Sunday, March 25, 2007

Critique- Primo Levi

My initial response to the play “If this is a Man” was quite disappointing. I expected a well decorated and designed set that resembled real “concentration camp” waiting to devour my whole attention, and I hoped that it would summarize the whole story again. Unexpectedly, the set was overly simplistic; I even wondered whether the financial problems have prevented the director to spend enough money to create the setting of the play. However, I soon realized that my assumption was far off. As the play progressed on, all of my five senses seemed to be drawn into the play as my imagination expanded and matched the description that Anthony Sher gave. This was when I realized that there were purposes behind even the tiniest details; light, stage, props, actor, setting, costumes, and sound effects. As my imagination ran wild to portray every scene that Anthony Sher drew in my head, I realized the play was totally different thing than simply reading a book.
It is paradoxical to say this, but “If this is a Man” depicted the “Survival in the Auschwitz” in fullest by showing the least of it. The overly simplistic setting and props that even caused audience to feel like seeing the empty space actually helped audience to relate more to the concentration camp. No matter how much time, money and effort one puts in, and how intricately designed setting it is, the setting would never be able to portray the “exact” scene from the one existed during the period of Holocaust. The setting might also limit some individuals’ own imagination because everyone would have different interpretation of the Primo Levi’s writing, so by showing the audience what the concentration camps might have looked like would immediately block the imagination of the audience by letting them to submit imagination to the tangible subjects that is in front of them. Realizing this, the director of the play, Richard Walson, came up with a shrewd plan to make the stage as empty as possible and let alone the audience of the play to let their imagination run wild. By doing this, the audiences were able to make tighter connection with their own imagination to the setting and the props. The main prop of this play was a chair. A chair resembled everything, from a load of work, to bed, and this gave a room for audience’s mind to virtually visualize in their heads what the load or a bed would have been like in the concentration camps. It helped audiences to concentrate more on then natural flow of the play by developing their original shapes of what the loads, beds, and other things that Anthony Sher alludes to would have been look like. Additionally, the stage was covered by grey walls that caused the least distraction of the audience. However, the director adds symbolic points like purple light at the end of the empty room. The dark purple evokes gloom and sad feelings and it can cause frustration. Thus, I guess the empty room symbolized the gas chamber that terminated all the Jews and the cruelest place where dead corps were also left for audience to imagine. The play, therefore, were largely dependent for audiences’ imagination to really being able to follow the play or not,
The light effect allowed the act to represent the deepest emotions that the prisoners felt during they were in Auschwitz. In reading the book, ‘survivals in Auschwitz,’ the way how Primo Levi constantly described how horrible the conditions were in concentration, and after several times the subject became dull and boring. However, the play solved that problem by representing it through light to display emotions, rather then, writing out emotions every once in a while. Take the dark room behind the wall that appeared frequently during the clip, it portrayed Primo’s deepest fears in his life. The fear of hunger, coldness, suspiciousness, and the threat of being selected constantly haunted the prisoners in the concentration camps. The light usually symbolizes the hope, and this performance also portrayed light as a factor that gave them the actor a hope. In the book, concentration camp were such a harsh surroundings that everyone grew “selfish” and concerned only about their survivals, and prisoners lacked a chance to share freely about their concerns to one another because nobody really trusted anyone, and they have to save the last strength to endure next suffering days by saving the energy to talk. By doing so, many prisoners had mounted concerns and worries in their heart that they never had any opportunity to share that burden. However, with the spotlight on, it gave him an opportunity to share his story to the audience who would alleviate his “burden.”
The play was adapted by Anthony Sher, who excelled in provoking a whole different perspective and emotions that I have not quite attained from the book. The great difference from looking at the book from seeing the movie was that the visual aids that were represented to the audience had huge influence on how we tended to perceive things. The delicately designed and well thought out costumes reflected the dramatic changes from ordinary working Jew to the prisoner in the concentration camp without a break of a flow. Initially, the typical middle aged Jewish men with glasses and collared shirt appeared on the scene. This was a pleasant shock, because most of the people would have expected a man with torn shirts and pants. However, as plot moved on, Anthony Sher took his glasses off, unbuttoned his shirt, and rolled up his sleeves and revealed the number printed on his arm. This suggested how well and insightful the play had been thought out because it illustrated the changes as a typical Jew had to go through as he moved to the concentration camp without stopping the play to explain the changes. Additionally, the change in costumes gave the bases for audience to see that Jews were same people as every other person, and it gave audience an opportunity to visually compare the difference in appearance before and after a Jew was captured to the Nazi Germans. Delicately designed costumes were a direct contrast with the empty settings that portrayed almost nothing to the point of vagueness. The contrast worked in favor of the audience because it helped the audience to base their imagination on the costume and expand from then on. At first glance, the costume of Anthony Sher suggested that he is an average working Jew, and there were still many other factors like his physical traits, body structure, and facial features that suggested that he was a Jew. These traits were added in order to emphasize how the life of the typical Jew was like before he was sent to the concentration camp. The numbers shown through the folded sleeves of the Anthony Sher was another important part of the costume. The numbers were identities that SS officials forcibly placed upon the Jews, and it illustrated how harshly Nazi Germans treated Jews by stripping of all the identities, property, and many lives of the Jews. The director’s intentions were well served as the audiences were able to build bases for connection starting from the beginning by the appearance of Anthony Sher and how those gradually changed. Without the costume of the Anthony Sher portrayed to the readers, only the vague symbolism of the concentration camp would wonder around the heads of the audience, and many people would have had hard time to ponder their thoughts into the stream of imagination that flowed throughout the whole play. The book, however, lacked the stimuli factor that caused readers to expend on to their imagination. The book was more restrictive in a sense because the readers only had to follow the description of the somewhat limited description of the author. It was effective that the director of the play to leave some base to start their imagination from and leave other huge part of the play to depend on the imagination of the audience. However, the director of the play would also have to realize that by doing so, the success of the play was under great risk because the audiences who didn’t realize the book would assume that the whole play was unprepared and empty and the only thing that the director cared was the costume of the Anthony Sher.
The tone of Anthony Sher was perfectly set as if a guitar was tuned to create a perfect sound. His voice had strong attraction in that the voice was calm yet clear. He had somewhat strong European accent that added flavor to our ears to imagine as if I was in Europe. Throughout the whole play, Anthony Sher projected a monotonous and dull voice that was somewhat boring, however, I think that is also a point that the director wanted to make. The director wanted to show how boring and monotonous life the life of the prisoners had become after prisoners went through so many sufferings and were under constant fear of being executed that no other factors seemed to threat and the dull weary voice suggests that the prisoners lost most of their hope in living their normal life again.
Ultimately, the play “If this is a Man” evoked whole different feelings than what I have felt from the book. The way how the play combined light, stage, props, costume, and actor into a union to stimulate imagination of the audience deserves credit. These factors worked in such a harmony that I did not merely serve to summarize the whole book, but it actually expanded our branch of imagination to think beyond the original book.

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