In Aimé Cesairé’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, the Martiniquan poet writes: “The only thing worth beginning: the end of the world of course!” Of course! What? I had no idea what Cesairé was talking about until I heard Cornell West lecture last year at the University of Miami. During that lecture, West confides that he tells his students when they come into his class that “they come to learn how to die.” Depressing, I thought, but interesting. I’ll use this one day.
Learning how to die is an absurd notion, just like ending the world is the only thing worth beginning. But sometimes we have to enter the realm of the absurd to better understand the harsh, brutal reality in which we live — one that is way-too-often a realm beyond the absurd. These thought experiments prepare us, at least in theory, for the crush of events and crises, dangers and disasters that will eventually come for us, no matter how hard we try to avoid them.
Enter: Man Research Theatre. The Miami-based theater company creates theater experiences that explore our absurd world to better understand human nature. According to their website, Man Research Theatre is all about “exploring our collective consciousness. Me and you, your mama and your cousin too.”
Last weekend, on the grungy corner of 24th Street & NW 2nd Avenue in Wynwood, Stephen Kaiser (Director, Man Research Theatre), Jeremiah Musgrove, Art Garcia , Theo Reyna and special guest Marissa Alma Nick performed an absurdist, existential play that literally went in circles around me and probably someone’s mama. Since I couldn’t make out the dialogue, I experienced the play as a performance, a kind of moving theater where the language of the bodies in motion was the only language I needed to understand.
In circles, the actors moved. One actor held a light on a fishing pole in one hand and a flashlight in his other hand. He illuminated the other actors as each of them performed a monologue in constant circular and spiraling motion. Marissa Alma Nick danced and slithered between their bodies. I got dizzy trying to keep my eyes fixed on the commotion. The actors moved to communicate their message that was symbolized by a white cardboard box, which was smashed over the heads of the actors throughout the performance.
I perceived this act as an act of consciousness breaking-and/or-entering. Its message was violently clear — wake up! From what? I don’t know for sure, but I know it’s something personal for each of them and for each of us. The circular motion of the actors reminded me of the circles and life traps that we get stuck in. Wake up and stop running in circles — or getting stuck — in that viscous hole or loop that we so often try and fail to break out of. Wake up and get out of that life pattern that traps us in addictions to love or other vices. Wake up and cut that spiraling circle that keeps us from learning how to live because we haven’t stopped to learn how to die.
Smash the box over the head and wake up! Maybe we’ll break something that feels like the end of the world of course, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I’m just being too dramatic. But this is drama on a street corner on a human scale in magnificent city ripe and ready for this kind of hu(man) research theater.