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The 'Aesthetic Republic': A Review of Derek Walcott's O Starry, Starry Night (Caribbean Premiere)

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Title:
The 'Aesthetic Republic': A Review of Derek Walcott's O Starry, Starry Night (Caribbean Premiere)
Physical Description:
Newspaper article
Language:
English
Creator:
Mckenzie, Stephanie
Publisher:
Jamaica Observer
Place of Publication:
Kingston, Jamaica
Publication Date:

Notes

Abstract:
Review of O Starry, Starry Night (Written and directed by Derek Walcott, produced by Adrian Augier, Caribbean Premiere, Samaans Park, St Lucia, August 8) with the review published in the Jamaica Observer on August 18, 2013.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright by Creator. Permission granted to University of Florida to digitize and display this item for research and educational uses. Permission to reuse, publish or reproduce this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions must be obtained from the copyright holder.
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System ID:
AA00019846:00001


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PAGE 1

O O S S t t a a r r r r y y , S S t t a a r r r r y y N N i i g g h h t t ( ( W W r r i i t t t t e e n n a a n n d d d d i i r r e e c c t t e e d d b b y y D D e e r r e e k k W W a a l l c c o o t t t t , p p r r o o d d u u c c e e d d b b y y A A d d r r i i a a n n A A u u g g i i e e r r , C C a a r r i i b b b b e e a a n n P P r r e e m m i i e e r r e e , S S a a m m a a a a n n s s P P a a r r k k , S S t t L L u u c c i i a a , A A u u g g u u s s t t 8 8 ) ) by Stephanie McKenzie N N O O B B E E L L L L a a u u r r e e a a t t e e D D e e r r e e k k W W a a l l c c o o t t t t b b r r o o u u g g h h t t h h i i s s l l a a t t e e s s t t p p l l a a y y t t o o t t h h e e s s t t a a g g e e o o n n A A u u g g u u s s t t 8 8 a a t t S S a a m m a a a a n n s s P P a a r r k k , S S t t L L u u c c i i a a f f o o r r i i t t s s C C a a r r i i b b b b e e a a n n p p r r e e m m i i e e r r e e . T T h h e e w w o o r r l l d d p p r r e e m m i i e e r r e e w w a a s s i i n n M M a a y y a a t t t t h h e e U U n n i i v v e e r r s s i i t t y y o o f f E E s s s s e e x x w w h h e e r r e e W W a a l l c c o o t t t t i i s s p p r r o o f f e e s s s s o o r r o o f f p p o o e e t t r r y y . O O S S t t a a r r r r y y , S S t t a a r r r r y y N N i i g g h h t t w w a a s s d d i i r r e e c c t t e e d d b b y y W W a a l l c c o o t t t t , i i n n a a t t t t e e n n d d a a n n c c e e a a t t t t h h e e S S t t L L u u c c i i a a o o p p e e n n i i n n g g , a a n n d d f f e e a a t t u u r r e e d d B B r r i i a a n n C C a a r r t t e e r r G G r r e e e e n n , a a s s V V i i n n c c e e n n t t v v a a n n G G o o g g h h ; ; N N a a t t a a l l i i e e L L a a P P o o r r t t e e , a a s s L L o o t t t t e e ; ; W W e e n n d d e e l l l l M M a a n n w w a a r r r r e e n n , a a s s P P a a u u l l G G a a u u g g u u i i n n ; ; D D a a v v i i d d T T a a r r k k e e n n t t e e r r , a a s s T T h h e e P P r r o o p p r r i i e e t t o o r r ; ; N N i i g g e e l l S S c c o o t t t t , a a s s T T h h e e o o v v a a n n G G o o g g h h ; ; a a n n d d M M i i c c h h a a e e l l P P r r o o k k o o p p i i o o u u , a a s s A A Z Z o o u u a a v v e e . T T h h e e r r e e a a r r e e p p l l a a n n s s t t o o b b r r i i n n g g t t h h e e p p l l a a y y t t o o T T r r i i n n i i d d a a d d a a n n d d , p p o o s s s s i i b b l l y y , B B a a r r b b a a d d o o s s . O Starry Starry Night is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh and, to a lesser extent, P aul Gauguin. The play focuses on their time spent together in Arles, France in 1888 where they lived and painted together W alcott's play poses large questions. What do you do when you believe only in the faith that gives rise to great art and when even fellow artists turn their backs on you? The play begins with a poetic soliloquy. "O starry starry night, how shall I exalt?" V an Gogh questions as he enters on stage. The "fruit," he says, that "hang heavily in the branched sky" and "the wild orbs that plummet" inevitably "steer us home towards heaven". With Van Gogh's painting Church at Auvers hanging in the background, and the suggestion of another masterpiece, Starry Night superimposed on it, the crux of the play is underscored. Walcott foregrounds what Van Gogh knew: art can only play second fiddle to the actual stars in the sky which, in turn, bow to their creator. Despite human limitations, though, beauty must be praised if one has an artist's soul. However, Walcott shows that Van Gogh's need to praise created more intense struggles for him than for other artists. Van Gogh was the son of a clergyman and an aspiring preacher himself before he took up painting. He was consumed by faith. But Walcott's play questions what happens to an artist when no one understands the expression of the artist's faith, the relentless attempts to praise the designs of the universe. What happens when expressing beauty is a way to pray and there is no one to worship with? It may be enough to drive one mad, O Starry Starry Night