“Dusk” by Christiane Jatahy at the Edinburgh International Festival

Maggie Rose in Edinburgh
8 August 2023

Christiane Jatahy’s Dusk (original title Between Dog and Wolf) based on the film Dogville by Lars Von Trier ran at the Lyceum Theatre as part of Edinburgh’s International Festival.

This is the first part in what the Brazilian director, author and deviser has defined as “a trilogy of horror” in which she explores themes relating to fascism, male chauvinism and racism. The other two titles are Before the Sky Falls which links Shakespeare’s Macbeth to The Falling Sky by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, and Depois do silêncio which is adapted from Torto Arado’s book.

The present play is not a remake of the Von Trier film but rather an exploration of some of its themes. Onstage, as the action opens, a community of theatre artists are in the throes of staging Dogville and in so doing delve into the question of to what extent society is tolerant of the Other.

Downstage, a live camera films some of the action while high above the performance area a large screen shows pre-recorded scenes which continually challenge audience members’ perceptions of what is ‘real’ and what is fictive, highlighting, through the dual focus, that there is no absolute truth.

Kick-starting the action is the arrival of a dishevelled young woman, called Graca who emerges from a seat in the stalls. She declares herself a refugee in flight from oppression and censorship in Brazil, so prompting the performers to debate whether or not to take her into their community. They vote and duly admit her, a decision which is followed by a string of events that unfold in quick succession. This sequence includes the erosion of their trust in the newcomer, the mounting tension she causes and her expulsion when reason and justice seem to have flown out of the window.

A fraught dialogue between Graca and a young man with whom she has had a brief relationship is followed by a very different scene showing her expulsion, this time unfolding on the large screen. We are shown Graca, lying on her back in an open cart, surrounded by apples, while a member of the group tries to rape her. This situation is abruptly cut short by an order from another member of the community. This character, a blind Tiresias-like figure, shows himself capable of more empathy than the others, supporting Graca through adversities and offering a sliver of hope at the end of the play in contrast with the much darker ending of Dogville.

In a final monologue – Graca insists on delivering this in her native Portuguese – she denounces the dire political situation in her country which escalated in 2018 when far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro come to power.

Jatahy’s deeply political but at the same time poetic work sensitively captures our contradictions and ambiguities when faced with situations where democracy is under threat. In a world where every day a shift towards the political right seems to manifest itself, Jatahy’s unique brand of theatre and film becomes all the more relevant. See my review on this website of The Lingering Now Our Odyssey II which featured at the 2022 Venice Biennale when Jatahy was recipient of the Golden Lion Award.