Theater is a fascinating medium because of its overt plasticity. The “fakeness” is to be subverted and overcome by the performers with emotive if not exaggerated gestures and monologues. Theater and the act of acting in theater is a meditation on the human condition — one’s potency in performance allows for transcendence beyond the “plastic” surroundings and fixed stage. On the outside, in the audience’s eyes, theater can only be something distinctly silly if not pulled off with style and humanity, and this is the problem with Rudi Zygadlo’s Tragicomedies. His aim is exact and concept understandable, but it feels like he’s going about it in all of the wrong ways: his attempt at dramatic humanity or deconstruction of the humanizing moments in our lives is left cold when surrounded by so much artificial grandeur. Is it bold to make a operatic album in an age of pure aporia?
Film auteur Mike Leigh (Life is Sweet, All or Nothing, Naked, Secrets & Lies) describes his films to be “about the joy of putting real life and the texture of real life on the screen… warts and all.” With Tragicomedies, Rudi Zygadlo takes a similar path, writing an ode to the theatricality of everyday life — except it doesn’t have any warts. In fact, the makeup here is thicker than ever. Theater calls attention to the absurdity of social structures, evoking the use of words and phrases like corny and over the top. Both call into question the display of emotions when taken to an overt extreme. Like Julia Holter or Nicolas Jaar, Zygadlo wants to relish in the artifacts of existence, pure experience hoping to uncover the funnier side of life: happiness; grace in spite of the trials of real, structured disillusionment; superficiality as the way of the world; this is how one gets by.
The name Tragicomedy denotes the image of a paradox — or at least a complex existence. Life can’t be whittled down to simple moral dilemmas, but to the situations that fit inside moral interactions. In a society infested with simulations and re-renderings of signifiers, the notion of theatricality is pretty laughable. Why pile more artifice onto a generation that is founded on simulated experiences? The arts, generalized, is a production wheel of pleasure-inducing wish-fulfillment and often exists to provide emotional backdrop. What purpose, then, do artists have besides being performers catering to emotional needs? Artist do indeed offer something worthwhile to society, but it doesn’t come in the form of pleasure. Art is a voice, a representation of a society’s thoughts and ideas, a projection and then affirmation of a society’s state of being.
Most people would like to think that these qualities are nebulous and subjective views on that state, that the arrival of a voice is a byproduct of the effects of a society’s vantage point and position within an event. But the voice can be seen as an upheaval of conscious evolution, the consciousness of a society observing and birthing a savior, a leader, who embodies society as a whole. Rudi Zygadlo’s proclamation — fighting for the “everyday life” — is masochistic in a sense, then, because he embraces the pain of that realization, that one is ultimately trapped in social constructions: a play full of obviously false renderings of “real” things but with no script in which to prioritize or qualify the sequence of events. His repurposing of the pop canon to fit into his heavily theatrical upbringing is grating. Sure, Tragicomedies isn’t terrible, but its significance hinges on two established and already surpassed mediums. Where Julia Holter uses minimalist composition styles to ground her “new age” leanings, Rudi Zygadlo plunges further into the signifier. What is everyday life represented if it isn’t real? Humanity is raw, not vaudevillian.