History is questioned on the stage
Bitten By A Snake is coming soon
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 03:02
“You are not permitted to know anything,” said the hardened Union general, as much to the audience as to his men. Bitten By A Snake is a dialogue of history, revisionism, lionization, irony and, often, confusion.
CU Denver professor Laura Cuetara wrote Bitten By A Snake off of the writings of Civil War infantryman—and later famed journalist and satirist—Ambrose Bierce. “I was amazed by its contemporary perspective on the Civil War, which is always told in shades of heroes and villains,” said Cuetara.
Through Bierce’s insight, Bitten By A Snake embraces the complications and contradictions of war through an abstract and darkly comic set of stories.
From the beginning of the play, which investigates and challenges Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, it is clear that this play has no interest in cheerleading or breaking the conflict down to just two sides.
The fractured set’s tilted pillars, shifting platforms, and disembodied tree branches give further rise to themes of mystery, obfuscation, and ambiguity. It has been constructed in the black box studio theater of the King Center.
“It’s not a typical narrative,” said Cuetara. The play is presented by a type of Greek chorus; nine actors inhabit various roles, and narrate in scattered, ping-pong dialogue while slinking around the stage.
The personalities they inhabit are surreal visions of the players of war: a lone hero on a horse charging an enemy holdout, a group of men marveling at the banality of their opponent’s abandoned camp, a vicious battlefield demon commanding an artillery gun.
Their stories are told in past tense as they’re acted, questioning our understanding of a Civil War history which is often gained through films and novels, and always colored with the attempts to establish moral certainty.
Cuetara has directed her play before, but with each production comes fresh collaboration with actors, and a new incarnation of the text. “These guys are comfortable putting on plays, but that’s not my intent. It needs to be immediate,” Cuetara said. This is one of the many challenges for actors, including the task of playing multiple characters and engaging with difficult language, sometimes with great overlap between one another.
“It’s not easy-to-navigate terrain for the audience or actors, but it’s important,” said Cuetara. The actors seem to step up to the plate, Malcolm Tucker shines as a jeering philosopher under the enemy gun and so does Pinar Stage as the secretive but stern General.
Bitten By A Snake is a challenging play that seeks to engage our society’s hunger for heroism throughout time.
“I love history as much as I love theater,” said Cuetara. It’s clear that Bierce’s passion for the truth, with all its bitter irony and startling poignancy, has influenced a hypnotic piece of theater that is unlike anything UCD’s stage has seen before.