Nothing else matters?

By SIMONE VAN SAARLOOS

I should be squeezing my eyes because of the pictures being shown. They portray familiar images: naked and tortured ‘bad people in Guantanamo’ bay, staged by performers from the Accademia Teatrale di Roma. But I squeeze my eyes because of the flashing strobelights.

The piano verson of ‘Nothing else matters’ (Metallica) is playing. Eight actors on stage. Five of them prisoners. Three guards dressed in army pants and a butcher’s apron, violently shout, strike and shine them with their blinding lights. The prisoners are naked, vulnerable. The darkhaired bodies of the Italian actors show close resemblence with the Arabian prisoners.

Italian dreams of ‘white roses’ and ‘passionate glances’; romantic imagry at the level of ‘Ciao bella’ stands in sharp contrast with the brutal treatment in Guantanamo. That is what Bad People in Guantanamo does, portraying contrast.

From torture and screams, they start singing ‘Jingle bells’ and lullaby’s. Are kitsch and cruelty connected? The guard is caught and shrieks like a baby. Is innocence that close too evil? Probably not. Such contrasts are there to shock, but do they provide any new insights? Again, probably not.

The performance is fierce, but doesn’t intrigue. Simply too much is shown. Some people from the audience close their ears against the bombastic music, others shut their eyes against the strobelights. Bad People in Guantanamo wants to open eyes by making us squint at confronting pictures. Instead, the raging lights and music are blinding.

The necessity of the performance isn’t so much conveyed by what’s happening on stage, but more so by what the actors reveal afterwards, during the aftertalk. Earlier, the US embassy has tried to prevent them from performing. ‘Not with violence of course.’ In Minsk, police even interrupted them.

Maybe a more subtle way of treating the cruelty of Guantanamo Bay would’ve resulted in a more radical performance, without flashing lights. Making me squint at what really matters.

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