Fond Pageant – New Theatre – Review by Diana Perez
Fond Pageant by Daniel Reardon
Having arrived at The New Theatre for Daniel Reardon’s Fond Pageant with a few minutes to spare before doors open, I take the opportunity to flick through the pages of his own volume of poetry of the same name on sale at the bookshop. It alternates his poems with full page illustrations of works of art in vivid colour, suggesting the importance of painting in Reardon’s life. It is not unusual for poets to engage with visual artists and their work. In their own way, both poetry and art vindicate the power of the instant and, of all literary genres, poetry is arguably the one that most depends on the impact of the images it conjures up. It is often said that poets paint with words and, as if to prove the affinity, some poets have been painters of note, Elizabeth Bishop comes to mind here; and if you are looking for an example in the opposite direction, look no further than Michelangelo. Daniel Reardon’s piece takes this long-standing relationship between poetry and painting to the stage aiming to celebrate “the redemptive and healing powers of art”.
Following this premise, Reardon has articulated his piece around a series of tableaus that take the audience through various moments in this actor, poet, playwright, and theatre director’s life. Each vignette unfolds to reveal a poem, nimbly and vividly performed by Reardon, and most of the poems are married to a work of art, starkly displayed at the back of the stage as if crowning each moment. Photographs, in this instance possessing more personal than artistic worth, are occasionally displayed when the poem at the centre of each scene requires it. The stage is bare, with the exception of a wooden table and chair, and music sparsely punctuates the piece, which opens with Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Reardon, the only player for the duration of the piece, enters the stage barefoot and in pyjamas partially covered with a suit jacket and holding a green bag where we can read “patient’s belongings” in black lettering. Presiding the stage at the opening is Fuseli’s “Titania and Bottom”, a large canvas displaying the characters in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a nod to Reardon’s connection with the theatre as well as an arresting pictorial composition in its own right. Shortly after, other works of art will flicker in quick succession before our eyes, to later become backdrops to Reardon’s parade of poetic memories and anecdotes.
Although at the beginning of the piece our eyes are on the string of worthy art works that fly before them, they should be on the modest hospital bag the actor carries in his hand. For when Reardon finally speaks he takes us to the scene of the epileptic seizure he suffered while attending the opening night of Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre a few years ago (“there were two doctors in the audience, and two members of the cast of The Clinic”, he quips), a seizure starkly summed up by a consultant as “something that can happen given your age and history of substance abuse.” The same consultant, he tells us, prescribed “Epilem Sodium Valproate” a drug that comes with its own ghastly pageant of side effects, starting with tremors and unbalance and ending with memory loss. This experience frames the piece and thus inevitably suggests that Fond Pageant will grapple with its author’s fragility and vulnerability and, by extension, with the fragility and vulnerability of memory. Not so, however, as Reardon releases his pageant of fond memories and beautiful paintings in a series of vividly performed vignettes, belying the motivation for the piece suggested in the opening scene.
Unfortunately, in spite of the promise of its opening moments and although Reardon’s poems pack a fair share of punchy lines and strongly rendered voices and his performance is assured and committed, Fond Pageant does not fully succeed as a dramatic piece. Reardon’s parade of images and poems eventually becomes predictable and, in essence, static. This is a structural problem that not even his strengths as a performer can repair. Drama rests on conflict or, at the very least, dialogue. Although he valiantly attempts to create this necessary ingredient through a “colloquium” between art and poetry and between art and life, the conversation never fully materialises. Thus the piece is at its strongest where art is replaced with personal photography or a plain back drop that allow us to hear the vivid voices and well woven stories in the poems. A set piece centring on his excitement watching his boxing champion son-in-law beat a fearsome Russian boxer in Las Vegas surrounded by gangster molls “perfumed to beyond a state of knock out” is one of such moments. Another vignette takes us to his childhood in New York, where the well-rounded and distinctive voices of father and son walking to Coney Island that he conjures up in his writing are not overshadowed by the force of a pictorial masterwork.
After Fond Pageant has finished I find myself at the bookshop flicking through Reardon’s volume of poetry again: there, once more, I find the poems he has brought to life on stage and the images that inspired them. Reardon courageously attempts a new way to enliven the performance of poetry. There are admirable moments in his piece but looking at his collection of poems once more I realise that the interplay between art and poetry that will enhance a reader’s reflective contemplation of his poems ultimately works against the dialogue that Reardon wishes to establish on stage: both pictures and poems are striking but they clamour for our attention and at times end up silencing one another.
Running time: 1 hour approx. with no interval
Actor/Writer: Daniel Reardon
Directorial Consultant: Aoife Spillane-Hinks
Dramaturg: Hanna Slattne
Stage Manager: Shannon Cowan
Graphic Design: Leanne Willars
Photography: Ros Kavanagh