Category Archives: Commentary

WHAT STEPHEN SONDHEIM KNEW ABOUT ENDINGS ·

(Amy Weiss-Meyer’s article appeared in The Atlantic 11/27; via Pam Green; photo:  Douglas Elbinger / Getty.)

His work was strongest when it lingered in the pain of knowing that no ever after lasts long.

Back in 2020, I might’ve imagined the end of the pandemic being something like that gum commercial: everyone together, vaccinated, picking the same time to come safely and communally out of lockdown and get back to the way things were before, so grateful to be alive we practically leapt into one another’s arms as soon as we got the chance. That is not, of course, the way things have gone in 2021. But the closest I’ve felt to that gum-commercial feeling came from being in the audience at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on a recent Monday night, an experience I’ve played and replayed in my head since learning that Stephen Sondheim died suddenly on Friday at 91.

November 15 was the reopening night for Sondheim’s Company, which had abruptly ceased previews in mid-March 2020. This production, directed by Marianne Elliott, had previously run in London, and it makes the formerly male protagonist of the show, Bobby, a female Bobbie instead. My colleague Sophie Gilbert has aptly described Elliott’s reimagining of the musical as “a kind of 21st-century Lewis Carroll fever dream.” Bobbie becomes our latter-day Alice, a disoriented but intrepid navigator trying to make sense of the strangeness of contemporary bourgeois life. In that way, it is sort of a perfect show for right now, when a lot of us feel a bit like observers trying to relocate our place as participants in the world. “It’s much better living it than looking at it,” Bobbie’s friends say. They’re talking about love and marriage, but the line takes on a more expansive meaning during a pandemic. In the audience, it was hard not to feel elated to be living.

The nervous excitement in the crowd reminded me of the opening-night energy at a school musical, every member of the audience hoping for the best, just so proud and happy to be there. These were the die-hards, people who had waited throughout the pandemic for this moment. An older man and woman in the row ahead of me compared notes on the many versions of the show they’d seen over the years; the two people next to me kept turning to each other and shrieking. Every seat had a shiny party hat on it, and audience members gamely strapped them on—a nod to the evening’s celebratory mood and to the surprise birthday party at the center of the show.

At first, when some people stood up and started clapping, I was confused; the show wasn’t starting yet. Then a few more joined, and soon most of the theater was standing, facing a row in the middle of the orchestra section. Sondheim himself was taking his seat for the evening. How did he look? everyone I later told about the performance wanted to know. Did he seem well?

From the few, partial glimpses I caught of Sondheim from the mezzanine, he seemed better than well, smiling wide enough you could tell despite the mask. (He doesn’t seem to have been ill; indeed, he reportedly enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with friends the night before he died.) He was so very alive, in fact, applauding so joyfully after every number, that his presence was utterly reassuring: We had, all of us, made it through. We could be surrounded, once again, by hundreds of strangers and not fear for our lives. It was tempting to think that everything, maybe, would actually be okay, and this genius composer who never really aged would live forever to help guide us through the difficult, confusing times ahead.

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STEPHEN SONDHEIM, TITAN OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL, IS DEAD AT 91 ·

(Bruce Weber’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/26; via Marit Shuman; photo: Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans, whose music and lyrics raised and reset the artistic standard for the American stage musical, died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 91.)

He was the theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century and the driving force behind some of Broadway’s most beloved and celebrated shows.

Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans, whose music and lyrics raised and reset the artistic standard for the American stage musical, died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 91.

His lawyer and friend, F. Richard Pappas, announced the death, which he described as sudden. The day before, Mr. Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury, Mr. Pappas said.

An intellectually rigorous artist who perpetually sought new creative paths, Mr. Sondheim was the theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century, if not its most popular.

His work melded words and music in a way that enhanced them both. From his earliest successes in the late 1950s, when he wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” through the 1990s, when he wrote the music and lyrics for two audacious musicals, “Assassins,” giving voice to the men and women who killed or tried to kill American presidents, and “Passion,” an operatic probe into the nature of true love, he was a relentlessly innovative theatrical force.

