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Neutral Hero: Like a steam locomotive tugging slowly over you #dekeuze

'I will never go to anything undergrounds again,' sighs a lady as she leaves the auditorium. She looks pained, after more than an hour and a half of Neutral Hero by director Richard Maxwell and the New York City Players.
The paper description of the show may therefore lead a potential visitor astray. A 'country opera' sounds far too cosy for this exercise executed with military precision. As if director Maxwell has translated the software programme 'Google Earth' to the stage by way of narration: first we hear about the clouds and the sun, then the country, then the village, then the houses.

photo Michael Schmelling

Invariably, each of the 12 narrators zooms in with an abundance of detail on a typical American town with typical American phenomena, such as motel chains, food chains and Tuffy's dog food. A hamlet without a name, home to the hero who seeks his father and 'wants to feel again'.
Like pawns, the players move stiffly in relation to the 12 chairs placed in a wide circle on the otherwise empty stage. Sometimes they face each other, sometimes side by side. Always in tight lines, gaze at infinity. As if a god (or a goddess, which one of the players talks about) is having fun with a game of human chess. They sing somewhat mournful songs with drawn-out faces and monotonously tell how their hero is doing. The story is interspersed with - equally emotionless - narrated anecdotes full of violence, incest and a general lack of love.
It goes on and on. As if an invisible metronome is ticking along with the piece in the background. Invisible but unwavering. The audience shifts restlessly under that tight yoke. The viewers, like the players, are drawn into that rhythm, into that atmosphere, with subtle lighting. Sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white colours the room. A steam locomotive that slowly rumbles over you, turns and rumbles over you again. You still think it's not too bad but each time you become a little flatter. It's unsettling, but also impressive. In a few years, you may not remember the story, but the atmosphere etches itself in your mind.
Three spectators leave the room the moment the zooming in is finished and the players start zooming out just as slowly and, with it, the performance's well over 15 minutes. This is a pity, because in the end they miss a piece that does not seek to please the audience, but in which the director throws off a burden. This is man. It's really that bad. We sing a song to it, we watch it and we go home again. And under all those dishevelled faces, life churns. Like an indescribable longing, an uncatchable fact. The hero wants to feel again, but he already feels. He almost has to. Must. Hurry. Well.

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