(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/21.)
The first time you hear the rumble in “Jerusalem,” the magnificent play by Jez Butterworth, you don’t think that it’s just a good sound effect or a subway passing beneath. A thundery whisper, like a premonition of earthquakes, fills the air every time someone looks deep, but really deep, into the eyes of Johnny Byron. And since Johnny Byron is portrayed by Mark Rylance, in a seismic performance that threatens to level the old Music Box Theater, this registers as utterly natural cause and effect.
Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? I mean, the idea of someone making the earth move when you look into his eyes is the sort of notion you find in cheap romance novels or a sci-fi comic book. And Mr. Rylance’s character in “Jerusalem,” which opened on Thursday night in an enthralling production directed by Ian Rickson, seems on first acquaintance like a pretty sad joke himself: a boastful wreck of a man held together by drugs and drink, existing as a 24-hour party guy in a squalid mobile home in the English countryside.
Spend some time on the upper Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the forty-six-year-old Stephen Adly Guirgis grew up, the son of an Irish mother and an Egyptian father, and you can still hear the notes in the scale of his theatrical repertoire: black, Jewish, and Latino voices that meet and crash and land on the predatory streets that his characters sometimes stalk far into the night, in search of a little coke, perhaps, or some Chicken McNuggets. Although Guirgis’s scripts are short on detail when it comes to the spaces his characters inhabit, you can picture them from the way the characters talk and express—or don’t express—their aspirations. Guirgis, a brilliant comedic talent—who began his stage career at the LAByrinth Theatre Company, where Philip Seymour Hoffman, a co-founder, directed his early work with great compassion—also has an original and knowing take on class, particularly as it plays out among the bottom-of-the-barrel working-class poor, who are virtually invisible to the wealthier men and women around them. Guirgis’s characters are strivers who lack the language to “pass” in a white-collar world; they’re frustrated by limitations that they’re only half aware of, and that frustration provides much of the painful hilarity in their dialogue, which piles miscommunication on top of misunderstanding.
(This article, by James Fritz, Scarlett Plouviez Comnas, and Thomas Martin, was posted 4/21 in the Guardian.)
"They tell you it's authentic, but it's not. We were stitched up," claims one character in Lines, our new play currently running at the Rosemary Branch theatre. While London Road, a music drama based on real-life testimony gathered after the Ipswich murders has recently opened at the National theatre, our show imagines the consequences of a documentary theatre production going horribly wrong. What if a verbatim play left one of its subjects so aggrieved, we speculate, that he attacked the actor who was portraying him?
(Mark Kennedy’s article appeared in the Asbury Park Press 4/18.)
Bruce Norris' play 'Clybourne Park,' which examines race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama on Monday.
The play was cited by the Columbia University's prize board as 'a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America's sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness.'
In a dark April, Belarus Free Theatre has returned to La MaMa (they were last here in January as Ellen Stewart was dying). The troupe is everything she had wanted for her stage: illustrative and imaginative, their sacred theatre so powerful, in fact, that it may be easier, if not more efficient, to look between the supertitles and the staging, rather than directly into the burning eyes of the actors. The performers, young and unpretentious, can do nothing to escape their living message—their story does need to be told, and they are the ones who must enact it. Belarus Free Theatre is in exile, homeless; they come from Europe’s last dictatorship; their lives and loved ones really have been threatened, if not worse–the state of Belarus, additionally, is in the very real business of torture, extracting funding from the European Union (the plays will also, unfortunately, tell you more about the horror of the country’s tragic past regarding World War II, Stalin, and Chernobyl, but, even worse, they’re not limited to them).
The work—the three plays are a co-production between La MaMa and the Public Theater–is disciplined. The movement is choreographed rather than blocked—watch the frustration with which one young woman bats blue plastic or flashes gravy (or blood?) on her hand in Being Harold Pinter; brief nudity, in the same show, essential to the banal and horrific context, is staged about as successfully–and without shock value–as any you’ll ever see; yet the smashing of a piece of fruit may be one of the more brutal images you’ll witness this spring. This play, based on Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize speech, was, in a leap of genius, conceived by Belarus Free Theatre director Vladimir Shcherban (after it was suggested that the group look at the famous playwright’s works, by another famous playwright, Tom Stoppard). Actually, only the beginning of the speech is used (so are scenes from several Pinter plays and letters from Belarus political prisoners). If it hasn’t become so already, Being Harold Pinter will probably be the group’s signature piece, although, at the performances I saw, the other shows received larger ovations (the title refers to the fact, I believe, that the actors and those in their homeland are actually living in the terrorized worlds Pinter wrote about in Mountain Language, One for the Road, The Homecoming, Old Times, Ashes to Ashes, and The New World Order). Ironically, two of the nations who are giving refuge to Belarus Free Theatre, are excoriated in Pinter’s same lecture (it’s called “Art, Truth, and Politics”). Pinter called U.S. foreign policy—and that of its lap dog Great Britain—a “tapestry of lies,” and a tapestry is actually a good word for describing the composition of the Belarus works. Even if you believe the Nobelist is right, however, you’ll be glad we’re giving free voice to such urgent concerns.