suggests. The play gestures to other potential causes of V an Gogh's madness, lik e absinthe or turpentine poisoning and syphilis, but these are only detractors. When Lotte and Gauguin appear a subplot or secondary theme explores the relationship between locales, success, and fulfilment. Lotte, a composite created out of the many prostitutes and brothels the artists shared, curses Arles, a "backwater." The P roprietor counters her logic when Gauguin arrives from Paris telling Gauguin he is in a town, not a city but maintaining Arles is capable of producing "saints" as well as "brothels". The play's set supports this. A selection of paintings, primarily by Van Gogh but also several by Gauguin, dominates the stage, highlighting masterpieces created by those who shared space in Arles. Van Gogh and Gauguin's relationship rules the play, however. Van Gogh desires an "aesthetic republic" while Gauguin craves a "hedonistic paradise", claiming to have almost found it in Martinique. Gauguin will spend most of his time wrapped up with Lotte, while Van Gogh becomes obsessed with the idea of Gauguin leaving him. V an Gogh's overzealousness becomes a fixation. In real life, Van Gogh had been too overzealous for even the Dutch Reformed Church when he followed his first love and preached to the coal miners in the Borinage, Belgium. He was essentially fired and carried his zeal to canvas. Walcott understandably exposes him as zealous in everything "Who was with you in Martinique?" he jealously demands of Gauguin. Though critics might sink their articles into a homoerotic subtext, W alcott really depicts Van Gogh as overzealous with the idea he might lose a companion and someone to preach to or pray with in brushstrok es, even though isolation feeds his art and production. In Act 2, we meet Theo, V an Gogh's brother, who, as Walcott shows, was a stable source of love and finances for Van Gogh. Theo recognises Van Gogh will "make Arles immortal" and determines he does not paint "architecture" but "its faith". However no one understands Van Gogh's art. "You're a dealer, Theo," Van Gogh says. "That doesn't mean you understand anything about painting." Painting, as Van Gogh explains to him, is "spiritual procedure." T he secondary theme grows with L otte now infected by Gauguin's syphilis and determined to escape to Paris. Gauguin spreads the ashes of Ash Wednesday on her forehead and declares her to be his "little savage". W alcott attacks colonial myths about b arbarism and civilisation, but his play s tays focused on Van Gogh's suffering. "There are various ways to die," Van Gogh says to Gauguin when he knows Gauguin will leave him, for part of him has d ied already knowing his republic is passing. Walcott's play concludes not with Van Gogh's death on stage but with abstraction which suggests that Van Gogh's physical death was fuelled by the death of his aesthetic dream. His omnipresent Church of Auvers reminds one where the artist shot himself. O Starry, Starry Night leaves one to meditate on the power of beauty. The set is breathtaking, the actors superb with Brian Carter-Green as Van Gogh shining. The lighting grows bright and darkens with Van Gogh's manic and depressed moods and radiates a message about faith in aesthetics. The talented accordion playing of Julian Harries acts as a poetic refrain interspersed with the mature verse of Walcott, solid as St Lucia's Pitons. Walcott's accompanying sketches, a trademark of the painter/poet, were also part of the night's beauty exhibited in the reception area. The work would be equally at home on display in such a place as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for Walcott, like Van Gogh, transcends regions. The one weakness is that Walcott dwells on Van Gogh cutting off his ear which leads to unnecessary melodrama. Van Gogh only ever cut off a portion of his ear, and, though significant, W alcott's play joins intrigues which have consumed too much mythic devotion. But this is only a minor fault. O Starry Starry Night is the mature vision of one master paying tribute to another and to aesthetics. Two days prior to this production's opening, another memorable exchange of minds took place at a plenary conversation for the recent ACLALS conference in St Lucia. W alcott spoke with Professor Emeritus of English at the Mona campus of the University of the W est Indies, fellow poet and W alcott scholar, Edward Baugh, remarking that "painting has nothing to do with language". However, the two might meet, as they did in O Starry Starry Night and when masters of such ilk gather we might recognise, as Van Gogh does in Walcott's play, that "we are insignificant". Dr Stephanie McKenzie is Associate Professor, English Pr ogramme, Gr enfell Campus, Memorial University Newfoundland, Canada and author of Saviours in This Little Space for Now: Poems for Emily Carr and Vincent van Gogh (2013 APPRECIATION APPRECIATION P 2 w w w j a m a i c a o b s e r v e r c o m T H E S U N D A Y O B S E R V E R A u g u s t 1 8 2 0 1 3 B o o k e n d s The 'Aesthetic Republic': A Review of Derek Walcott's O Starry, Starry Night (Caribbean Premiere) (From left) Brian Carter-Green and Wendell Manwareen. (PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHRIS HUXLEY)


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