The first Broadway show for which Mr. Sondheim wrote both the words and music, the farcical 1962 comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” won a Tony Award for best musical and went on to run for more than two years.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his most productive period, he turned out a series of strikingly original and varied works, including “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” (1973), “Pacific Overtures” (1976), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981), “Sunday in the Park With George” (1984) and “Into the Woods” (1987).

Mr. Sondheim at the piano and Leonard Bernstein, right, with cast members during a 1957 rehearsal for “West Side Story.”Credit…Friedman-Abeles/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

In the history of the theater, only a handful could call Mr. Sondheim peer. The list of major theater composers who wrote words to accompany their own scores (and vice versa) is a short one — it includes Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Jerry Herman and Noël Coward.

Though Mr. Sondheim spent long hours in solitary labor, usually late at night, when he was composing or writing, he often spoke lovingly of the collaborative nature of the theater. After the first decade of his career, he was never again a writer for hire, and his contribution to a show was always integral to its conception and execution. He chose collaborators — notably the producer and director Hal Prince, the orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and later the writer and director James Lapine — who shared his ambition to stretch the musical form beyond the bounds of only entertainment.

Mr. Sondheim’s music was always recognizable as his own, and yet he was dazzlingly versatile. His melodies could be deceptively, disarmingly simple — like the title song of the unsuccessful 1964 musical “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Our Time,” from “Merrily,” and the most famous of his individual songs, “Send In the Clowns,” from “Night Music” — or jaunty and whimsical, like “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” from “Forum.”

They could also be brassy and bitter, like “The Ladies Who Lunch,” from “Company,” or sweeping, like the grandly macabre waltz “A Little Priest,” from “Sweeney Todd.” And they could be exotic, like “Someone in a Tree” and “Pretty Lady,” both from “Pacific Overtures,” or desperately yearning, like the plaintive “I Read,” from “Passion.”

Tonys and a Pulitzer

He wrote speechifying soliloquies, conversational duets and chattery trios and quartets. He exploited time signatures and forms; for “Night Music,” he wrote a waltz, two sarabandes, two mazurkas, a polonaise, an étude and a gigue — nearly an entire score written in permutations of triple time.

Over all, he wrote both the music and the lyrics for a dozen Broadway shows — not including compendium revues like “Side by Side by Sondheim,” “Putting It Together” and the autobiographical “Sondheim on Sondheim.” Five of them won Tony Awards for best musical, and six won for best original score. A show that won neither of those, “Sunday in the Park,” took the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Of the many revivals of his shows, three won Tonys, including “Assassins” in 2004, even though it had not previously 

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‘PEOPLE WHO KNEW HIM … DIDN’T REALLY KNOW HIM’: WHO WAS THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN? ·

(Charles Bramesco’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/18; via Pam Green; Photo:  Charlie Chaplin was ‘chameleonic in the way he reflected back to people what they wanted’. Photograph: Footage File, LLC/Courtesy of Showtime.)

In a definitive new documentary, a deeper look at the much-loved movie star provides more insight into ‘one of the greatest rags-to-riches stories ever told’

When a normal person ascends to the firmament of fame, their sense of identity is split in two. The self-perception they’ve developed over their life up to that point – the “true” self, allowed to emerge in intimate moments – must contend with an outward-facing image over which they can exert unsettlingly minimal control. The more canny-minded celebrities seize the reins of their own PR by cultivating a persona they can get out in front of, caricaturing themselves before someone else gets the chance.

Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the first A-lister to contend with this existential quandary of exposure, went one step further by inventing a character he could plaster over himself. The Real Charlie Chaplin, a new documentary in cinemas this week, posits his Little Tramp alter ego as a shield and veil. If audiences were looking at the bowler hat, toothbrush moustache, and rubbery cane, they’d never see the man wearing them.

“I remember, even as a child, having an image of Charlie Chaplin in my head,” co-director James Spinney tells the Guardian. “Like most people, the costume was known to me. We saw these films with lots of preconceptions; he’s emblematic of an early, cartoonish style of cinema comedy, slapstick, films played at the wrong speed. As an adult revisiting these, I was struck by how modern they felt, how subversive, how there’s no sense of the antiquated whatsoever. Everyone has an idea about Charlie Chaplin. But people who knew him best felt that he was hard to create a connection with, that they didn’t really know him, that he was always performing.”

