Friday, March 04, 2011

Chicago Staged Reading: Roussel's Dust of Suns

It's been a while since I've posted (including missing my 6th blogaversary--I'll finish that post soon), but when I haven't been traveling I've buried under paper this quarter, with no let up for the next few weeks.  Between my classes, all the great undergraduate and graduate students whose work I'm supervising, and a committee I served on (whose work is now done), I haven't had much time to breathe.

I did, however, happily agree to participate last winter in the wonderful event below, the Chicago Poetry Project's staged reading of French author Raymond Roussel's (1877-1933) strange and enchanting 1926 effort Dust of Suns (La Poussière de soleil), one of his several failed efforts at the art of the stage. I say failed, because like nearly all of Roussel's work, this play was a bust at its premiere, yet his strange methods of composition, involving homonymic play, have stood up well over the decades, and like his (failed) poetic and novelistic projects now show him to have been ahead or at least in the more interesting currents of his time.

Chicago-based poet, critic and sage John Beer is mounting and directing the production, which will take place at the eerily named Charnel House, on West Fullerton in the Logan Square neighborhood (it's 3-4 blocks from the Blue Line El stop nearby), over the next three days. It's free, so if you happen to find yourself with a few hours, a desire to laugh (the play is often quite funny), and even the slightest interest in seeing yours truly in an eyepatch and cape, please do come see it.

The Chicago Poetry Project presents
a staged reading of the play
Raymond Roussel's The Dust of Suns
Created By
John Beer
March 4-6; Fri, Sat 8pm; Sun 3pm. ALL PERFORMANCES ARE FREE.
The Charnel House
3421 W. Fullerton St., 773.871.9046

About Roussel and the play:

French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) faced almost universal incomprehension and derision during his lifetime, for works that neglected traditional character and plot development in favor of the construction of elaborate descriptions and anecdotes based on hidden wordplay. While the premieres of his self-financed plays caused near-riots, admirers included Surrealists Andre Breton and Robert Desnos, who called The Dust of Suns (1926) “another incursion into the unknown which you alone are exploring.” Roussel never enjoyed the posthumous fame of his hero Jules Verne, but he has exercised a powerful fascination upon later writers and artists including the French Oulipo group, Marcel Duchamp, John Ashbery, Michel Foucault, and Michael Palmer. New editions of his novels and poetry are forthcoming this year from Princeton and Dalkey Archive.

Like much of Roussel’s writing, The Dust of Suns has a colonial setting. Against the backdrop of fin-de-siecle French Guiana, a convoluted treasure hunt unfolds. Along the way, Roussel fully indulges his penchant for bizarre invention and juxtaposition. The Frenchman Blache seeks his uncle’s inheritance: a cache of gems whose location lies at the end of a chain of clues that includes a sonnet engraved on a skull and the recollections of an albino shepherdess. Meanwhile, his daughter Solange is in love with Jacques—but all Jacques knows of his parentage is a mysterious tattoo on his shoulder...

This script-in-hand performance of Roussel’s play, directed by John Beer, with design by Caroline Picard, features an array of Chicago writers and artists.

Performers include: James Tadd Alcox, Joshua Corey, Joel Craig, Monica Fambrough, Sara Gothard, Judith Goldman, Samantha Irby, Lisa Janssen, Jennifer Karmin, Jamie Kazay, John Keene, Jacob Knabb, Francesco Levato, Brian Nemtusak, Travis Nichols, Jacob Saenz, Larry Sawyer, Suzanne Scanlon, Jennifer Steele and Nicole Wilson.
My iPad drawing of John Beer at rehearsal

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