This past weekend, an audience of hundreds, including many Montclair State students, braved a blizzard to come out and witness the American premiere of Michel van der Aa’s stage adaptation of The Book of Disquiet at the Alexander Kasser Theater. Fortunately for the audience, the show did not disappoint.
Van der Aa is known for his ability to create breathtaking multimedia productions, using not only live actors but also music and film to tell a story. The Book of Disquiet is Van der Aa’s first large-scale work to debut in America, an honor Montclair State was lucky to bring to life.
The show is an adaptation of Fernando Pessoa’s original text of the same name, starring the British actor Samuel West as Pessoa’s alter ego, with music direction by Alan Pierson.
The Book of Disquiet begins with an instrumental ensemble tuning up on stage while an actor, opposite the musicians, sits at a desk, avidly scribbling on a piece of paper. The orchestra and actor are surrounded by hanging, circular screens.
As the show begins, a film is projected onto the screens and the orchestra begin playing a haunting piece.
For the next 75 minutes, the musings of a man obsessed with dreams and the imagination follow. The dialogue is based on Pessoa’s own reflections in his written work, which emcompasses more than 400 texts. The show is a mixture of observations, autobiography and a dream diary.
Since the stage-show is based on these short texts, the dialogue is fragmented and almost manic, seemingly portraying a writer who is slowly losing his mind.
Van der Aa’s show features a single actor on stage. Therefore, the other characters come to the audience in the form of film projections. Swapping between the many screens dangling above the stage, the different characters interact with the actor on stage, sometimes even passing him notes and responding to his dialogue.
Somehow, the different aspects of media all come together to form a singular show that left the audience in stunned silence. A particular moment in the show that seemed to captivate the audience the most was when a musician came to the front of the stage and began playing percussion on the frame of one of the circular, dangling screens, creating a hollow and loud, echoing sound that vibrated throughout the theater while the actor ranted about dreams on stage.
This and many more innovative moments are what made The Book of Disquiet stand out as a unique and highly distinctive show.
The Alexander Kasser Theater is known for putting on shows that leave the audience feeling as if they have seen something extremely special and The Book of Disquiet was no exception. While the short run at Kasser is officially over, unfortunately losing one performance due to snow, the show is one that should not be missed, wherever it debuts next.
As for the Alexander Kasser Theater, the show that graces the stage next has plenty to live up to.