The top-to-bottom bio-doc examines Chaplin as a once-in-a-generation funnyman, while recognizing that as only one of the many roles he played in his eventful life: the Dickensian child laborer, the innovative vaudevillian, the big-hearted humanist, the vindictive lover, the Tinseltown captain of industry, the witch-hunted commie, the reclusive Swiss expat. In what Spinney describes as “one of the greatest rags-to-riches stories ever told”, the only connecting thread through the many ups and downs is the tension between Chaplin’s private and public lives. He prized his hordes of fans and loathed interviews, subsisting on the admiration while contending with the anxiety of being known and yet not-known.

For Spinney and co-director Peter Middleton, the prospect of gaining fresh insight into the aspects of himself Chaplin took pains to conceal was too intriguing to pass up. “One thing we knew very early on was that there was no single, solid, stable version of Charlie Chaplin,” Spinney says. “We’re not trying to link them all up, because there are too many of them, and they don’t always add up. He was chameleonic in the way he reflected back to people what they wanted.”

Their producer, Ben Limberg, had negotiated with Chaplin’s estate and the British Film Institute for a master list of materials they’d be permitted to access, the most obscure of which caught the directors’ eyes. In particular, they fixated on an “enigmatic” tape containing raw audio from a three-day profile sit-down for Life Magazine, conducted by Richard Meryman in 1966 at Chaplin’s twilight-years home on Lake Geneva. “We realized that we’d arrived at an opportune moment in history, where an archival source such as that can be restored,” Middleton says. “We started breaking that down and though it feels like there are 700 books written about Chaplin, we thought that could be our way in to something new.”

Secured after one full year of negotiations, the soundbites provide a condensed memoir with a candid running commentary as Chaplin recalled his early days of tribulation and hardship. His parents’ severe debts resulted in him being sent to Lambeth Workhouse at the tender age of seven, a plight he escaped through his natural inclination for the stage. From dance troupes and small plays to a breakout gig under vaudeville mainstay Fred Karno, an undeniable showmanship carried him out of abject poverty and across the Atlantic for a shot in the nascent movie business. It was there that he debuted the Little Tramp, whose penniless misfortunes mirrored his own background at the Central London District school for paupers.

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CUBA HARASSES, DETAINS ACTIVISTS ON EVE OF PLANNED PROTEST ·

People hang Cuban flags over the windows of Yunior Garcia Aguilera’s home in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Epinosa)

(Mary Beth Sheridan’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 11/15; via the Drudge Report.)

Security forces surrounded the homes of Cuban activists on Sunday, the day before a planned march that will test the strength of the protest movement that erupted last summer when Cubans poured into the streets to demand more political freedoms on the communist-ruled island.

The best-known organizer of Monday’s protest, 39-year-old playwright Yunior García Aguilera, had announced he would march alone through Havana at 3 p.m. on Sunday, carrying a white rose in solidarity with Cubans who had been prevented from participating the following day. But hours before he set out, plainclothes police swarmed his block and besieged his building. He tried to signal to journalists from his apartment, displaying a white sheet in support of the protests, and a rose. People dropped giant Cuban flags over the side of the building to cover the windows.

“We all know we can be detained within a few hours,” García Aguilera said in a Facebook Live post on Sunday morning, appearing nervous but calm. “I will face this with dignity. I believe this country will change.”

He called on people around the nation to clap at 3 p.m. to show their “thirst for freedom,” but there did not appear to be a widespread response. “I won’t renounce my ideas,” he told The Washington Post later Sunday. He said, however, he was penned in by hundreds of security forces outside his home. “The lives of my family members are in danger,” he said.

Cuban authorities had hoped to celebrate the island’s grand reopening to tourists on Monday, following a coronavirus shutdown of nearly 20 months that has crippled an already weak economy. Instead, the day has become symbolic of the confrontation between the government and pro-democracy activists.

