Sontag's play was inspired by a 1990 Boston exhibition by theatre and art auteur Robert Wilson. Wilson asked Sontag to write an introduction to the exhibition catalog and she submitted a short play based on the Parsifal legend instead. (Wilson would stage Wagner's opera in Hamburg in 1991.) It was subsequently published in the literary journal Antaeus Press in 1991, and then forgotten. Jahnke—who typically stages only his own work—found the forgotten play at the Housing Works Thrift Store in New York City, and later approached the Sontag estate about staging it.
The script runs only six pages. It is dedicated to Robert Wilson and begins with the stage direction: "A landscape (the dark forest, the lake, the tears). Garden gnomes. A column of light."
"In this poetic yet gritty deconstruction of the opera," read production notes, "Wagner's innocent knight is instead an Uzi-toting soldier wandering aimlessly through an anonymous landscape in search of arbitrary sex and violence. Jahnke crafts a phantasmagoric epic in which to pit the individual against the system and pose Sontag's unflinching questions of consequence, accountability and blame."
The cast includes Okwui Okpokwasili, who won a 2005 Bessie Award for Ralph Lemon's Come Home Charlie at BAM; the legendary Ridiculous Theatrical Company actress Black-Eyed Susan; Michael Balsley, Tanisha Thompson, Kathryn Gracey and Matthew Bondy.
The designers, working in tandem with Jahnke, are Pilar Limosner (costumes), Michael Casselli (set) and Kristin Worrall (sound). The production is a departure for Jahnke, who is known for his stylized, overripe dialogue, and a fascination with myth, fable, history and obscure historical and literary figures. Past Hotel Savant works have almost all been of his own writing. They include Lola Montez in Bavaria, Mercurius, and, most recently, Shady Maids of Haiti. He began his theatre career in L.A., where he worked with late avant-gardist Reza Abdoh's Dar a Luz company.
Sontag, who died Dec. 27, 2004, was best known for her many volumes of essays and criticism, in which she covered topics ranging from illness, photography, art, literature, politics and theatre. However, she also dabbled in theatre from time to time. In August 1993 she made headlines by staging a production of Waiting for Godot at the Youth Theatre in Sarajevo while that city was under siege by Serb forces and subject to daily shelling and sniper fire. Her only other published play is Alice in Bed, about Henry James' sickly sister. Alice in Bed was first directed by Bob Wilson in Berlin in 1993 and then had its American premiere in Boston in 1996. (Wilson also directed Sontag's free adaptation of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea in Korea.) Alice was produced by New York Theatre Workshop in fall 2000, directed by Dutchman Ivo van Hove.
Tickets are $15. Call (212) 352-3101.