Performers Stephen Fiehn, Mislav Cavajda, Selma Banich and Matthew Goulish recreate Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie.
Photo: John W. Sisson, Jr.
“I’ll teach you differences,” warns the choleric Kent in Lear’s first act, a quotation that Ludwig Wittgenstein briefly considered as the epigraph to his Philosophical Investigations. The enigmatically-named performance group Every house has a door has used the writings of Wittgenstein’s most eloquent interpreter, Stanley Cavell, to anchor their new piece, the even more enigmatically-titled Let us think of these things always. Let us speak of them never, performed Feb 9–13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Kent’s warning would serve equally well to frame the ensemble’s work: both for the meticulous way that the piece invites comparisons—between film and theater, between Croatian and English, between Stephen Fiehn’s delicate hops up the MCA Theater’s aisles and lanky Mislav Cavajda’s long strides right behind him—and for its potent tonal blend of pedagogy and ominous revelation.
Let us think of these things jumps off from an appearance the Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavajev made at Harvard in 1978, where he screened a montage he had made of dream sequences from the films of Ingmar Bergman. The four performers—Fiehn, Cavajda, Selma Banich and Matthew Goulish—recreate an abbreviated version of the montage, after which Fiehn poses as the director, in cape and red woman’s hat. In the ensuing eighty minutes, the group abstractly restages an extended orgy from Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, Banich drizzles chocolate upon an apple and herself, Cavajda mimics a laptop’s image of a Serbian singer and Goulish recites an excerpt from Cavell’s essay on Makavajev’s work, concerning the director’s response to totalitarianism and mass killing. Throughout, Every house… proves as adept at creating evocative, pointed stage images as Goulish and director Lin Hixson’s former ensemble, Goat Island: Goulish swims in space, his torso perched on a stool; three performers torque themselves into a tableau from The Seventh Seal.
The piece closes with a simple and strangely poignant routine. Banich remains onstage as Fiehn and Cavajda repeatedly run out farther and farther into the MCA lobby, call her name and return to check whether she could hear them. Finally, she (and we) hear nothing; she exits; the piece is over. Fiehn introduces this as an attempt to find where the theater ends: suggestively, the attempt implies that the theater is bounded by what the performer, not the audience, can hear. Revisiting past monuments of the avant-garde, Let us think of these things shares a mold with such other recent MCA offerings as Big Dance Theater’s Commes Toujours Here I Stand (remaking Agnes Varda’s film Cleo from 5 to 7) and Anne Collod’s parades and changes, replays (after Anna Halprin’s 1965 dance). What sets it apart is the responsiveness which provides both theme and method, stretching in a highly Cavellian fashion the limits of what its performers can hear (from the past, from one another) and thereby signify.