Cecile Rossant
C. Rossant, photo: Elvira Glück, 2004

In the opening scene of Cleansing the Senses, Main Street, we are drawn into the concrete reality of Peter Rose's life, complete with specific dates and places - California, New York, Berlin - that will figure in the ensuing scenes. The year is 1989, the place: Santa Monica, California. Rose is poised for a zenith of success in his performance work. His hit play, Berlin Zoo, is revived in a Santa Monica theater and the play's fantasy of bringing down the Berlin Wall has become reality. Too busy celebrating his new notoriety, Rose, diagnosed bi-polar, defiantly refuses to take his lithium.

This entire scene is played with a steady intensity buoyed by a self-deprecating humor that awakens the audience to Rose's plight as he enters into an ascending and descending spiral. Penniless and jobless, shunned by friends and his lover, Rose manages by innate charm to care for his daily needs aided by a handful of odd angels scattered across his daily beat up and down Main Street. There's Dave at the Rose Café who buys the actor his daily coffee and muffin, and the cocaine-snorting waitresses at the Firehouse Restaurant who "always had a blueberry pancake to throw my way". There is also L.A.'s first female rabbi, Naomi Levy, who confirms Rose's standing as a prominent local actor by asking him to read the Talmud blessing. Rose performs the blessing with a deeply resonant voice; following the actual service he nourishes himself further with the Sabbath Buffet.

Is Rose's nomadic existence viable? He refuses to think of himself as homeless, taking great pains not to be in those parts of the city frequented by the real homeless. Perhaps most importantly, wherever he goes along his route, he performs: he insists on an intimate relation to place and people. This task demands conviction about his artistic power. And although Rose must be continually on the move to avoid recognizing his own homelessness he challenges himself to engage actively with the ever-changing set: the world is a stage and Rose never stops investing himself in his calling as an actor.

In this autobiographical scene we bear witness to the tension between Rose's work as an artist and his unavoidable task of steering through the roller-coaster ride of a manic episode. In the last part of Main Street, Brian, a producer who wants to stage Berlin Zoo on television, approaches Rose. The offer is gold but, as Rose soon finds out, the conditions for the gig are uncompromisingly strict. Rose must begin taking his medication and remain, if not literally imprisoned, at the very least under the producer's watchful eye. The dilemma he faces becomes painfully apparent. In order for Rose to present his work on the theater stage commonly understood as such by society, he must accept the confinement and conditions of being "an artist in residence" as others define it. He must give up his nomadic life and accept enclosure, circumspection, and in some sense surveillance.

It is telling that this scene flows directly into a scene in the California desert where Rose is both embraced and embraces the landscape's wild openness. He experiences a mystical communion with the desert's animals and flora, listening to and allowing himself to be the vessel for their voice and movement. As we shall see, this theme of communion with the beast resurfaces later.

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