Thousands of Cubans, fed up with food shortages, a battered health system and electricity blackouts, spontaneously joined demonstrations last July. They were the biggest protests in six decades.

Activists planned a nationwide “Civic March for Change” on Monday. But with the advance warning, the government has moved aggressively to derail another massive protest. It denied the organizers a permit, claiming they were tied to “subversive organizations” financed by the U.S. government.

n recent days, García Aguilera said, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut. Authorities summoned independent Cuban journalists and activists for questioning and warned they could face charges of public disorder.

On Sunday, the crackdown intensified. Several government critics, including Washington Post opinion contributor Abraham Jiménez Enoa, said that security forces were preventing them from leaving their homes. The Facebook forum Archipiélago, run by García Aguilera and other activists, reported that its moderator, Daniela Rojo, had vanished. Security forces detained another leader of the site, Carlos Ernesto Diaz Gonzalez, in the city of Cienfuegos, according to Archipiélago. The government suspended the credentials of several Havana-based reporters working for EFE, the Spanish news agency.

Journalists who drove to García Aguilera’s apartment building on Sunday morning were driven away by pro-government demonstrators, the playwright said. Several hours later, he appeared at his window, brandishing a white rose, according to reporters at the scene. At one point, he flashed a sign reading: “My house is blocked.” That’s when people on the roof unfurled giant Cuban flags that cascaded down the side of the three-story building, cutting him off from view.

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ZADIE SMITH’S FIRST PLAY BRINGS CHAUCER TO HER BELOVED NORTHWEST LONDON ·

(Desiree Ibekwe’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/12; via Pam Green. Photo: From left, the actress Clare Perkins, who plays the lead in “The Wife of Willesden”; the writer Zadie Smith; and the director Indhu Rubasingham, at the Kiln Theater in London.Credit…Adama Jalloh for The New York Times.)

Two decades into her career, the writer’s stage debut is “The Wife of Willesden,” an adaptation of the Wife of Bath’s tale set and staged in the British capital.

LONDON — Zadie Smith grew up around the corner from the Kiln Theater, which sits on the bustling Kilburn High Road in Northwest London. She took drama classes at the theater as a child and remembers when a fire caused significant damage to the building more than 30 years ago.

Now, her relationship with the theater has become even more intertwined, with the Kiln’s staging of Smith’s first play, “The Wife of Willesden,” which runs until Jan. 15.

“It’s very moving, if I allow myself to think about it very much — which I don’t, we don’t have time,” Smith, 46, said in a recent interview at the theater. “We’ve got work to do.”

“The Wife of Willesden” — which opened on Friday — is an adaptation of the Wife of Bath’s tale from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” transposing the prologue and tale into a love letter to contemporary London (Willesden is an area neighboring the theater).

The author of numerous essays and five novels — many of which, like “NW” and her debut, “White Teeth” are also set in northwestern London — Smith is a newcomer to playwriting.

“Doing this is really, genuinely new, having colleagues and stuff, wearing a lanyard,” Smith said, laughing, during a lunch break from rehearsals. “This is a new part of my life.”

Indhu Rubasingham, the show’s director, said that she had entered the creative partnership with Smith with some trepidation. When Smith is writing a novel, “She’s on her own. She doesn’t have to check in with anyone,” said Rubasingham, who is also the theater’s artistic director. “I was like, ‘Oh God, this is going to be a whole different experience, how is she going to take it?’”

As it turned out, “She’s been incredibly collaborative, really,” Rubasingham said.

“The Wife of Willesden” is not the first time that Smith has explored different forms of writing. This year, she released a children’s book, “Weirdo,” co-written with her husband, Nick Laird, a novelist and poet, and she appeared as a songwriter and background vocalist on “91,” the lead track of Jack Antonoff’s most recent Bleachers album.

The play weaves together several threads from Smith’s life. It was written as part of the celebrations for the local district of Brent’s designation as the “London Borough of Culture 2020” — a project established three years ago by the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, that awards money to an area of the city to put on a yearlong program of cultural events.

Smith, who sat in on the first few weeks of rehearsals, described watching the actors as “even more enjoyable” than the writing process.

