Testament at On the Boards, by German performance collective She She Pop, made and performed with their septuagenarian fathers, is provoking strong personal reactions—just trying to parse and write about it has tied me up in knots for the past 48 hours.
The driest possible description: In Testament, the middle-aged performance artists and their fathers use King Lear as a springboard to talk about mortality and parent death, with some brutally frank and personal exploration of resentments between aging parents and their children.
Some of the reactions I've gotten via email from friends and colleagues in the past 48 hours:
The audience went quite crazy for the Germans at the On the Boards show Testament. People wouldn't let them leave the stage after a standing o and many in the audience were crying. Really wonderful - would love to talk to you about it.
I’m not sure what you made of it, but it’s feeling like a really significant piece. I still feel tender this morning.
I know you must be going. Please assure me that you are going? I was exhilarated and sobbed like never happens in the theater!
The performance left me embarrassingly weepy—but given some parent-death experience in my distant and recent past, I'm a sucker for that kind of a thing. Other friends I've talked with said they felt like the performance was overly manipulative and maudlin.
Yes, Testament is manipulative—unabashedly so. During one particularly emotional sequence, a performer slowly hoists up a white cloth that looks like a handkerchief, like they're daring you to not cry. The show knows it's fucking with your emotions, but it's fucking with them for good reasons—to explore facts that we all experience (or will, sooner or later) but rarely confront and discuss that honestly.
As performance, it feels like a sadomasochistic transaction: If you're receptive to its manipulations, and willing to subject yourself to the pain it wants to inflict, Testament is deeply exhausting and deeply rewarding.
Either way, Testament is provocative. I have yet to hear anyone say it left them feeling indifferent.