In 2014, Justin Limoli’s debut play, Bloodletting in Minor Scales [A Canvas in Arms.] was published by Plays Inverse Press. More recently, On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps [A Chthonic Song.], the sequel to Bloodletting in Minor Scales was released. It is important to note that although it is a sequel, On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps can be read as a stand alone play. Both plays are a series of poems structured in scenes. Limoli introduces his experimental style to readers in Bloodletting and continues to break the rules set by both poetry and plays in On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps. The result is a play for the Impossible Theatre, a sad, absurd exploration into the lives of Justin and his family.
Bloodletting in Minor Scales centers around the character Justin who grieves over his mother’s attempted suicide, while On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps is a response to that play, setting Justin on a journey through hell in search of his brother, Jason. On his journey, Justin meets a barrage of characters: Dante, Charon, Freud, Chair, The Can, Carpe Diem, and Devil to name a few. These characters help Justin as he struggles to understand his mother’s actions and where the blame lies. Limoli’s plays can be thought of as a question and answer. Bloodletting in Minor Scales asks how one grieves in the wake of tragedy. On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps answers by plunging Justin into the depths hell to come to terms with his past and family relationships.
One cannot help but think of Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre and its Double or Martin Esslin’s The Theatre of the Absurd, or Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto when reading Limoli’s plays. However, Limoli writes theatre that, at times, runs perpendicular to the ideas of Artaud, Esslin, and Breton. Both Bloodletting in Minor Scales and On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps feel steeped in the verse poetry, tragedy, and comedy of ancient Greek theatre. Limoli has a clear understanding of these traditional aspects of poetry and theatre which allows him manipulate form and expectations.
Limoli’s work is surreal, avant-garde, confessional, and poetic, challenging the reader to examine their own past and family relationships. Many of the images painted in scenes are nearly impossible to fully grasp. The reader is asked to engage with the text by deciphering the abstract images. This allows the reader to reflect and drift into their own memories. In those moments, the reader understands the love Justin has for his family. For Justin, sometimes love feels like hate and understanding feels like blame.
Many readers of realism, especially those saturated realist theatre, will be turned off by Limoli’s verse plays because of their abstract, poetic form. These plays are not for them; however, they should be. Much of Limoli’s work is like Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, with the exception that Limoli’s plays work as completed pieces. Think of Limoli’s work as a Text of Cruelty. These plays need to be read and read again. With each revisit, the reader will find something new, a connection of repetition that provides a deeper understanding.
Limoli’s plays are an experience.
On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps [A Chthonic Song.] is the flatted 9 over the unfinished chord of Bloodletting in Minor Scales. It evokes just as much, if not more emotion. In the end, On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps completes the chord – eerie, dissonant, and haunting. And while Bloodletting in Minor Scales, questions the struggle of grief and understanding in the wake of suicide, On Romulus, While Abel Sleeps is the echo readers need.
Daniel Breithaupt is a musician and writer from Shreveport, Louisiana. He is pursuing a PhD in Literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His research and writing focuses on theatre. Currently, Daniel Breithaupt is working with The Milena Theatre Group.