Earlier this year I read The Golem Triptych by Eric Basso. The book (or plays, rather, as it a dramatic trilogy) had intrigued me long before I read it; I myself was working on drafting a play about the Golem of Prague, and I was very surprised that someone had already written, not one, but three plays on the subject.
I had never heard of Eric Basso before, but the more I looked into him the more I knew that I had to read some of his work. I decided to get the Golem Triptych because, as a theatermaker and a fan of weird/surrealist fiction, I wanted to see a dramatic work that delved into a genre that so rarely goes onto the stage.
This work is astounding, frustrating, obscure, grandiose, grotesque, and with a level of complexity that I have never seen in a dramatic work before. It combines the modernism of Joyce, the absurdism of Becket, and the fierceness of Müller, in a trip through history, the holocaust, underground nightclubs, and the politics and legends of 17th century Prague. The characters – with a handful of actors playing numerous different roles – meld and morph, sometimes shifting to another person in the middle of a scene. The landscape of the play is nightmarish, but the horror is given to us through the dialogue: soldiers discuss a pit of writhing bodies melting together; Joseph speaks of memory as peeling skin. Wrought with twists and turns the play never reveals its message, or its intent, but it strews tantalizing trails of crumbs for the audience to follow to their own conclusions.
I wish this play could be performed, but I’m honestly not sure how it could be done. There’s nothing in the stage directions that is so ridiculous to suggest the play could not physically be staged, but the length and intricacy of the work is so imposing. It would be a crime to perform one of the plays alone without the other two – the triptych really needs to be done as a whole – but the sheer effort of staging a three-hundred page play is staggering.
Altogether, this work is a gem of underground theater. If you have a proclivity for the strange and bizarre as well as the patience for experimental, postmodern writing (and maybe a passing knowledge of European history under your belt as well) then I would highly recommend giving this under-read trilogy a chance. For those who want something more conventional, or something that just doesn’t try to frustrate and confuse, then you might want to look elsewhere.