An Ode to Life, Disguised as Kaddish
Solange Lévesque - LE DEVOIR, MONTREAL (3 June 2005)

At the heart of this tribute to Felix Lauwers, who died in 2001, lies life-energy in all its varied manifestations. Felix Lauwers was the father of Jan Lauwers, the director of the Brussels theatre group Neeedcompany and also the author, stage director, set designer of and actor in this play. Lauwers’ father actually remains a presence in the play through the medium of the collection of dozens of works of art from Africa and the Middle East mounted on bases or pictured in large photos, which forms the setting for the play. When you look at Jan Lauwers, at the powerful Viviane De Muynck, who plays the part of Isabella, and at the eight other versatile performers who together give shape to the play, you get the impression that each of these people carries inside them the spirit of this piece at all times. The atmosphere of this baroque polonaise is reminiscent of a fair, where everyone makes an appearance just to perform their party piece, though in reality what we are seeing here is a gloriously complicated and incredibly tightly directed play. In the opening scene, Lauwers addresses the audience directly to outline the context and to explain how important these works of art collected by his father on his distant travels were to him during his childhood, and what role they played in his childhood life. Without the slightest hesitation he dedicates Isabella’s Room to his father. The play sketches the story of a woman, year by year, starting in 1910. Isabella is now 94 and lives in a room where the works of art Lauwers’ father collected are stacked up. She is blind, but ‘thanks to a small camera hidden in the corner of her glasses she can see everything’, the author explains, immediately adding that ‘this camera does not of course exist’ and that we shall therefore ‘have to imagine it’. This immediately sets the tone: imagination and playfulness dominate the telling of Isabella’s story, the story of an unconventional woman, lucid and young at heart, who holds sway centre stage while all around her the left and right sides of her brain almost boil over in a sort of perpetuum mobile: we see a desert prince who is regarded as her probable father, one of her former lovers, and her present stripling of a boyfriend, who is coincidentally also her grandson, plus her stepfather, her mother, and also Isabella’s ‘erogenous zone’, to all of which the performers give shape, able as they are to sing and dance as well as they act and play music. All these characters live together with her and enter into conversation with her in this white room where times and places dissolve into one another. Whichever part of the stage you look at, you always see something unexpected happening. All things considered, it is the whole of the twentieth century at which Lauwers is taking an archaeological look back, with perspicuous irony but without bitterness. If it were not for the fact that each transition to the next year is accompanied by a pistol shot that makes you jump, you might almost think that it had not been a century of noise, tumult and bloody wars. Isabella’s Room is on for the last time tonight. Drop everything to see this humorous, brilliant, pithy and incomparable play.

Ensemble weNEEDmoreCOMPANY Invisible Time Contact
Jan Lauwers Grace Ellen Barkey Maarten Seghers performing arts visual arts Film
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