Let's not do that thing where we all pretend we're familiar with obscure absurdist French theater while slyly looking it up on Wikipedia: In the Solitude of Cotton Fields (or Dans la solitude des champs de coton if you really want to impress people at a cocktail party) is a one-act play by the late Bernard-Marie Koltès, in which two characters, the Dealer and the Client, meet in the dead of night and engage in an intense verbal and mental power struggle.
Poland's Radoslaw Rychcik/Stefan Zeromski Theatre's production casts the protagonists as two brooding young men (they're foreigners, so the PR guff doesn't bother to mention their names; Eastern European avant-garde performers all look alike, anyway, right?), who dance, scream, cry and sing their way through the piece. Lines are delivered (in Polish, with English subtitles above the stage) like beat poetry, spat and scatted at the audience, while the whole show is live-scored by Polish electro-punk band the Natural Born Chillers.
But it's almost like observing two shows: we read the words and (despite the French-to-Polish-to-English translation) digest the play's well-made point about the complex nature of human transactions, that both parties in any exchange are equally needy and dependent on one another.
And then there's the performance itself. Director Radoslaw Rychcik has created a hell of a sensory experience. We're battered with screams, strobes and clips of soft-core porn as the two men perform their dance of desire and deception. I suspect it's supposed to be shocking or confronting, but I found myself giggling a little and playing “controversial performance art bingo”: Stripping? Check. Swearing? Check. Men in make-up? Check. Crazy arty dancing? Check. Homoeroticism? Check. Bestiality? Check.
And yet that's not to say it isn't a great show. The two actors give their all to the performance and the band is worth the ticket price alone—a six-piece powerhouse fusing old school synths and drum machines with grinding guitars and pounding rock beats. New York dance-punk darlings Ratatat was also playing Portland last night, but for my money, I had the better ticket.
After all, theater is, in many ways, just another human transaction—an exchange between actor and audience, arts festival and patrons, a company and its clients. We want to be entertained. In the Solitude of Cotton Fields may not shock your moral sensibilities quite as the director had hoped, but it's 75 solid minutes of relentless visual, aural and intellectual stimulation that will leave you exhausted, bewildered, possibly amused and almost certainly deaf, but, ultimately, thoroughly entertained.