“Dämon, the funeral of Bergman,” a crude homage to the film director, is “pornography of the soul”

By Lucy Komisar

The Court of Honor is the interior square of the gorgeous Palace of the Popes in Avignon, residence of nine popes from 1305 to 1429 and the most important gothic palace in Europe. It was a residence, place of worship, fortress and administrative city. The hotel where I was staying had a whiteboard for guests’ comments. One scribbled in fury that “Dämon, the funeral of Bergman,” staged there this month was sacrilege. In fact, the Palais is not run by the Church; after the revolution, in 1791 it was taken over by the French National Assembly, which the hotel critic might have considered an earlier sacrilege.

Angélica Liddell, photo Alberto Garcia-Alix.

His anger is directed at the Spanish theater figure Angélica Liddell, the playwright, director and main performer of Dämon (demons). She says she channels Swedish filmmaker Inmar Bergman, who wrote the script for his funeral as if it were his final masterpiece. That the play is about peoples’ buried fantasies and unspoken terror, with the final demon Vanity, and that the scenes she creates show “the pornography of the soul.” She acknowledges some scenes may offend, which is putting it mildly.

Playwrights like to say what their plays are about, but the audience should be able to get it without directions. The play is said to be about Bergman but one might read it as more about the demons of the writer-performer. It is an often-scatological attack on men in the theater and especially her named critics.

Liddell declaiming, peignoir flying, photo Christophe Raynaud de Lage/ Festival d’Avignon.

The backdrop is the gorgeous high palace brick wall with its classic arches. Liddell also created the set and costumes. At the wall are urinal, toilet, pitcher, and sink.

For a long first part of the two-hour play, she marches back and forth declaiming, as her white peignoir swings open revealing her uncovered privates. She pulls the toilet forward and sits on it, with her bare rear to the audience as she washes her genitals. Then she throws the water against the wall.

On the stage on either side are rows of wheelchairs. A white-robed figure is a pope. A midget has a surreal ghoulish white face. The music is pop.

The Pope, the men in suits and Liddell with figures at or near death, photo Christophe Raynaud de Lage/ Festival d’Avignon.

Focusing on the theme of death, Liddell asks, “When I die will you take my coffin to my grave?” Not clear who she was addressing. There are several men in black suits. She declaims, “My stupid critics.” She names the prominent writers who have attacked her. “I will sit on their graves.” Or did she say “spit”? (Liddell spoke in Spanish. French and English superscripts were projected on the wall.)

She says, “One at a time you are good, together you’re clowns.”  She accuses them of sexual humiliation, torture. The personal attacks got a lot of attention in the European press where the critics are based. I sympathize with the critics.

Then she puts on a white dress to cover her nudity. Not clear why, but maybe exposing her privates was getting boring. I thought, “What has this to do with Bergman?”

Old people in wheel chairs representing coming death, photo Christophe Raynaud de Lage/ Festival d’Avignon.

She proclaimed, “Do you want artists or funding of a heritage site?” The Palace of the Popes is a UN world heritage site. It’s not clear that she is the alternative. Some in the audience walked out.

As an actor, Liddell is powerful, shouting, inveighing, demanding. About death, she declares, “Don’t you know you are next?”

Old people come out and go to wheelchairs. They are from the National Theater of Sweden. A couple are nude. (I thought, but it is a chilly night!) Black-suited men (the critics) and a red-faced clown push the chairs around the stage. Just when you think there’s nothing left to shock, two men appear at a high window in the wall, one puts his naked rear to the audience and defecates (something drops), the other masturbates.

Four of the black suits/critics disrobe, two showing rears, two penises. Young women disrobe. This is meant to represent life and death or rather sex and death. Naked women carry a pine coffin. The men in black eat apples. Maybe Liddell has something to say about death if she means to say it is crude, vulgar, nasty, like her play.

Liddell pushed on gurney, note the red clown nose, photo Christophe Raynaud de Lage/ Festival d’Avignon.

A Swede speaking in Swedish reads a psalm, but that is drowned out by the piped sounds of planes overhead. The midget arrives with a red rose, followed by a nude woman. In a rare moment of true artistry, a woman (Laura Meilland) plays the cello. Then that is drowned out by electronic noise.

Again Liddell attacks her tormentors, declaring with some satisfaction, “Many critics will have died in 20 years.”

This play which she claims is inspired by Bergman is really all about her. Attacking critics is not art. A play that depends on shock nudity is not art. She concludes that she will put a bullet through her head. I think she did that, metaphorically, at the start.

Dämon, the Funeral of Bergman.” Written and directed by Angélica Liddell. La Cour d’honneur, Palais des Papes, Avignon. 2 hours. June 29 to July 5, 2024. Key cast Ahimsa, Yuri Ananiev, Nicolas Chevallier, Guillaume Costanza, Electra Hallman, Elin Klinga, Angélica Liddell, Borja López, Sindo Puche, Daniel Richard, Joel Valois. The roles they play are not provided. Festival of Avignon.

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