“It’s genuinely been lovely seeing the actors,” she said. “I hear voices, but it’s different when people have bodies attached and they add so much.”

Writing the play itself, Smith said, was like “really interesting homework.” She remembered having to translate Chaucer into contemporary English during her studies at Cambridge University.

“So I’ve done it before, but I’ve never done it in a way that was enjoyable for me or anyone else,” she said, laughing.

“The Canterbury Tales,” written by Chaucer in about the late 14th century, is a collection of 24 stories told by a group of pilgrims during their journey to Canterbury Cathedral, 60 miles east of London.

One of the pilgrims is called Alyson, or the Wife of Bath. In her tale’s prologue, she reveals that she has been married five times, and she shares her beliefs on femininity and sexuality, critiquing the value that medieval society placed on virginity.

“I’ve always liked the Wife of Bath, I read it in college,” Smith said. “Just incredible energy in this character, just so wild. I like writing women like that.”

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JAPAN: ‘THE DOCTOR’ DIAGNOSES SOCIETY’S AFFLICTIONS ·

(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 11/11.) 

For “The Doctor,” playwright Robert Icke adapted the 1912 play “Professor Bernhardi,” changing the setting to the modern age with a female protagonist.

After its premiere at north London’s Almeida Theatre in 2019, Robert Icke’s “The Doctor” earned glowing reviews and plaudits, most notably Olivier Award nominations for best new play and best actress. However, just as it was set to take on the West End, the production was shuttered by COVID closures.

Thankfully, in Tokyo, theaters have resumed business as usual after a grueling 18 months of multiple state of emergencies, and this latest work by Icke is running now through Nov. 28 at the Parco Theatre in Shibuya. Taking on the title role of Dr. Ruth Wolff, a Jewish physician, is actress Shinobu Otake, under the direction of seasoned veteran Tamiya Kuriyama.

“I had a chance to see the play at the Almeida, and although I couldn’t understand everything, I was able to grasp the characters’ relationships and the story,” Otake, 64, says. “I especially enjoyed the characters’ arguments, which had a brilliant rhythm and tempo. I was also greatly impressed by the main actress Juliet Stevenson. Her acting was truly realistic, and she was so energetic and cool.”

Otake, an acting veteran with three Japan Academy Film Awards under her belt, says that while she was enthusiastically applauding the show from the front row of the cozy theater, it never occurred to her that she would be performing the lead role in Japan a couple of years later.

For “The Doctor,” Icke freely adapted Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play “Professor Bernhardi,” setting the story in the modern age with a female protagonist. Ruth is the founding director of a prestigious institute specializing in Alzheimer’s disease, and one day, a 14-year-old girl comes to her needing emergency care after a self-administered abortion. When the patient’s condition becomes dire, Ruth refuses to allow a Catholic priest (Toru Masuoka) to perform last rites, on the basis that they’re unsure of the young girl’s religious beliefs and that she should be allowed to die in peace.

Soon the priest’s side of the incident goes viral on social media, putting Ruth at the center of a scandal that reveals the contending values and sexist and racist attitudes of those around her as well as the general public.

Otake says she was surprised when she read the play in preparation for the Japanese production, as the story touches upon multiple weighty topics, such as gender, religion, degenerative disease and medical ethics.

“I understand that Ruth is an intelligent, strong and independent woman, but she definitely has a weakness that doesn’t usually show at her workplace,” she says. ”It’s normal to have different versions of yourself, and I realized anew that people shouldn’t be quick to judge others because they usually have several different personalities within them at the same time.

Shinobu Otake, who plays the title role of Dr. Ruth Wolff in the Japanese production of ‘The Doctor,’ was impressed by the ‘brilliant rhythm and tempo’ of the characters’ arguments when she first watched the play in London. | MAIKO MIYAGAWA

“I suppose Ruth has confidence in herself to always make the right decision. However, even though she doesn’t intend to, she hurts people without noticing. I think that those kinds of human contradictions, namely, that people are not able to be perfect 100% of the time, is one of the very interesting points of this play.”

