Matthew Posey might just be the ballsiest theater-maker in North Texas.
That's saying something for a man who first appears in his latest show, St. Genet of the Flowery Teeth, in a rumply floor-length skirt, black corset and raven-hued bob wig. Butoh dancing.
When Posey announced the second season for his outfit Balanced Almond, which performs at his theater-slash-home in Exposition Park, the Ochre House, Jean Genet's The Maids was on the spring line-up. But straight-up staging a work from the canon, even something as out there as The Maids, doesn't seem to be his thing these days. Mad-genius writers, however, turn him on. Posey wrote and performed a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson last year, and is planning one about William S. Burroughs. (By the way, if you haven't been to the Ochre House in a while, there is now carpet and more comfy seating, but the boho charm is still there.)
Presumably, in researching for his planned production of The Maids, Posey found its author to be a more interesting subject. He ended up with a bizarre, fascinating and oddly sexy—in a dirty, need-a-Silkwood-shower-asap kind of way—ode to the French playwright, novelist, poet and all-around rabble-rouser.
Genet, who would become one of the great 20th-century playwrights and would put an indelible stamp on absurdism, was orphaned, raised by foster parents and entered a life of petty theft as a young adult. In prison, he started writing poetry because he knew he could write something better than the "idiotic" and "self-pitying" poetry his fellow inmates were scribbling. That led to novels, including the free-flowing poetry of Our Lady of the Flowers, which he had to completely rewrite after the first script was destroyed by his jailers. The book, written for his own erotic amusement, was published in 1943. His better-known plays came later.
His early life as a criminal (he was also arrested for homosexuality), and being surrounded by them, affected his philosophy and work. His contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre even wrote an acclaimed study, Saint Genet, positing that Genet's choice to become what others had already called him—a thief—was a profound existential choice and was the basis for the inherent sadness in many of Genet's characters.
Sartre wrote: "All of [Genet's] heroes have died at least once in their life."
In Posey's play, which he also directs and stars in, Genet (Posey) ponders his atypical muses and goes in and out of the Solange character from The Maids. Playing the other murderous/play-acting maid, Claire, as well as other roles, is Trent Stephenson. Throughout, they are accompanied by an original score by Ross Mackey and Bobby Nazem, dressed as Geishas and creating haunting sounds through wordless vocals and a variety of instruments, including Asian strings and percussion.
In the Claire/Solange scenes, "Madame" is mentioned often and the maids' incestuous relationship is explored through Genet's imagination (they are based on the real-life Papin sisters, who murdered their boss). It makes a strong argument for Posey and Stephenson performing The Maids, in its entirety, at some point. (Genet wanted the three female parts to be played by men.)
Posey captures the tone of a man whose artistic gifts were born as he became "one with the murderers and pimps in prison," as Genet says in the play. "I recognize a deep beauty [in their crimes], which I deny you." (There are many memorable lines in Posey's play, including "Can masturbation be the reverse side of poetry?")
The works of Genet (along with Artaud and other European writers) influenced Japanese butoh dancing, which was born in the mid-20th century as a rebellion against Western and traditional Japanese dance. It can be slow, erratic, methodical, erotic and/or grotesque. The phenomenal Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku, which last came to Dallas in the 1990s, if memory serves, specializes in butoh. Posey has incorporated the form nicely into his play, as a framing device, beginning with the unforgettable opening.
In the dance sequences, Posey shines a flashlight on his face from below, and the topography of his features create a creepy, asymmetrical, Picasso-esque image. In contrast, Stephenson's cherubic face, framed by gold flora, adds to the Sade-ness of their relationship.
It's eerie, profound, vulgar and oddly enough, inspiring. Don't be surprised if, when Posey announces "now I am going to dance a dirge," a sinister grin appears on your face.
You know you like it.
►Pictured in cover photo: Trent Stephenson, photo courtesy of Balanced Almond. Above: Video promo for St. Genet of the Flowery Teeth.