I saw *The Damned* at the Park Avenue Armory on 7/20/18. It's a theatrical adaptation of the 1969 Visconti Nazi epic, starring Ingrid Thulin, Dirk Bogarde, and Helmut Berger. I saw the movie many years ago and HATED IT, I thought it was vile and self-important. I'm often drawn towards the former, but never to the latter. So why would I go see a theatrical adaptation? Two reasons: it was being done at the Park Avenue Armory, and I've loved everything I've seen there. It's an incomparably huge space and the artists are always inspired by it, they find inventive ways to use the space. And more to the point, it was being directed by Ivo van Hove, the Belgian director I love so much (*Antigone,* *The View From the Bridge,* *Hedda Gabler,* *The Crucible,* *The Fountainhead,* etc).
I'm not sure "loved" or "enjoyed" would be applicable verbs, but it was a richly rewarding evening at the theatre. Definitely the most disturbing thing I've seen onstage. Ever. I'll give a spoiler disclaimer right now, and say that I'm going to give away a few plot elements and also describe some things that you might not want to read. So stop reading now! Go to youtube and listen to Dick Contino playing "Lady of Spain," it's the perfect antidote.
Van Hove used a few theatrical elements that usually annoy me, but he used them sparingly, and always in a way that amplified the situation.
There was lots of music in the show, always thoughtfully chosen and brief. The musical high point was a long bass clarinet solo played live onstage by one of the main characters. I'd love to have been in on that casting call.
He had two videographers onstage filming the events, often showing a close-up of an actor, or showing you another part of the action that wasn't visible onstage. At one point the video showed the actor playing the mother leaving the stage and walking out onto Park Avenue. That got a chuckle out of the audience, the only chuckle in the show!
Many scenes ended with the ritualized murder of one of the characters, and often the house lights went up and the cameras were turned on the audience and we saw ourselves projected onto the big screen. That was intense.
Let me describe the most glorious, chilling moment of video in the show: there was a little girl onstage, playing with a stuffed animal. The huge video screen at the back of the stage was showing newsreel footage of a Nazi book-burning. The film was black and white, but it gradually turned orange, with a dark shape in the center - - the orange was the floor of the stage, and the dark shape was the little girl, now surrounded by the flames of the newsreel, and the audio was Hitler giving a speech in German. Astonishing.
Another great moment: one of the central scenes shows a group of soldiers having a gay orgy. One of the bloated main characters in the movie sang Isolde's "Liebestod" during this scene, I'm so glad we were spared that (he sang badly). Instead we had two actors onstage, naked and cavorting. We saw them on the screen, an overhead view, and through the magic of computer graphics, we also saw ten or twelve other naked actors surrounding them, actors who weren't actually onstage, they were only onscreen. Fascinating.
MAKE A MESS
There were metal trays thrown to the floor in the first scene. Thankfully they were picked up by the servants later, but the racket was effective. There was a lot of blood spilled at the end of the gay orgy scene, when the SS came in and shot them all down. They remedied that situation by rolling up the orange plastic floor and performing the rest of the show on the black plastic floor underneath.
The final scene was the most gruesome use of Make a Mess and the most disturbing thing I've ever seen onstage. In the movie, the Helmut Berger character decides that he needs to degrade his mother, the Ingrid Thulin character. He degrades her in the most horrific way, by raping her. In the play, rather than staging the rape, van Hove had the mother's clothes stripped off and then she was covered with TAR and FEATHERS. Richard said, when I told him about it the next day, "It couldn't have been tar," and OK, maybe it wasn't actually tar, but it sure looked like it. The feathers were definitely feathers. Truly horrific, my mouth was agape.