When audience members file into the Upspace to see “The Old Queen,” running at Production Workshop this weekend, they will see Anna Muselmann ’14 dressed in tattered rags and sitting on a wooden platform facing away from them. Muselmann, who plays an imprisoned Marie Antoinette, is the force behind this powerful one-woman show, an experimental dance piece that is more disjointed artistic expression than fluid movement.
The show begins with Muselmann sitting in this haunting pose for nearly five minutes, her body slumped forward, with only her head making minute movements. The room is shrouded in darkness, with a lone spotlight shining on Muselmann. She then drags her limp body across the stage while panting and snarling. Throughout the nearly 45-minute performance, Muselmann uses the breadth of the stage to contort her body into rhythmic poses while elements of light, music and water are used to create stunning and at times disturbing images using her body as a metaphorical canvas.
“The Old Queen” is adapted from Portuguese director Miguel Moreira and performer Romeu Runa’s “The Old King.” Director Ari Rodriguez ’13 saw the piece over the summer in Avignon, France, and wanted to bring it to Brown.
“We decided to keep the few lines of dialogue in French,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously because she is a woman, we knew we had to make some of the movements different for a queen rather than a king.”
As dialogue is limited to two lines in the whole show, the focus is on body language. The audience can sense Muselmann’s powerlessness – she sporadically bows her head, a reference to a guillotine.
Rodriguez also acts as a kind of “half-character,” entering at various moments during the show clad in black, portraying a prison guard. In the original show, the role of the prison guard was limited, but Rodriguez decided to expand the character. In a particularly poignant scene, Muselmann sits face-to-face with the guard and presents him with flowers. They simulate drinking tea and mimic each other’s motions.
Rehearsals began in early October, when Rodriguez presented his idea to Muselmann, a good friend of his with whom he had worked on “Guests,” another show he directed through PW. The choreography was a dual effort by Rodriguez and Muselmann.
“For most of the rehearsals it’s been exclusively the two of us in the room,” Muselmann said. “We are both playing the part of performer and director in a way.”
The message of the piece is not entirely clear, but that is the director’s intent. The absence of context allows each audience member to form his or her own conclusions about the unconventional movements and theater space.
“I don’t think I’m in control of what the audience gets out of it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a scary thing for me.”
Rodriguez warns audience members that there is brief nudity, a small chance of getting wet and some sinister themes. But Rodriguez said he is fine with audience members leaving during the show if they are uncomfortable with the content.
“It’s a dark show. It can be a little scary, but we’ve tried to make it very safe,” he said.
“The Old Queen” is running Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at PW.