In an atmosphere of mind games, bleak comedy and broken china, Palmyra forces its audience to take a side.
On a near-empty stage are two chairs, with a dinner plate beside one and pieces of a shattered plate beside the other. Two characters arrive and the fourth wall breaks immediately – the audience is implored to interpret the odd scene as evidence that something terrible has happened. The delivery is offbeat and funny, but this belies the darker themes that rapidly emerge in the performance.
It becomes apparent that the relationship between the two characters is tense, marked by provocation, taunting and violence. Early scenes of gliding around stage on strange, square, skateboard-like trollies quickly turn into physical scuffles, and from there the piece becomes a clever and uncomfortable study of physical and psychological violence.
In a casual and natural manner, the two characters take turns trying to convince the audience that the other is dangerous and crazy. The soft lighting that bathes the audience throughout the piece abolishes any separation from the stage and narrative. The performers ask manipulative questions, try to destroy one another’s credibility and erase each other’s voice, and ultimately attempt to enlist the audience to gang up with them on the other – one more assertively so than the other.
There is something rather confronting in this, and it creates quite an effect. The work traces its genesis to the razing of its ancient namesake city, and thematically it delves sharply into some very human instincts of cruelty and mindless destruction.
Cycling through provocation, escalation, false diplomacy and all-out violence, with the occasional suggestion of cultural imperialism and vandalism as well, the story never reveals the root cause of the characters’ animosity – something else that is also all-too-painfully human. By the end of the work the stage is covered with smashed plates, reinforcing a bleak notion of how individuals, groups and nations do this kind of thing time and time again.
While its unique tone is possibly not for everyone, Palmyra is a sparse, funny and fascinating work that forces the viewer to take sides in an unclear conflict, and demands reflection on the reasons – or lack thereof – for your choice.
Palmyra was performed at AC Arts main Theatre on Sunday, March 3
Friday, March 1 – Tuesday, March 5
AC Arts main Theatre