Commentaire Stéphane Patrice · Anglais · IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS

Commentaire Stéphane Patrice · Anglais · IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS
Moving from Bernard-Marie Koltès to Martin Luther King...
Commentaire & étude
Stéphane Patrice
Langue: Anglais
Tous droits réservés


Author of Koltès Subversif,
Descartes & Cie, Paris, 2008.

Forty years after the assassination of MARTIN LUTHER KING (April 4, 1968) Director ÉRIC VIGNER, head of the CDDB-THÉÂTRE DE LORIENT, National Drama Centre of Brittany (France), is staging IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS by BERNARD-MARIE KOLTÈS at Atlanta’s 7 STAGES THEATRE.

Moving from BMK to MLK, and create, and give voice to a text - with empathy for the to be produced (Atlanta), and its title (solitude, cotton fields)... To enhance the text and to better communicate it to the audience, VIGNER’s mise-en-scène de- emphasizes the location and focuses on the history - or rather, the histories of BMK and MLK - and makes all the world the stage (theatrum mundi), calling in question the world and the dividing lines between individuals and peoples, dividing lines that still exist after the advent of civil rights, the end of segregation, or apartheid, in the United States and indeed all over the world. With IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS, VIGNER throws different forms of discrimination into relief: not only violence in the world but also the violence of the world.

IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS opens with the Dealer giving vent to his suspicion of the other person, who takes the role of a Client seeking to satisfy his illicit desire in a setting of "the savage relationship between men and animals". The Dealer adds to the strangeness of their meeting by hamming shamelessly without trying to veil his hypocrisy, he affects the unctuous civility of a salesman who cynically resorts to the religious symbolism of a community of love and humility, equating nature with wildness and violence, "leaving all, animal and man, below in the street to pull at their leashes and wildly bare their teeth." From then on, the deal is no longer merely something that takes place on the shady side of society, but still subject to the interplay of conventions and artifice - it becomes, as such, a symbol of that society which distinguishes quite arbitrarily between right and wrong, between natural and conventional, in order to make sure that the commerce can go on "at any hour of the day or night, independent of lawful opening hours and approved places of trade, but rather at the time these places are closed."

While KOLTÈS expressly defines the deal at the beginning of his text, he leaves it to the readers, directors, spectators and critics to speculate on the object of the deal. Beyond drugs and streetwalking, pleasure and desire, the deal of IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS may have to do with a flight or even a fugue in the musical sense of the term: two men experience the desire to meet up with, and acknowledge one another, they do meet, and desire one another... This burning desire to meet and acknowledge each other, then, is about acknowledging their desire, not only desire as a game but desire-at-stake, not any sort of psychology of desire or sentiment, but desire as a stake - theatrical, musical and political.

KOLTÈS rejected any sort of sentimental interpretation: "Here, In the solitude..., you are confronted with a story about gays. So I say to myself: when will I be rid of both desire and love, in the most banal sense of the term ? No, no, there are other things, many more other things, to think of." Like the scenes of QUAI OUEST, those of IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS must not be interpreted as love scenes. "They are scenes of commercial transactions, KOLTÈS says, of deals, of traffic (...). There is no tenderness in commercial dealings, and one simply must not add anything of the sort where it is obviously lacking (...). When one attributes too much importance to love, passion, tenderness (...) one inevitably tends to belittle them and to make them look ridiculous". Thus, it must be understood that desire at the heart of a deal, affects social affairs with regard to the economic, political, historical, ethnic and cultural decisions to be taken.

IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS deliriously revolves around history, peoples, colonies, economies, cultures. "The choice of the location, says KOLTÈS in defense of his title, has to do with the work of blacks at the time of slavery." In 1978 he wrote, "When and where will a Lenin be born to point his finger at the enemy and give the exploited masses, who have been used to being exploited since the days of slavery, sufficient confidence in their power ?" The fate of black slaves on the cotton plantations of America inspired a French playwright fascinated by Africa to stigmatize the continued existence of inequality and exploitation.

With KOLTÈS and VIGNER, the ordeal of desire spans continents, political strife and social systems. The dialogue between the Dealer and his Client, then, is also a rough-and-tumble, a fight between words and bodies which amalgamate before the background of the deal, and the deal rings like the criticism, not of illegal trafficking, but of the predominant role of commerce, of official, regulated, standardized transactions, and of the line of distinction between right and wrong, the legality of the market and what it suppresses in order to work more smoothly.

When the Market takes the place of "togetherness", when economic considerations predominate over politics, human relations slacken and give way to irritation and envy, family relations suffer, the dialogue between generations breaks down, brothers are no longer brothers, and friendship ceases to exist. What remains is merely "generous souls" and commodities, war-weary fighters, caricatures, and slaves, since all is disposable, and all to be had for money.

"Two men who meet by chance, writes KOLTÈS, are faced with only one choice: either they fight each other with the violence of enemies or they meet sweetly as brothers" - a striking statement which permeates the text and bursts it open, forcing readers and spectators to become aware of their own solitude, their own malaise amidst the culture in which they live.

"My characters (...) want to live but are not allowed to do so, says KOLTÈS, they run up against brick walls. As they struggle, they merely become aware of how hemmed in they are, how much their life is restricted by obstacles all around them. Limits, hurdles everywhere - that is what theater is about."
The Client and the Dealer are not outsiders, neither are they out of the ordinary. They are creatures of language that ÉRIC VIGNER conjures up before our eyes and ears to make us hear the rumblings of the battlefield, and to justify the words with which IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS ends: “Then, what weapon?”