Shortly after the train wreck, Helen, one of the survivors, says “Between sleeping and waking, a crack opens up.” Proust said more or less the same thing, but it took him five pages (or three thousand?). In Je Suis Dead, now playing as part of the FURY Factory Festival, Fools Proof Theater from Liverpool, England takes the audience through that crack on a quasi- Freudian expedition through the psyche. But instead of Proust’s labyrinth of memory and metaphor, the troupe finds the bones of its ancestors.
Three strangers meet after a train crash in contemporary Britain. They go their separate ways but find each other, without seeking to, at the end. Meanwhile, for each, the crash releases ancestors (the psychological trauma opens the “crack”) and we witness each character’s behaviors, thoughts and influences from the past.
Ancestors such as the German Dadaist and the southern Christian are defined by physical routine, speech and dress, as well as lighting effects and ambient sound. Past dominates present and the journey one is taking (the train to work, the walk home, the performance) becomes a metaphor for the meta-journey we all take through time and space. One who is dead, is really alive. Or we are “dead.” That’s the Idea.
Despite evident sincerity, quirky physical performances, clever lighting and sound effects, Je Suis Dead disappoints, because the Idea dominates both character and story. And the Idea gets repeated, not developed or deepened beyond the program notes.
There is a difference between simple and shallow, and when a piece of art feels compelled to hit you over the head with meaning, it’s usually a warning that the artist has not wrestled with the work long enough. So, in place of drama that makes you think, we get the idea, over and over again. No need for a thinking cap here, try a hard hat instead.