Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Meditate on Dying"

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Death Takes A Holiday

A Review by Beverly Creasey

Performance art, from my experience, tends to be extremely personal, often confessional, and always long. Joel Gluck's performance piece called "Meditate on Dying" isn't really a meditation. It's Gluck's personal story of his own search for meaning in life --- through the study of death.

What's remarkable about the piece Gluck's revelation that he's managed to live in this dangerous world without ever experiencing it firsthand. He says, most disappointedly "death has never touched me personally."

He visits morgues in his pursuit of "a death experience" ... he haunts funeral parlors for a glimpse of the corpse ... he tape records the bereaved. He yearns, he tells us, to observe the dying in hospice, but "privacy laws" forbid it. He studies The Tibetan Book of The Dead. He meditates.

And he performs this "ritual" piece about "Awareness of death." Yet he seems totally unaware of the world around him. I am truly amazed. I did not think it possible, in this time of AIDS, not to have lost scores of friends to the disease; it's what sets our generation apart from other generations --- we know at much too young an age what death looks like, sounds like, feels like.

Gluck's imperative title --- "Meditate on Dying" --- implies the audience, seated in a circle group-encounter style, will learn about death and dying, but we don't. We learn instead all about Gluck's obsession ... which might have been funny (a la Woody Allen) or enlightening ("Angels in America") or searingly real (" 'Night Mother").

Although Gluck shares the lessons he has gleaned from Buddhist practice --- which espouses "letting go" of one's fears and preoccupations with death --- what I focused on solely was Gluck's extraordinary preoccupation. No emotion. No compassion. Just Obsession. If only he had told us why --- now, That would have made compelling theater!

"Meditate on Dying" (till 30 May)
56 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide