Theater for One at Madison Square Park: Gradiva Who Walked Through Hell and Came Back

If you happened to be in the park on Wednesday, May 30th, between 6pm and 9pm, a woman carrying a red umbrella may have approached you and asked you to follow her. This would have been one of the actors performing Gradiva Who Walked Through Hell and Came Back, a performance made specifically for Madison Square Park.

As part of our free public programs series designed around the current Mad. Sq. Art exhibition, Delirious Matter by Diana Al-Hadid, Madison Square Park Conservancy commissioned Theater for One to create a new performance.

Leaving their performance space for the first time, Theater for One’s performance was held out in the open on Mad. Sq. Park’s Oval Lawn. Parkgoers were able to sign up with volunteers on site to a waiting list and await a tap on the shoulder. Besides that, all that was advertised was that this Theater for One performance responded to Delirious Matter.

One of the sculptures in the Delirious Matter exhibition is entitled Gradiva. The story of Gradiva comes from Wilhelm Jensen’s early twentieth-century novella of the same name, which Al-Hadid drew inspiration from for her work. The protagonist of the novella, Norbert Hanold, is an archeologist fascinated with the walking pose of a bas-relief sculpture of a woman he names Gradiva, taken from Mars Gradivus, the Roman god who walked into battle. After having a dream of Gradiva walking ahead of him, then seeing someone he believes to be the same woman from his dream, Norbert embarks on a journey to try and discover whether Gradiva is real or a delusion.

Sigmund Freud later wrote one of his major Psychoanalytical essays about the psychology within the novella, in his 1908 text Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva.

Once tapped on the shoulder, taken into the outdoor room on the Oval Lawn created by Al-Hadid’s The Grotto and Gradiva, as well as the connecting hedges, the solitary audience member would stand or sit with the performer under the red umbrella. They would be told ‘Don’t worry, no one can hear us in here.’ A story would follow, as told by the character of Gradiva. In seven minutes or so, Gradiva takes you into her world of endless time and longing, and then walks away, looking back over her shoulder as she leaves.

Theater for One at Madison Square Park: Gradiva Who Walked Through Hell and Came Back

Theater for One: intimate exchanges in public spaces
Gradiva Who Walked Through Hell and Came Back
Written by Emily Schwend
Performed by Mahira Kakkar & Lauren Karaman
Directed by Srda Vasiljevic
Artistic Director: Christine Jones
Producer: Octopus Theatricals
Creative Producer: Allison Bressi
Resident Director: Srda Vasiljevic
Resident Stage Manager: Kate Wilson
Commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy