ART IS A CUPBOARD by Melissa Major, directed by Geoffrey Pounsett. Presented by Sweat Company at Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). July 5 at 8:15 pm, July 8 and 12 at 5:15 pm, July 10 at 10:30 pm, July 11 at 6:30 pm, July 14 at noon, July 16 at 7 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Horrors sometimes provoke the most absurdly comical of reactions. Take the Soviet Union in the 20s, when Stalin's secret police were disappearing thousands of people and erasing any evidence that they'd ever existed.
At the same time, the avant-garde Association of Real Art, known by the Russian acronym OBERIU, flourished. A company of surrealist writers and artists, the group defied the authorities with their works and theories of creativity.
OBERIU is the subject of Art Is A Cupboard , the sophomore production of the Sweat Company , whose premiere show, The Dispute, was a big hit at last year's Fringe.
"The group was led by Daniil Kharms , who looked upon himself as a piece of art," explains director Geoffrey Pounsett. "He liked being naked at home, dressed eccentrically when he went out and never stopped making jokes."
Melissa Major 's partly fictional script, subtitled An OBERIU Docudrama, includes a frame in which a figure called Introduktor presents the action as an aberration from the tradition of Soviet social realism.
"He gives a historical perspective that becomes personal as the play develops," notes Pounsett, whose acting work includes The Dispute and The Leisure Society. "He becomes a keyhole for viewers to get into the world of the play."
It's hard for audiences today to see how dangerous such artists were to the Soviets.
"They were activists, but their works weren't political performances like those today that criticize Bush or Harper. Instead, they simply expressed themselves.
"But such thoughts about their fears of the world around them and their absurdist art were seen as threats to the state. Why? Because it meant the imagination could conceive of a world that was different from the one the Soviets wanted to create. And the authorities couldn't tolerate that possibility."
The narrative includes a chorus, live music and historically accurate vaudeville acts. One sketch has an artist arrested for coughing on Sunday.
"As Kharms says, this is a world where the absurd becomes the real. Using an extreme performance style to tell a true story creates an interesting tension, I think. It subverts the story and also makes a point about how unbelievable and remarkable the times were."