Laying bare the story of inequality
The effect of the black-face makeup is electric - help, we remember this person from the front of our Golly marmalade jars and ice-creams. The device brilliantly destabilises our sense of our own justice when it comes to race. Actress Kate Valk, for the famous New York Wooster Group, pushes the device further by using a vaudeville negro dialect - a dese and dose patois with, at least in Eugene O'Neill's script, astonishing Irish inflections.
From behind this mask she constructs the character of Brutus Jones, a black train porter who has killed a white man and has fled to a Caribbean island. Here he becomes a despotic "emperor". But the natives rise up against him, pushing him deep into a physical and psychological "heart of darkness" in the jungle.
The tragic near impossibility of escaping fate if you start off black in America - or, one might add, Catholic and from a west Belfast ghetto at least until recently in Northern Ireland - is laid bare. Beaten home to the throbs of a rap-influenced soundtrack, a sense of the fragility of any counter-empire within an empire is obvious. The black-face, the sound track, the stylished Kabuki moves and a blinking video of out-takes from the actors' performances intensify the artifice of Elizabeth Le Compte's production, drumming home the sense that this old story can be acted out anywhere at any time and by any cast as long as inequality is rife. Kate Valk's performance is a tour de force except for occasional lapses in audibility and Willem Dafoe plays her Cockney side-kick, the white mask to her black one with thrillingly ominous intensity.
Runs until Tuesday. To book phone Belfast 665577.