Although the play takes place in England and discusses issues related to race and religion that may be less familiar to Japanese audiences, Otake insists that contemporary theater provides an important opportunity for viewers to become aware

“Many people in Japan today live without experiencing conflicts over religion and race,” she says. “However, through our staging of this English drama, which intricately weaves in sensitive issues such as Jewish-Christian relations, I hope audiences realize what is happening outside Japan and see how the issues of other countries are relevant to them.

“That’s why it is important to stage non-Japanese dramas, and why I want many young people to see this play.”

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5 NEW RUSSIAN THEATER PERFORMANCES TO WATCH ONLINE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES ·

(From Russia Beyond, 11/11/21; Photo: Ksenia Ugolnikova / Stage Russia.)

The most exciting
Russian stage
productions presented
both in cinemas and
online. 

 

Visiting Russia is still a big issue for many tourists due to the pandemic restrictions. Some people still manage to come despite all the difficultes – read more about them here.

But there is good news that will melt the hearts of avid theatergoers. Some incredibly interesting best-selling Russian performances are available to watch both online and in cinemas of the U.S., Canada and the UK. 

All performances are filmed in front of a live audience and are presented in Russian with English subtitles.

The Stage Russia HD project has been bringing the best of Russian theater to audiences worldwide since 2016. Its founder, Eddie Aronoff, an American with Russian roots, has already arranged a dozen of great productions to be broadcast outside Russia. 

Here’s what’s on in the season 2021/2022:

1. Boris, Moscow Museum

A flying raven, a poet, a folk choir, saints and sinners, living and dead. This dark but brilliant performance is staged by one of the most renowned Russian stage directors, Dmitry Krymov. It’s based on Alexander Pushkin’s magnificent tragedy “Boris Godunov” and is a metaphor about the fate of Russia, its rulers and eternal values, showing a direct line from today’s Russia to its imperial past. 

The performance is first being staged at  the medieval Provision Warehouses of the Moscow Museum. “Boris” features incredible actors, such as Mikhail Filippov, Viktoriya Isakova (renowned for her role in ‘To the Lake‘ series), Maria Smolnikova and Timofey Tribuntsev.

To find the dates in cinemas & online and buy tickets, visit the website www.stagerussia.com/boris

2. Iran Conference, Takoi Theater, St. Petersburg

A symposium is held where influential public figures and scientists gather in Denmark to discuss the clash of modern Western liberal ideology with traditional religious consciousness and way of life. However, official reporting turns into a lively conversation about spirituality, ethical dilemmas and personal experiences related to the condition of humanity today. 

The whole piece is a true-to-life philosophical parable about humanity, faith and love. Written by prominent modern playwright Ivan Vyrypaev, this was staged in several Russian theaters. This production was brought to life by Igor Sergeev, Vladimir Kuznetsov at ‘Takoi Theatre’ in St. Petersburg

To find the dates in cinemas & online and buy tickets, visit the website www.stagerussia.com/iranconference

3. Everyone is here, School of Modern Plays, Moscow

This production directed by Dmitry Krymov is his very personal interpretation of Our Town, the Pulitzer-winning play of Thornton Wilder. This postmodern piece is a performance within a performance. It shows American small town realities, and at the same time brings the spectator behind the curtains of theatrical life. 

Dmitry Krymov was born into the family of prominent Soviet theater director Anatoly Efros and theater critic Natalia Krymova, so he was immersed in theater life from his childhood. He had a long-standing desire to create a work dedicated to his parents. And the American touring production of Our Town they watched together in the mid-1970s became his inspiration.

To find the dates in cinemas & online and buy tickets, visit the website  www.stagerussia.com/everyoneishere

4. Sun Line, Pushkin Theater, Moscow

 

After seven years of marriage a couple is about to pay off their mortgage. And now they are arguing the whole night long about their next plans. What’s next? What are they gonna do? Without being able to make real contact with each other, they delve into discourses on unity and difference, unnecessary and important. And it appears that there is an invisible yet palpable solar line that divides them.

This sharp comedy was written by Ivan Vyrypaev and staged by Viktor Ryzhakov in the Pushkin Theatre. This great performance is also worth watching because it features Yulia Peresild, the first ever actress to travel to space.

