Walker Art Center could have had a warning sign at the door for the kickoff work in its annual Out There series of experimental shows: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
For Rabih Mroué’s “Borborygmus,” a Walker commission that premiered Friday in Minneapolis, feels like a figurative self-immolation dressed up cleverly as experimental theater. The Berlin-based Lebanese auteur torches not just any sliver of hope one has going in, but the notion that there’s a future to look forward to. It’s bleak enough to make at least one person look for an exit.
Named for the medical term for rumbling that happens when gas passes through the intestines, “Borborygmus” is suffused with text and metaphors about digestion. War consumes peace and people consume one another, both in love and violence, as the show builds into its relentless litany.
While it’s the grimmest of Mroué’s works that Twin Citians have had a chance to see, “Borborygmus” is not unique, thematically.
Mroué creates art — he also does videos and installations, and some of his other work is up elsewhere at the Walker — informed by the trauma, violence and dislocation of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Like millions of his countrymen, he was affected deeply and personally. (His father fell to an assassin’s bullet.)
His previous shows in the Twin Cities — 2012’s “Looking for a Missing Employee” and 2016’s “Riding on a Cloud” — were laden with the weight of that history. And some Twin Citians (including this critic), rapped him last time because “Cloud,” which he performed with his brother, lost its vigor as he sought a folksy, happy ending.
No one would accuse “Borborygmus” of petering out.
The show is told with simple and inventive theatricality. The stage is bare save for a folding table, three mic stands and a lighted row of communion-sized cups filled with red liquid.
As the action starts. Mroué and two collaborators — Lina Majdalanie and Mazen Kerbaj, fellow Beirut-bred artists now also living in Berlin — sit at a table.
Majdalanie, in the middle, starts a small, ticktock device, then puts a microphone up to it. Kerbaj and Mroué each follow with their own devices and mics. The amplified matronymic devices sound like galloping horses, a clever, sound-play foreshadowing of martial themes in the show.
The performers deliver in Arabic (the show has English surtitles). They do a suite of eulogies. They offer cheers as they drink from communion-size cups. And Mroué tunes and literally shreds an acoustic guitar.
That act is appropriate for his dystopian immersion, which makes for a queasy stomach.
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