Multinational [G]rape Corporation written and directed by Ozgur Cinar, performed by Ozgur Cinar and Chara Berk. 2010.
Reviewed by: Aaron Henry
published in Alternate Routes Vol 22, 2011
“Welcome to the market time. Everything has turned into a market today ergo it is not that surprising to see urinals exhibited in museums”. Enter Multinational Grape Corporation (MGC), the play that took this year’s Ottawa Fringe Theatre and Arts festival by storm, winning the outstanding original work award. Yet the reviews of this play, for the most part, have entirely missed what is truly outstanding about it. While several reviews have praised the actors, who were indeed electrifying, or marveled over the irreverence and the spectacle of the play, none of them have discussed the meaning of this play (the exception is the review by George Rigakos). The meaning has been largely shoved aside, one reviewer even went so far as to suggest that “it defies explanation” (Marr, 2010). This is disappointing because it is in the structure of the play where Cinar’s brilliance, the play’s originality and its message lie. It is, then, the architecture of the play that needs to be given attention, if MGC is going to be reviewed for not just its spectacle but for its internal content. However, the two are necessarily interdependent.
The set of the play is austere. It features a table and two chairs upstage, a suitcase full of different props and two squares on the floor formed by red-tape labeled security. The play opens with a man and a women vomiting through a slit in the closed curtain while eating and drinking behind it, a married couple who are the key subjects of the play. The play scrolls through many different locales in capitalist society, ranging from the interior of an immigration office where the man is made to pay over and over again to gain permanent residency; a doctor’s office where tapeworms are removed from the woman -- played indomitably by Chara Berk -- where as a consequence the doctor informs her of not eating organic food; the first date between the married couple, to a scene of protest against exploitation. Each of these scenes closes with the couple’s retreat to the table. The next scene begins with the transformation of the woman, following a sound cue that imitates defecation, into an advertisement for different products and services ranging from fair-trade coffee, CDs or for a holiday vacation. Following this metamorphosis of the woman into a commodity, the couple retreats into their respective security boxes where the man, played by Cinar, attempts to commit suicide over and over again to no avail.
This structure has a number of important effects that taken together form Cinar’s critique of capitalist society - a critique that goes far beyond being merely anti-consumerist and anti-security, as other reviewers have commented on. Foremost, the play is presented as a number of instances between subjects. The thread of unity that binds these instances is not that of unified characters with a linear narrative but the existence of the market within these relations. This is perhaps epitomized by the scene where the man applies for a study permit and then a permanent residency card to integrate into Canada. This scene unfolds as primarily a monetary relationship between the man and the Canadian immigration officer who remains alienated from the man and treats him from a distance established by both the cash relationship and the sterile rationality of the bureaucracy. Similarly, on the couple’s first date the romantic evening is disrupted as the woman laments that she must “take a dump” but that they can’t afford access to a toilet. The scene sublimates the tender moment of the couple back into the market. The love between them cannot exist without the commodification of the most basic and biological human needs.
MGC produces its scenes around subjects that are produced by market relations. This forecloses on the unified character one would find in the classic plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, Wilde, Synge, etc. and substitutes this character for a fragmented subject that develops and disappears in line with the market relations that Cinar exposes. The play progresses not as a linear narrative but as a process of interaction between fragmented subjects as the man and woman transform before the audience, into police officers, immigration officials, doctors, waiters and lovers. The subjects are then formed in context to the power relations that develop within capitalist society and, as such, they develop and disappear discontinuously and through this disclose the totality of these relations. This structure conveys the message that the market has fully crept into social life, to the degree where one is at once an advertisement and a person. Living under these conditions produces a number of contradictions that constitute the insanity and hypocrisy of living in capitalist society.
