This … the day’s deep midnight is.
–– John Donne, “Nocturne Upon St. Lucy’s Day”
Nocturne Upon St. Lucy’s Day, a video-installation project, belongs to that severe reduction of the theatrical event I call Cabinet Theater, where the unconscious drama in which we are both spectators and actors can be enacted. Its narratives are no more than the residue of larger dramas whose plots and dramatis personae are reduced to essentials – the requisites of theater: a space consecrated to an event made meaningful by the space itself and its power to evoke in an audience sensations and thoughts regardless of how inchoate or inconsequent. Here, the implicit narrative is John Donne’s elegy on lost love; its nihilism, the somber cast given the installation’s three spectral images. The spectator may remain happily ignorant of Donne’s metaphysical poem, for the piece is not programmatic or overtly symbolic.
Duration and Character of the Spectacle:
Nocturne Upon St. Lucy’s Day may be thought of as a landscape without precedent, existing nowhere but in this, its enactment. Its mystery, then, inheres in its own performance, like a rite or ritual whose meaning has been lost – or as in Rauschenberg’s Rebus, which seems to us a kind of language poetry insusceptible to translation or interpretation. Time – its potential indeterminacy and often mysterious quality – is an essential aspect of the work. Its measure is slow, but without the glacial slowness of an early Robert Wilson opera.
A room emptied of light. The ceiling and floor are black. Black, also, are the three walls of what can be thought of as an intimate theater. A proscenium arch may frame the action unfolding inside the theatrical space. Entering the blacked-out installation site, spectators stand or sit outside the fourth wall, or the proscenium arch if there is one, accommodating their eyes to the dark. The spectators view each of the three acts in turn.
Each act consists of an object joined to a moving-image ( piano/waterfall,  floor/pool of water with moon,  wrought iron bench/woman sitting on bench, reading a book.)
Downstage right, against the rear wall, is a piano. The piano is old and shows signs of hard use. The piano is made visible in the darkness by a diffused white light.
A moving image of a waterfall is projected onto the rear wall, so that water appears to cascade – in slow motion – down onto the piano and its keyboard.
We hear a tone cluster in the lower register, persisting as if by sostenuto pedal throughout the act, dampening gradually to silence. The silence persists until the blackout, when the sound of machinery (described below) will be softly heard.
The moving image of a pool of water projected onto the floor downstage of the piano. The pool is roughly circular. The water, which might be the sea, is nearly black – disturbed by an unheard wind raking its impenetrable surface in a direction contrary to the moon’s. The water in its darkness is scarcely distinguishable from the floor.
After the water image has established itself, we watch the image of the moon at the full swim across the black pool from stage right to left – its passage, measured and majestic. The moon will disappear at the water’s far edge in the same gradual way that it appeared. The moving image of the water – almost beneath notice within the space’s darkness – will persist for a time after the moon has vanished from sight.
Noise of machinery, first heard in the blackout following Act 1, accompanies the moon’s slow transit across the surface of the water. A groaning or rumbling as might be made by something ponderously dragged or hauled (as if the moon’s facsimile were being drawn on an invisible wire across the stage during a Goldoni play). Neither strident nor musical, the noise will diminish to silence with the vanishing of the moon. The silence persists until the blackout when the sound of wind (described below) will be softly heard.
Downstage left, a garden bench is disclosed by a diffused white light. The bench, gray and of ornately wrought iron.
The ghostly image of a woman, who may be the martyred St. Lucy whose chief attribute is light or else the Lucy of Donne’s poem, is projected onto a scrim so that she appears to be sitting on the bench, though she is not so substantial as it. She is dressed plainly in a gray gown. She holds a book whose pages are turned slowly as if by an unseen hand, or by the wind whose sound is heard. The book is antique and beautifully bound. Should we be able to see its pages, their typography is florid. Although legible, nothing of what is seen can be read. Among the turning pages of illegible text are illuminations and wood-cut illustrations of the human eye. She looks, not at the book, but slightly above as someone might who is blind.
The wind, which has continued from the blackout following the second act, will strengthen although never more forcefully than what might agitate leaves or the surface of a pool of water. Its source a mystery, the wind will be manifested by the turning of the pages of the woman’s book. Their turning is not fitful, however, but deliberate.
(Blackout and Silence.)
Norman Lock’s newest book is Love Among the Particles, stories published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York City. His newest play, The Monster in Winter, has just been translated into German by Per Lauke Verlag. His newest radio drama, Mounting Panic, was recently produced in Germany by WDR. Lock won The Paris Review’s Aga Kahn Prize (1979) and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2009), the New Jersey Council on the Art (1999, 2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2011). His work has been translated into Dutch, German, Turkish, Japanese, and Spanish. He lives in the U.S.