Those who have read about the company know that they’ve been performing in apartments and in the forest in their native country under the radar of established power—and certainly without much money. This has necessitated limited use of sets—here, the space is a black box with taped lines, props where needed, and projections. It has also made their theatre very physical; music and musicality are also essential to their approach (Discover Love uses a seemingly continuous soundtrack, or musical fusion, with songs from Russian Communism’s “Love is Cuba” to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”—movement, dance, spatial relationships are more important than realism, rooms, and linearity. And what they can do with blankets! (The Belarus Free Theatre directors are Vladimir Shcherban and Nikolai Khalezin. Natalia Koliada co-wrote the text for Discover Love and acts as the troupe’s producer.) From Grand Duchess Anastasia to those who have “disappeared” today, the play—as well as the others—uses storytelling with action played alongside it to give the subject of people, who are suddenly discovered missing, focus. The performers can talk directly to the audience, as well, and, in all the shows, there is a fluidity that I have not seen since Bergman’s Hamlet in 1986, where Ophelia was allowed to witness, and follow, the latter parts of the tragedy. Not since Bergman, also, might you have been able to feel such a strong musical tempo regarding the pacing of plays. Discover Love provides a strong woman’s story, less metaphorical or literary than Being Harold Pinter. It points to a discomfiting reality as described by Irina Bogdanova, a Belarussian currently in England, to writer Carole Cadwalladr in the April 4 Guardian about political activism, “ ‘I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to be here doing this. But someone has to. And all the men are in jail.’ It’s the wives, and mothers and sisters and daughters, who’ve been left to do the dirty work.”
The third title of the series, Zone of Silence, is more contextual, more local than the other two plays, discussing growing up in Belarus: school, a suicide attempt in an unhappy love, the relationship of a daughter and her father (who is imprisoned twice), and a separated adopted family. The second part looks at being gay in such a society, being homeless, handicapped, and a woman who is still in love with Lenin. The final section offers the harrowing statistics regarding everyday life in the country. Even if you agree with the Guardian and find it takes a while to “process” such information, especially given that the actors are speaking in Russian and Belarussian–and that this segment is seemingly more descriptive, as I did–the performances are excellent (the supertitles, normally fine throughout the evenings, also hit a glitch during the first half of the preview performance I saw of this play–they were too light to read easily, but were, thereafter, corrected).
The names of the fine actors in Belarus Free Theatre, during these performances, are: Nikolai Khalezin, Pavel Gorodnitski, Yana Rusakevich, Oleg Sidorchik, Irina Yaroshevich, Denis Tarasenko, Marina Yurevich.
You’re going to remember them and their deep morality. My feeling is that New York is one place where they will always be welcome—where a tiny troupe from a place nobody heard of, much less knew where it was on a map–showed the world drama’s galvanizing force and life-fueling power. The return of Belarus Free Theatre is a must-see event.
“TRULY PASSIONATE, TRULY POLITICAL THEATER… BEING HAROLD PINTER ISN’T JUST ADMIRABLE, IT HAS VIRTUES BEYOND ITS RELEVANCE AND BRAVERY.”
– Ben Brantley, THE NEW YORK TIMES
After its triumphant run during the Under the Rader Festival, La MaMa and The Public Theatre present the Belarus Free Theatre. Established in response to repression in “Europe’s last dictatorship,” the award-winning Belarusian Company—now outlawed at home—stages three productions in repertory.
(Roger Friedman’s piece appeared 4/17 on Showbiz 411; via Drudge Report)
“Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” played its last preview Sunday afternoon after more than a 100. Without ever officially opening, it closed for three weeks to retool ostensibly without its creator and visionary, Julie Taymor. In the audience at the Foxwoods Theatre sat Daniel Ezralow, the fired choreographer, and The Edge (aka David Evans) of the band U2, co-composer with Bono (Paul Hewson) of the show’s songs. There was a rumor that Bono was also in the house, unconfirmed. But missing from the final performance as Taymor, who rightly should have taken a big bow at the end of the show.
(Fintan O’Toole’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 4/11.)
CULTURE SHOCK: IN THE FIRST act of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, currently playing at the Gate in Dublin, Maggie tells her estranged husband, Brick: “You have that rare sort of charm that usually only happens in very old or hopelessly sick people, the charm of the defeated.” To the very old and the hopelessly sick, Williams might have added the whole of the Deep South. And we here might further add the Irish. The charm of the defeated is what creates a strange underlying affinity between southern US literature and Irish writing.