To find the dates in cinemas & online and buy tickets, visit the website  www.stagerussia.com/sunline

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MAY B: NO QUESTION ABOUT IT – THIS IS A DANCE CLASSIC (SV REVIEW PICK, IRELAND) ·

(Michael Seaver’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 11/8; Photo: contemporary choreography creates a visceral connection between performers, work and audience. Photograph: Hervé Deroo.)

Dublin Dance Festival: Maguy Marin’s contemporary work still dazzles after 40 years

 MAY B

O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin
★★★★★
There aren’t too many contemporary-dance classics, but after 40 years of performances in more than 40 countries, Maguy Marin’s May B deserves that title.

Four decades is plenty of time for fashions to change in aesthetics and presentation. Cutting edge can be blunted over time to butter-knife mediocrity. Add to this the unchanging nature of contemporary dance. Plays, operas and ballets can be updated and reimagined, gaining a new life by modernising the setting. Contemporary dance works are only rarely altered, so must be futureproofed from day one if they are to become classics.

May B, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s writings, features a white-powdered segment of humanity, physically awkward, mumbling incoherently and staggering around the stage in a state of endless wandering. Like Beckett, Marin is revelling in the absurd.

Of various physical sizes and shapes, the 10 performers in this Compagnie Maguy Marin production at Dublin Dance Festival’s Winter Edition highlight the richness of difference while sharing a sense of humanity, not just between themselves but with the audience. Individually they ooze vulnerable loneliness, but they frequently join together in unison dances, driven by a gentle common pulse, like a shared heartbeat.

They are outsiders. Before the lights come up on stage we listen to Schubert’s Der Leiermann in the dark, with its depiction of a hurdy-gurdy player ignored by all yet stoically spinning the handle of his instrument. This sense of futility – the Beckettian “I can’t go on. I’ll go on” – is central to the 90-minute piece.

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‘WE’RE TAKING THE MAN OUT OF THE MYTH’: THE MUSICAL RECLAIMING RUMI FROM INSTAGRAM ·

(Sarfraz Manzoor’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/9; ‘You are the entire ocean in a drop’ … Rumi. Photograph: CPA Media Pte Ltd/Alamy.)

A new stage production aims to tell the Sufi poet’s story beyond his aphorisms – and challenge assumptions about Islam and the Middle East in the process

He is everywhere and nowhere. The words of Jalal al-Din Rumi are found on sunset images pasted on Instagram and coffee mugs sold on Etsy; his poems have been featured in recordings from Madonna and Coldplay and he is reputed to be the bestselling poet in the US. Rumi’s observations and aphorisms on life may be endlessly cited – “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop” – but few in the west know him as anything more than a bearded Sufi mystic.

“Rumi has become a mystical, almost deified figure,” says Nadim Naaman. “The reality is that he was the opposite of an untouchable deity.” Naaman, a British Lebanese singer, actor and writer, has collaborated with the Qatari composer Dana Al Fardan to create Rumi: The Musical. “Our approach was to take the man out of the myth,” says Al Fardan, “and to present him as human being.” This is the second time Naaman and Al Fardan have brought a beloved Middle Eastern poet to the London stage. Their 2018 show Broken Wings, which is returning to London in the new year, was based on a novel by the Lebanese poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. It was the success of that production that convinced them there may be an appetite for a musical that delved into the life of Rumi.

Rumi was born in 1207 in present day Afghanistan. He was 36 and married with two children when he met a wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabriz. The two began what started as an intense friendship, and which might have developed into a love affair. When Shams disappeared after three years, Rumi turned to poetry to cope with the separation, writing more than 3,000 love songs to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God.

The contemporary popularity of Rumi traces back to the mid-1970s and the translations of Rumi’s writing by the American academic and poet Coleman Barks, who sought to foreground the timeless, universal essence in the writings. “His entire ideology is based on cultivating the essence within,” says Al Fardan. “Rumi managed to latch on to themes and feelings that can apply to everyone,” says Naaman. “He’s managed to do that because his focus is on self-reflection.”

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Listen to a podcast on Rumi’s poetry on In Our Time, BBC Radio 4.