without the imaginary, the driving force, language would be devoid of meaning. It would be as if we were bad actors when we spoke, merely reading words off a page. If the imaginary were lost, we can’t use it to access the symbolic or to help us understand works of literature. For Rodrigo Garcia, we are in danger of living this life under Capitalism. Constantly faced with a crisis of imagination, where all our language is a ‘rote’ communication that reinforces the Big Other of Capital, we are already little walking versions of the artificial intelligence we so greatly fear. Take drugs, demystify philosophers, race through the streets of Madrid on your last dime to break into the Prado which is your right to claim, is the howling cry of Garcia’s man. Anything rather than this life spent justifying ‘Micky Mouse.’

True to the essential nature of existentialism and wielding the power of the structuralists version of the semiotic, Anna Jahjah directs actor Gerry Sont in an exuberant, thrilling journey away from one self and toward another. The fullness of Garcia’s text is completely enmeshed in the splendid and beautiful dance of biological claims about the imaginary. Text is spoken as a relay between layers of the physical brain and the cortex that controls linguistic production. Gerry Sont uses his body to speak, which belies any notion of automaticity. He is physically spurred on by the nature of his linguistic discomfort. This notion is held further aloft by the associated and separate performance of the sublime Sister Ursuline who uses Cello, voice and loops to layer the room with sound that gets old and refreshes in a circuit as we witness. She is described in the introductory notes as a ‘sonic historian,’ a title that speaks to the fullness of who her music is in the room.

Anna Jahjah has assembled a beautiful team of creatives who combine to successfully reproduce an exquisite work that marks a potential for significance if the audience/witness chooses to respond. I’d rather Goya robbed me of my sleep than some other son of a Bitch is far more complicated than I have relayed here, and equally infinitely simpler. It is a superb piece of writing/translating that feels genuinely laced with hope and yet mired in the succinct terror of our day as beautifully represented in Goya’s nightmarish black paintings. Théâtre Excentrique is always a dependable source of outstanding theatre, but with I’d rather Goya robbed me of my sleep than some other son of a Bitch they have exceeded their reliably high standard.