Market society then, produces not only fragmented subjects but the complete fragmentation of social life. This fragmentation allows the brutality of capitalism to colonize the human condition. As Cinar laments, we get urinals next to the wonders of human history, cosmetics next to the death tolls in Afghanistan and Iraq, the marketing of vacations alongside brutal exploitation and dictatorship. Cinar reveals the societal response to this through the couples retreat to their own private security boxes, provided to them by the market. In this sense, the complete commodification of social life finds its terminal point of expression in the partitioning of our own social beings from these processes and our own feeble attempts to secure ourselves from them. The consequences MGC aptly shows is the reinforcement of our own alienation from ourselves and from each other, precisely because we all form part of capitalist society. The man, in particular, is a paragon of this reality as he attempts suicide in his own private security box to end his imprisonment from the market only to be distracted by the very processes he revolts against in disgust. His repeated failure to commit suicide is caused by his inability to see that he himself constitutes part of this market society. Cinar in fact lays this theme out quite clearly and succinctly in the opening lines when the woman declares “We are the flowers of the commercial world. We are the vomit of the commercial world”. They, like all of us, are at once both of these things, nurtured and cared for as consumers, the subjects of society and at once the objects of it - the refuse, the labourers who are exploited to constitute its existence. The tragedy and insanity is that the couple cannot recognize themselves as the subjects that constitute the processes that transform them into these wretched objects.
This is one of the central messages of MGC. The structure of the play conforms to that of capitalist society insofar as capitalist society cannot be understood through a single narrative. Instead it can only be understood under the fragmentary conditions its relations of exploitation and alienation produce. Superficially this reality appears disjointed, chaotic, and beyond explanation. However, with greater focus we see ourselves as the subjects of capitalist society that constitute these relations. Our imprisonment to the market stems from the fact that we ourselves play a part, much like the man and woman, in the exploitation and alienation that constitute capitalist society. In the end we cannot understand this reality; we have after-all “only applied for cleaner, dish-washer or waiter positions”. We don’t understand that in these positions we ourselves are both the subject and object of these processes. Cinar’s play is a scream to see outlining this insanity. As such, Cinar’s play constitutes an important critique of capitalism in Canadian society and warrants engagement by all.
Marr, Den. Fully Fringed, June 28th, 2010. www.fullyfringed.ca
Multinational Grape Corporation: A Marxist review
By: George S. Rigakos
July 20, 2010
Truly original. The performances were quite compelling and I was drawn in to what could best be described as one couple’s angst-ridden and alienating existence in a commodity-obsessed and inherently insecure world. Nonetheless, “Multinational gRape Corporation” (I still do not quite understand the meaning of the title) is a rather strange play that consists of hysterical fits of nostalgia, longing for home, crises of identity, a Kafkaesque citizenship process, campy references to mundane supermarket products and depressing images of imperial war. The play also seems as self-aware and neurotic as the characters. Cinar, for example, symbolically winks at us about his own angst when the performers contemplate entertainment versus art and even getting the play funded. They even ask the audience to hold on to a roll of toilet paper. How symbolic. I don’t believe there can be a more transparent act of self-loathing than a writer who prepares us for the possibility he is about to offer us shit. He succeeds in the best way possible. Cinar masterfully helps us see how a society of so much crap can weigh down the psyches of ordinary people. The more self-aware they are the more tragic their existence. I must admit also that I was never sure of any overarching or linear progression in the play but each miniature crisis of insecurity, each fetishistic obsession about what to eat, where to vacation, and just how to live authentically often mirrored the quite familiar, deep-seeded neuroses of many leftists that I know. Indeed, I was quite surprised by the number of times I found myself smiling and nodding in familiarity throughout some of the most maddening sequences. In the end, such a connection was made possible by performances that were committed, electric, and deeply personal.
by Tim Oberholzer
June 26, 2010
When I finally started coming down out of my brush-with-fame-haze, it was time for lights down on MULTINATIONAL GRAPE CORPORATIONS, and…holy shit, where do I start? From the clearly and beautifully demented Negative Theatre, gRape is a theatrical punch to the face, a nitro-fueled hybrid of anti-corporate rebellion, Pasolini, and You Can’t Do That on Television. Stars Chara Berk and writer/Director Ozgur Cinar come across as wild-eyed prophets, some weird mutants genetically bred specifically to be in this production. Replete with topical video imagery, slapstick, oddball situations and the occasional bout of the scatological ( a first for me at Fringe..!), gRape sometimes treads the border between theatre, and the sort of overwrought and overindulgent works parodied in THE LAST GODDAMNED PERFORMANCE PIECE , but it treads it well. Delightfully absurd, and strikingly intelligent beneath all that bluster, I can honestly say I’m very glad I saw this one.
