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What An Eyeful!

February 6, 2009

Last night at the theatre I was almost knocked out by a bread roll.

In the middle of the Mexican theatre company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes' Monsters and Prodigies: A History of the Castrati, the actors started a food fight on stage, pelting the audience with projectile baked goods. I took a mighty hit, square in my left eye. It's still throbbing, some 12 hours after the fact. I'm quite surprised that I don't have a bruise to illustrate the sensation.

Despite making me feeling slightly worse for wear this morning, the offending bread roll (which is sitting on my desk as I write as a reminder of last night's performance) performed a valuable service: It sure put the concept of suffering for one's art into context.

In a gloriously madcap theatrical production exploring the fine line between the grotesque and sublime via a romp through the history of castrati on the opera stage, the small physical shock I experienced is of course nothing compared to the pain that pre-pubescent Italian boys of the 18th and 19th centuries must have felt going under the knife in order to have their virginal vocal chords preserved.

With its clinical depiction of a castration procedure performed by the hideous Siamese-twin barber-surgeon Jean-Ambroise Pare, the production makes much of the contrast between the heights of vocal purity and the lows of carnal messiness. Even performed without the live horse on stage (in contrast to some iterations of this show since its premiere in Spain in 2000) Monsters and Prodigies still bristles with anarchic, animal energy.

I'm no sports expert, but I'm certain that at least one of the cast members has a bright alternative future ahead of him as a pitcher for the New York Yankees.

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