Did you know that Asterion is one of the names given to the minotaur in Greek mythology? You know, the half-man, half-bull creature who is condemned to spending his life in a labyrinth? I didn't, either.
This weekend, Theatre Mosaic Mond presents the play Asterion, which asks, "What happens when the labyrinth turns into a waiting room, and the mythological beast into the body of an immigrant?"
Vermont playwright and actor Diego Mattos, who is himself an immigrant, wrote and stars in this one-man show. According to a statement from TMM, it is "rooted in the works of the famous Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges," and is also based on Mattos' experiences dwelling between two cultures.
I remembered that Theatre Mosaic Mond had put on a bilingual play based on Sartres' No Exit — in English and in French — a couple years back. Apparently the company was on sabbatical in 2012. But this year, founder Georgette Garbès Putzel is back with three works in the hopper. The first one, Asterion, runs this weekend at the Off Center. I asked her these questions:
SEVEN DAYS: Theatre Mosaic Mond sounds français, and so is your name. Are you French?
GEORGETTE GARBES PUTZEL: Actually the term “theatre” is French, but in England and in many places in the U.S. the term “theatre” is spelled the French way. "Mosaic" is English (in French it is “mosaique”), and "mond" is neither. (The French term “monde” needs an “e” and means world.) I meant the name to relate to the symbolism of the mosaic and the world.
Like Asterion, I am a migrant by background. I left Algeria, where I was born. I lived where my mother had grown up (although she, too, was an immigrant from Italy) in Burgundy, but did not feel at home. I immigrated to Montréal, Canada, where I met my American husband, Roger, and we moved to Vermont, where we raised our two American children. I have three passports: French, Canadian and American. And if I could have a few more, I would.
SD: You started the theater company in 2009 and seem to wear a lot of hats. Are there others in the company?
GGP: Overall about 30 people will have helped TMM since our founding. Depending on the project, more and different people will join. (For example, we have already been working with two violinists, one tabla player and one accordionist for Camille Claudel. In 2013, Diego Mattos joins TMM’s creative team on a more regular basis.
SD: On your website you state that diversity is essential in the arts as well as in biology. Could you elaborate a little on what that means to you with regard to theater?
GGP: I am not a biologist, but it is a scientific fact that diversity is the key to survival. Not only in the animal kingdom but also in the vegetable world. Theatre, if not diversified, is an endangered species. Theatre can teach us to recognize and appreciate differences among people. Our plays A Visit From Miss Prothero and Mrs. Warren’s Profession dealt with different perspectives on work; No Exit/Huis Clos presented different values; and Copenhagen and Fugato Labile for Camille Claudel [later this year] will deal with different definitions of reality. TMM explores living with such differences.
SD: What do you look for in choosing a play to produce?
GGP: I look for new plays, like Asterion and Camille, that explore our mosaic world, and reinterpret old plays, like Mrs. Warren’s Profession and Copenhagen, that show how people deal or fail to deal with differences.
SD: Your description of Asterion, which begins tomorrow night, reads in part: "The minotaur, the labyrinth, a waiting room and the mind and body of an immigrant. The past and the present, dreams and memory, joy and fear, solitude, frustration, utopia and the numberless contradictions that form our own labyrinths and stories."
Wow. It sounds really intriguing, yet I have only a vague idea what the play is about. Could you spell it out just a bit?
GGP: Based on a two-page poem by Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, the play presents an immigrant from South America caught in the bureaucratic labyrinth of immigration and feeling like the minotaur, half man and half bull.
The play is written by Diego Mattos so I will quote him:
“Asterion is one of the names given to the Greek mythical figure of the Minotaur, the offspring of Pasiphae and a white-snow bull. Half man half bull, this monster is condemned by Minos, Pasiphae's husband, to live in a labyrinth (designed by Daedalus). There he spends his days and nights, never seeing daylight, never seeing his sister Ariadne, only seeing terrified young men and women put in the labyrinth from time to time to be sacrificed. In the end, Theseus kills the Minotaur Asterion and escapes the labyrinth holding Ariadne’s thread.
"Asterion is also an immigrant, who exists somewhere between here and there, not past not present, always seeking a place to call home. We all live in personal labyrinths, and dealing with them can sometimes be painful, sometimes revealing. We all have left a place to which we have never returned, sometimes without realizing it. Getting old, we migrate away from the child we used to be, the country we used to inhabit, telling them, ‘I'll be back.’ But we never return. This play attempts to go back to a place I don't remember.”
SD: What else can you tell us about Diego Mattos?
GGP: Diego Mattos is a native of La Paz, Bolivia. He moved to Vermont with his family in 2010, after spending five years in Columbus, Ohio. Currently he is an assistant professor of Spanish at Saint Michael’s College. Asterion is the fifth theater play written by him, and the first to be presented in the United States. Diego has a wife who studies art, and three children.
SD: In October you're staging Fugato Labile for Camille Claudel — written by you. Can you give us a tiny preview?
GGP: The title is strange: Fugato (in music fugato-fugue in French and English, but also in French “fugue” in the sense of, for example, a teenager’s flying away from home); labile (psychological term relating to a mind that is not stable, which was Camille’s beautiful and fragile artistic mind).
The sister of the (later) famous French playwright Paul Claudel, Camille was born into a wealthy, bourgeois family in the late 19th century — a century too soon. Joyful, truthful, dedicated to sculpture, she became the student and lover of Auguste Rodin. He became threatened by the woman’s ability as a sculptor. Her family, unable to tolerate the threat to their reputation, had this free spirit locked up in a series of insane asylums. She never escaped and starved to death during the Occupation, as the Nazis found many ways of eliminating those considered different.