“Who are you?”
“I am Death.”
“Have you come to fetch me?”
“I have long walked by your side.”
“Wait a moment.”
“You all say that.”
That exchange is from Bergman’s 1958 film, The Seventh Seal, where a knight, back from the Crusades, sets up a chess board on the beach and invites Death to play with him. For Jen Capraru, the Toronto director in town to mount the stage version of the film (her own adaptation), this attempt to bargain with Death is still very much a modern preoccupation.
In 2006 she found herself in Rwanda as a script supervisor for the film production of Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil. “It was an intense experience,” she says, being at ground zero of the 20th century’s “other” genocide. She was invited back a year later to teach at the Rwandan Cinema Centre, touring the countryside “with a screen and a generator.”
Since then, Capraru has produced two plays in Rwanda (The Monument, translated into Kinyarwanda, and Wajdi Mouwad’s Littoral, mounted in French). The Rwandan troupe behind The Monument is getting ready to tour Europe. “My longest running production,” she quips.
While Adorno’s statement that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric” is often used as a reminder of the futility of art, for Capraru it’s instead a call to action, a litmus test. “Anything less than total engagement with life and death is equally barbaric,” she says. Capraru sees a dotted line between the bloody Crusades, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and every cruel massacre before and since. “Art will always ask questions,” she adds, even if no one else does. Especially if no one else does.
So why Bergman? “Because he charts the inner geography of the human soul and asks difficult questions. He is concerned with how people survive and how they communicate. Plus, he’s both funny and erotic, something many people overlook.”
Back in her home town on the invitation of Concordia’s Department of Theatre, Capraru has put together a 21-member ensemble and, working with even more students behind the scenes, has created a full theatre in the round – a first for the DB Clarke Theatre. It also features an original score.
“Brecht wrote a poem when he was in exile,” Capraru tells me. “’In the dark times will there still be singing? Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times.’ This is what I am doing.”
From urban cityscape to plague landscape, from Medieval times to modern end times, it’s a repeating pattern for Capraru, a meandering labyrinth of faith, beauty and atrocity. “We say ‘never again,'” she says, “but what we should really be admitting is ‘forever again.'”
The Seventh Seal opens Thursday, October 18th (8pm) and runs until Sunday, October 21 (2pm).
D. B. Clarke Theatre, Hall Building, Concordia University
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W
$10 regular, $5 for seniors and students
Tickets are available in advance (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at the door.
Read Rover’s review of The Seventh Seal here.