Letter to a Man

A jarring buzz. The sound of a whip cracking? There are voices all around me. I am not sure where they are coming from. The voices repeat themselves exhaustively — sometimes in Russian. Lights flash on, then abruptly off. Random snatches of music enter my awareness. A man moves like a dream – glacially. Did I imagine it? Suddenly I am reliving a childhood moment. I am on the floor, in the dark, with my family. We are in pajamas, snuggled with blankets and pillows, listening to the Dr. Demento radio broadcast. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” is blaring. Crazy, we think! This is insanity! A jarring buzz. The sound of a whip cracking? Lights flash on. The voices are speaking all around me. I don’t understand them. The man has moved on the stage — but he couldn’t have. He is barely moving. Am I losing my mind? No, actually, I am at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That man on the stage is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who I last saw at BAM in Robert Wilson’s brilliant production of The Old Woman. And speaking of Wilson, the sounds, set design, lighting, and stage direction I have just described in Letter to a Man are all his genius. (I admittedly am one of his numerous rabid fans, having seen him perform in Krapp’s Last Tape most recently.) But I digress: someone is indeed losing his mind in this riveting performance. The piece is about Vaslav Nijinsky, former Russian ballet star, who succumbed to schizophrenia in 1919. His unraveling is poignantly documented in his diaries, and Baryshnikov and Wilson have brought the man and his breakdown frighteningly to life. I felt like I was firmly inside the mind of a man losing his grasp on reality. It was disturbing and brilliant.

Letter to a Man by Robert Wilson
Letter to a Man by Robert Wilson with Mikhail Baryshnikov at Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday, October 21, 2016

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