The Toronto Theatre Review: The Rage of Narcissus
The music pulls us into the looking glass, just like Narcissus was drawn to the reflective image of himself that would end up being his downfall. It’s a compelling and robust formulation, layering in Greek mythology around a sex-fueled obsession, gifted into a hotel room, not by the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, an aspect of Aphrodite, but by the app called Grindr. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, known for his beauty, and somewhere, in The Rage of Narcissus, a one-person show written by Sergio Blanco (Darwin’s Leap; Slaughter), the hunter becomes the hunted, or at least that is what we are supposed to initially find ourselves believing.
“I is an other,” we are reminded in neon, as the one-man show starts off casually, with Matthew Romantini (Ghostlight’s The Boys in the Band) entering and speaking directly to us. He’s going to tell us a tale, a narrative, that mixes reality and fiction. He isn’t the person standing before us, at least not for the majority of the monologue that isn’t one. He, the actor, is about to transform himself into Sergio, the playwright who is going to, inside his compelling and sometimes difficult text, weave an autofiction around one particular terrifying and disturbing week in Toronto. Sergio, the character who may (or most likely is not) be the same who wrote the script, has arrived at his hotel so that he can give a lecture later that week at the University, all around the idea of Narcissus and the artist. He’s quite a proud creature, rattling off his intellectual successes, well, like a narcissist treating us to a long list of his grand accomplishments. It’s somewhat distancing, yet it is a blurring of self and the other, and once Romantini finally unzips himself and slips into the reflective pool of Sergio, he digs in and meanders around a formulation that is part autobiography and some pretty forceful and harrowing fiction. It’s Greek mythology with blood stains, and a whole lot of graphic sex tales to either engage or distract. Depending on your tolerance.
It’s a somewhat compelling dynamic, and Romantini delivers an appealing and engaging presence, even when the tale falls victim to far too many banal exchanges, grand gesturing, and circular twisted reflections. Unfolding on a set designed by Renato Baldin (Caminos Festival’s Rocking Futures), alongside art director Marcelo Moura Leite with strong, sometimes overwhelming lighting choices by Brandon Gonçalves (Nightjan’s Back and Forth The Musical) and a clear sound design by Julián Henao, the textual thriller inches forward through a sex-fueled obsession, splattered with mystery and abstractionisms, cut with intellectual curiosities and fabrications.
Looking into the mythology of its namesake, the structuring starts to engage and layer in on its paralleling, just like the myth’s ideas around falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, staring at it until one dies. Yet in Blanco’s rendering the central figure and the other start to seem less real and more hypnotically wrapped up in one another, fantasy, and form. There’s a blending and a blurring of lines and boundaries, playing with the idea of reality and fantasy, and sometimes extreme delirious nightmares. The character of Sergio is enamored, fixated on the utterly handsome and sexy Grindr hookup that takes place that first afternoon, and even though he tries to reject the sexual advances, he can’t seem to shake the hypersexual images and urges that surround and envelop him as the week runs forward. But the blurring compromises the situation, and we are left rolling around in the eroticism and wondering if is it really just a mirroring of a need, foreseeing the obvious outcome, that starts to form like blood stains on the carpet and walls? Or is it a death sentence waiting to be delivered by oneself fulfilling prophecy.
Playing out with a teasing sense of urgency by director Marcio Beauclair (Producer, Director/Adaptation), The Rage of Narcissus finds shared terror in its dismemberment, hinting at darkness while playing with the disorder that sliced with horrific, highly sexualized poetry. It’s super smart and entangling, this formulation, playing with truth and fiction in a way that we get tricked into not seeing the autofiction as it is being played out. It’s disturbing in its rawness and overt narcissism, yet we get caught up in the unraveling and the hypertension of the moment. It digs into the mystery and makes us forget our sense of place and time. He tricks us with his vision of his own sexual sense of self, the character, and the story. It pushes us away, at points, lulling us into not caring, but then forces us back in, playing with the tale within another, and wrapping itself in shifts of light and dark that make us see the distortion rather than the true reflection. It reflects back a vision, one we might not fully enjoy seeing, but it delivers the goods dramatically, almost traumatically, sending you out into the streets wondering and thinking about Greek mythology and the narcissistic world we live in. Take that as a cautionary tale, a story dismembered of truth and packed up in a duffle bag ready to teach by counter-example.