MULTINATIONAL GRAPE CORPORATIONS, european-style guerilla theatre at its most insane.
by Andrew Snowdon
March 1, 2011
I am so overjoyed that multinational gRape corporations got nominated. I can feel the toilet-paper bouquet as clearly as the day I caught it; I kid you not, I dreamt of it the other night.
Multinational gRape Corporations at the Ottawa Fringe Festival
June 28, 2010
Ozgur Cinar, you had me at ‘ alternating screaming, vomiting heads protrude and retreat in rapid succession from within a giant fabric vagina’.
I have to say, in the lead-up to the Ottawa Fringe festival, once or twice during the rehearsal process for ‘Dentity Crisis, I had occasion to wonder if perhaps it might be a little too weird and absurdist to be appreciated by our fringe audiences. …And then I saw Multinational gRape Corporations. Needless to say, I was no longer worried about being the weirdest show at the festival.
I was a little tentative at first to admit that I loved this show, lest it confirm peoples suspicions that I am, in fact, a crack-smoking lunatic, but I have to admit, it was my favourite show at this year’s festival. Of all of the plays I took in this year, it was the only one that so completely engaged my complete attention throughout that I never once had the nagging compulsion to check the time on my cell phone. That’s a big deal to me, because it practically never happens at the theatre in my experience.
Say what you will about that show, it’s strangely compelling in its bizarreness, and in my opinion it was thoroughly entertaining. Critics of the show that I have spoken with since, have suggested that perhaps the true entertainment value of the show comes at the expense of the playwright’s intention, that we are amused at it, rather than with it and that that somehow makes it bad theatre. But I respectfully disagree. I think it’s a mistake to assume an author’s intention, and then judge the effectiveness of the performance by that assumption. Sure Ozgur might have been trying to make a grand political statement with his work that never quite got effectively communicated, drown out by the sheer madness of the performance, or perhaps instead he just wanted to create performance art that would transfix the audience for 50 min by throwing everything he had against the wall, in the hopes that in the end, something…anything… might stick and resonate with the audience. Who knows, and really, who cares. At the end of the day, if you can somehow manage to fuse art and entertainment in a way that effectively captures the audience’s attention for an hour, that makes you pretty brilliant in my book.
Although, I’ve never really subscribed to the idea of competitive theatre and as such never really bought into the concept of theatre awards (although I am pleased to report MGC was recognized by winning best outstanding original work), I’m a little sad that while the Fringe honours productions with awards, they stop short of honoring individual artistic achievement with ‘Best Actor’ awards, because performer Chara Berk had that one completely in the bag in my opinion. I, like most egotistical actors, have those moments where I watch a performance and think ‘I could totally play that role’, but I have to give serious props to Chara, because as a performer, I never could have pulled that show off. I mean in the 15 years I’ve been performing, I’ve been asked to do some weird and challenging stuff in the name of art, but seriously…c’mon. I think for every actor, no matter how diligent and professional, there comes a point where your commitment to weird material is going to become a little strained, and I can’t say for sure but I think somewhere between having tapeworms pulled out of my ass, and taking a simulated dump on stage I’d have probably just thanked Ozgur politely, called it a show and headed straight for the beer tent. But she did it all, with complete and utter conviction, and against all odds became my personal coffee-soaked, cucumber-eating, poo-smeared heroine. (And on a related note… I must admit that seeing MGC may just have affected my consumerist behaviour after all, as I’ll probably never want to buy Chocolate pudding or shoe laces ever again.)