The Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Communique No 10 bursts out of the gate with incredible, anarchic energy that grabs the audience from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the lights come back on.
Celebrating it’s U.S. premiere at the EXIT through May 25th, the play was written by Samuel Gallet in response to the 2005 Paris riots in area removed from the city center and marked by rampant poverty. These suburbs are home to the large immigrant community of North and West Africans, who, for the most part, are disenfranchised in modern French society.
When two teenage immigrants were killed while hiding from the police, the residents of the suburbs took to the streets, torching cars and throwing rocks at the police. In a recreation of these events, the play takes place during a night of chaos and rioting in a non-specified city. The characters run through the night, avoiding detection from the unseen, yet ever present police force.
From this chaos emerges the parallel stories of Hassan and Damien, two young men of immigrant dissent whose intertwined narratives are slowly revealed. It was the wrongful death of Hassan’s brother during an attempted car jacking that has caused the riots in the first place, with the tension between the police and the underclass of the city exploding from this catalyst.
Now Hassan is searching for the man who killed his brother, so that he may exact his revenge. Damien is that man; a security guard and former childhood friend of Hassan’s. As Hassan makes pursuit, Damien flees through the wasteland on the outskirts of the city.
The staging was essential to the effectiveness of the production. In the center of the room there is a structure resembling a large, rectangular scaffolding, with the audience seated on either side. The scaffold gives the actors something to swing from and move through at a high pace. This dynamic movement expresses the energy of the play physically; it makes it tangible.
The layout of the audience with regards to the action creates an interesting effect and the audience much choose what piece of the action it wants want to watch.
The show changes based on where you look—once can see the reaction of one character and miss that of another. In essence, every audience member is watching a different play.
This subjective experience of the play reminds everyone involved of what makes theater its own genre, and the audience is as essential as the actors in the performance. In this way, the audience is no longer allowed to be static observers of the play; they must choose.
This worked well to drive home one of the main points of the play: the ambiguity of guilt. In the ultimate showdown between Hassan and Damien, Damien is finally given the chance to tell his side of the story.
From his story, we realize that he is not some terrible enemy and he is a man like any other. Hassan is eventually made to cry out, “Show me a clear enemy. A man who I can take and seize and touch and fight. An address, a location, a life. Something tangible.”
Unfortunately, the problems that he and the play are dealing (poverty, police brutality, racism) have no one enemy at their head. When all problems are systemic no one is guilty, and no one is truly innocent.