Cypress Avenue – stare into the face of fear. (Theatre Review)

Cypress Avenue

Empress Theatre and Red Line Productions

May 15 to June 8. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Yure Covich

For Eric (Roy Barker) writer David Ireland’s protagonist in Cypress Avenue the imaginary relations governing fantasy. Wish, conflict and defense in his confrontation with the Other creates a system inside where ‘knowing’ becomes informed by paranoia. This is particularly strong when desire becomes involved. For Eric, the desire for cultural recognition produces a primordial confrontation which leads to a desire for the disappearance of the other. This is why, when Eric is confronted by his psychiatrist Bridget (Branden Christine) he is shocked by her intonation that he might be racist, angry, violent or hate-filled. Even as he commits murder, and wills the end of life for members of his family, he is driven by a love for his cultural identity. Encountering the impasse from others results in a wish for them to vanish. Desire is a demand to which we yield or oppose. Language presents itself as a demand to which we are enslaved which is partially why we may not want to know anything beyond our immediate control. Whether the self is constructed or discovered, the process of examining what is and what is not, is driven by paranoia, which is in itself a dialectic in relation to lack.

However, what makes David Ireland’s Cypress Avenue so clever, is the observation that paranoiac language is not simply a fear of the unknown, it is the trepidation of knowing a particular truth that the subject might find horrific. No matter what terrible feeling is called forth it is the others desire revealed in relation to our own desires. The juxtaposition of what is known and what is concealed always contains some sort of affirmation/ negation contrast. This is why Lacan said “paranoid knowledge is knowledge founded on the rivalry of jealousy.” It is seeking them, knowing them, sensing their desire that drives us to experience a lack in ourselves. Inside our language barriers, we must acknowledge that something has originated somewhere else that causes a confrontation between the imaginary and the real. A subject’s otherness is a primitive alienation which we wish to possess in order to understand. For Eric, to commit the terrible crimes he commits, to remove those who strike him as an obstacle in his path, is not an act of hatred, but an act of paranoia born of love for his cultural identity and fear of an Other dominating and wiping out his culture. Rage comes after confusion when Eric (and the rest of us) experience jealousy over something we see as a threat.

Therefore, the audience is confronted with unspeakable crimes committed in the name of love and self-preservation. Eric can’t hide his desire to know, yet equally he has just as strong a desire to remain oblivious. When he looks into his granddaughters’ eyes, sees himself and his enemy, he finds no safety in the unknown future and therefore the phenomenology of his lived experience carries within it the paranoiac residue of the uncertainty of the life within. For Eric, the imaginary and the symbolic impenetrate his real which in turn informs how his unconsciousness interprets consciousness. Consciousness then, becomes an illusory articulation of what can’t be spoken. When Eric looks into the eyes of his granddaughter, he both properly sees and unsees what is before him as an act of self-preservation.  Ironically it is his physical future that is placing his symbolic future at risk and the end of the future, he hopes, will help preserve the past. IN the end, according to Lacan, it will not be Eric that speaks but the thing that is Eric that speaks through him. Writer David Ireland carefully identifies Eric as a man both formed and unformed by identity and therefore in a kind of war of the real with himself.

What can’t be ignored of course, and it is this David Ireland wants us to see also, is the bodies at the feet of Erics reach for his real. It is no accident they are women. Generations around him, those who make the future, those with power over the formation of the future. It is they who stand in the way of his progressing his important cause.

Anna Houston directs this disturbing and shocking play by David Ireland that calls upon all our stoic energies to sit and witness. A complex and deeply disturbing work, Anna Houston directs the production precisely according to the playwrights wishes on a stark, white set by Ester Karuso-Thurn. Lighting design by Matthew Cox and sound by Ben Pierpoint provide the necessary sinister elements and gravitas required to hit home the detail and horror of such a complex work.

Standout performances from a well-chosen cast, make the production work and take it beyond the gratuitous and renders the violence necessary. Branden Christine is a standout as Bridget and Lloyd Allison-Young is a witty and clever Slim. Jude Gibson and Amanda McGreggor play the long-suffering women in Eric’s life with gentle dignity and great respect – a point that makes it all the more difficult to watch dramatic scenes toward the end. However, the stand out performance of the night is from Roy Barker as Eric who carries the production on his very capable shoulders. In a clear simpatico with Anna Houston, Roy Barker finds a morphology between good natured neighbor and horrific monster that is all too believable and shocking to witness.

Cypress Avenue is a difficult play to watch, but the rewards are many. While the play is unlikely to reach anyone contemplating actions such as are depicted in the play, it does teach us a great deal about the mind of a killer and what paranoid fears and zealotry can lead to.