San Francisco’s Project Artaud arts complex is named after Antonin Artaud, a poet and theater visionary whose tragic life is the subject of Terry Allen’s “Ghost Ship Rodez,” onstage this weekend at Artaud’s Z Space.
Allen, a musician, writer and visual artist, calls the piece “an intense dramatic and visual experience with live music” and “a staged poem.”
Not a documentary, but a “fictional investigation into Artaud’s haunted world and mind,” the work deals with the 20th-century French poet’s violent and traumatic life, and his opium addiction and clinical depression, which culminated in years of confinement in insane asylums and electroshock treatments.
Artaud’s view from within: “It’s so beautiful here and so absolutely uncontrollable.”
“Ghost Ship Rodez” describes the delusional Artaud’s 17-day journey on a freighter from Ireland to France, after being jailed and deported after a violent confrontation with Dublin police. Due to his deteriorating mental state, on the voyage he was straitjacketed and chained to a metal cot in the ship’s hold.
During his life, from 1896 to 1948, Artaud wrote poetry and plays that included formerly exotic elements from Balinese theater and indigenous Mexican legends, and his book “The Theater and Its Double” had a great impact on contemporary performance and art. (One of Artaud’s acting career highlights was playing Marat in Abel Gance’s 1927 silent epic film “Napoleon,” which recently screened in Oakland.)
In “Ghost Ship Rodez,” Allen’s wife and longtime collaborator, Jo Harvey Allen, plays a character called Daughter of the Heart to Be Born, which, Terry says, is what Artaud called all of the important women in his life.
The character, Terry Allen adds, is a “clairvoyant chameleon, who shifts and tells stories in multiple personas, one being Artaud himself.”
If that sounds ambiguous, consider how Artaud himself described communication: “All true language is incomprehensible, like the chatter of a beggar’s teeth.”
“Ghost Ship Rodez” exemplifies the Allens’ interest in investigating history, memory, fiction and how stories are told. The couple has a long history in The City’s theater and art community, exhibiting and performing together and separately.
Among their works previously presented by Theater Artaud are “Do You Know WHAT Your Children Are Tonight,” written and performed by the couple and their two sons, Bukka and Bale; and composer Paul Dresher’s opera “Pioneer,” co-written and performed by the Allens and Rinde Eckert.
IF YOU GO
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $35
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.zspace.org