A black sun scrolls across the sky. Four masked, hooded figures hold glowing basins of light. A flayed, eyeless human body dances gaily, apparently heedless of the protruding pink-and-yellow intestines that quiver as it moves.
These are among the hallucinatory images that director and designer B. Stanley has dreamed up to anchor the Theatre Du Jour production of “To Have Done With the Judgement of God,” now at the District of Columbia Arts Center. The visual shock tactics certainly fit the bill: If there ever was a text that called for surreal pageantry, it is this delirious rant by Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), the French thespian, theorist and sometime mental-asylum patient who is perhaps best known for his manifestos proposing a “Theater of Cruelty.”
Written as a radio play that was yanked from the schedule shortly before airing, “To Have Done With the Judgement of God” reads like the profane poetic ravings of a conspiracy-minded crank who mingles philosophical musings with talk of dreamscapes, scatology (“the pursuit of fecality”), seminal fluid, the global arms race and “microbes of God.” Rounded out with forceful sensory detail, it’s in line with Artaud’s vision of a theater that would reject such safe, traditional constructs as character and psychology in favor of action and spectacle connecting more directly to a viewer’s soul and nervous system.
To translate the radio-play script into three dimensions for Theatre Du Jour (which specializes in experimental and alternative theater), Stanley has smartly assigned the text to four principal actors — Jerry Herbilla, Jacquelyn Paulin, Rachel Reed and Annetta Dexter Sawyer — who appear in various guises over the course of the 45-minute show. At one point, for instance, Herbilla speaks in singsong intonations from atop a pedestal, fingers raised in benediction like a priest, as two of his castmates kneel ecstatically nearby. At another point, the actor becomes one of two mortarboard-wearing orators who pull at the straps that fetter two shocked listeners.
In these sequences, as throughout, the performances are competent enough to give the show an interestingly varied tone and pace. Also adding range and vigor is the now-eerie, now-moody sound design by Nate Taylor and Rob Gould. The spooky roiling-wave noise that opens the show is particularly effective.
The production also includes projections — of meat, artificial limbs, a cube-shaped apple, the aforementioned black sun and more. And one sequence unfurls as a black-and-white film, featuring Kris Roth as a prim reporter interviewing Artaud (portrayed by Stanley). The reporter might speak for us all when she exclaims, “You are raving, Mr. Artaud!”
To Have Done With the Judgement of God, by Antonin Artaud. Directed and designed by B. Stanley; sculptural costume by Stephanie Williams. About 45 minutes. $15-$20. Through May 7 at DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. Call 202-462-7833 or visit theatredujour.org or dcartscenter.org.