A play by Carl Djerassi
Andy Jordan Productions
World premiere at The New End Theatre, Hampstead, London
6 April to 14 May 2005
Reviewed by Lionel Milgrom
As it might imply, a leitmotiv of Carl Djerassi’s latest play Phallacy hinges on the male member. But Oh! Calcutta, this isn’t. The member in question is attached to a revered, supposedly Roman bronze statue, belonging to a prestigious Viennese museum. Trouble is, modern chemical analysis shows the statue to be 1400 years younger: a Renaissance copy of a Roman original. This puts the reputations of the museum and art historian (who dated the statue), in serious jeopardy.
Thus, the scene is set for a titanic clash of egos: in the red corner, scientist and his certainty in chemical analysis; in the blue, art-historian who, though rattled by the scientific evidence, is determined to prove it has little bearing on ’truth’ and ’beauty’; concepts no lowly scientist would ever hope to comprehend.
This is another of the play’s leitmotivs - do the nickel contents of particular bronzes (used in dating them precisely) really detract from the statue’s intrinsic worth as an art object? The clash of egos has ’objectivity’ reeling, as scientist and art historian go to any lengths to protect their favourite hypotheses.
To salvage her pride and some of her reputation, the art historian sets out to uncover evidence of the statue’s original Roman provenance (buried, supposedly, somewhere in Spain). Hearing this, the scientist decides to fake the missing masterpiece by fabricating part of the statue’s bronze torso (with aforementioned ’member’) in such a way as would fool the most exacting chemical analysis.
But there is one crucial difference: penises of the faked original and Renaissance copy dangle at slightly different angles! In her rush to proclaim it as genuine, the art historian misses the obvious. Djerassi’s point is clear: you don’t always need high-tech science to demonstrate the phallacies of others’ arguments.
This is gripping, intelligent theatre from Carl Djerassi; man of letters, and inventor of the contraceptive pill. An ?migr? to the US from his native Austria after the Nazi’s annexation of Austria, in 2004 the Austrian government offered Djerassi back his citizenship. Set in modern-day Vienna, Djerassi’s play Phallacy is his reconciliatory response.
lPlease note that, following its
run at The New End Theatre, Phallacy will move to the King’s Head in Islington, London, UK, for a season running from 17 May to 12 June 2005.