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By Bob Shuman  

A cello stands at the center of This Is Why We Live, at La Mama, which closed September 29 and Oedipus, Sex with Mum was Blinding, at BAM Fisher, which also ended on that date, two international pieces—one based on the poetry of Wisława Symborska and the other after Sophocles, with a classical and jazz score by Tilemachos Moussas & Julia Kent.  Both are directed by women and focus, primarily, on women’s themes and talents, down to a string’s last pluck and bow. 

When she won the Nobel Prize in 1996, Symborska drew the attention, and hearts, of the world with something almost as small—the modesty of her Polish life (at the time, Edward Hirsh, writing for The New York Times, described the apartment where she lived: a fifth-floor walk-up, in “a nondescript building”; the living room, “where she writes, doubles as her bedroom”).  Today (Symborska died in 2012), twenty-one of her poems are acted earnestly, in Open Heart Surgery’s Canadian- and Polish-backed production (direction is by Coleen MacPherson, and the evening is performed by Elodie Monteau (France), Alaine Hutton (Canada) and Dobrochna Zubek (Poland/Canada) to music written by Zubek. Musical development and dramaturgy are by Tatiana Judycka and Dobrochna Zubek. Set and costume design are by Helen Yung.  Lighting design is by Rebecca Picherak.  The show is played in English, Polish, and French, using subtitles.

L-R: Alaine Hutton, Elodie Monteau, Dobrochna Zubek. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Men have contributed editorially, even if they are not in the show:  the French translation is by Piotr Kaminski; English translation is by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak; Dramaturgy and translation support is by Viktor Lukawski—all of which might have confounded the poet: ”I think that dividing literature or poetry into women’s and men’s poetry is starting to sound absurd,” Symborska states in the Hirsh interview, ”Perhaps there was a time when a woman’s world did exist, separated from certain issues and problems, but at present there are no things that would not concern women and men at the same time.”  New Yorkers have been watching the crystallization of women’s theatre in the city’s arts scene, though, even when co-opting writers, such as Symborska, who might be philosophically opposed to such a conceptualization.  Her work, playful and ironic (“Don’t blame me for borrowing big words and then struggling to make them light”) does not find itself dramatically in the current production, despite the skill and dedication of the Butoh and Lecoq-trained theatremakers.  Yet her writing is reflective of the issues being explored today by women in the arts and nonfiction–eating disorders are alluded to in one segment of This Is Why We Live, for example, as one of the dancers stuffs herself with cake.  The self-deprecation, penetrating self-criticism is apparent in a piece like “Under One Small Star,” ideas which will reappear in Greek director Elli Papakonstantinou’s goth Oedipus.

My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second /

My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first /

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home /

Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger /

I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths /

I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today /

Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time . . .

Unless it is deeply, painfully ironic, laughter is not associated with Jocasta, the wife and mother of Oedipus. If Papakonstantinou (she also conceived and wrote the immersive opera) is to be believed, the ancient queen’s self-recriminatory behavior is also well-known in the lives of women today—and is an issue for men as well. ODC Ensemble’s Oedipus, Sex with Mum was Blinding is an intensification of Szymboska’s examination of women’s guilt, as well as a deep-dive into the psychology of the ancient queen (the seer Teireias also appears, who lived life both as a woman and a man). The grunge immersion—the often grainy cinematic environment is by Stephanie Sherriff–uses singing and technology, pop culture and neuroscience (advised by professor Manos Tsakiris), even an m.c., a keyboardist for the show, Misha Piatigorsky, who combines Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Joel Grey in Cabaret.  Other men in the cast include Lito Messini as Oedipus, Elias Husiak, and Tsakiris. Papakonstantinou may seem indiscriminate, because she can pull from everywhere—she is unafraid of postmodernism, myth, and onstage cameras–the kind many Americans will recognize having seen work by Ivo van Hove—music (Kent plays the cello onstage)—including Philip Glass sounds and an excerpt from “Nature Boy”–languages, social media, and politics—“this country is based on racism.” Debatably, she shapes the work into the story of three women, an actor (Nassia Gofa) and two singers (Anastasia Katsinavaki, Theodora Loukas), one classical and the other jazz, who might seem to be refracting the same character, in guilt and trauma. Papakonstantinou is never exactly clear in her excursion through the subconscious—but she understands and elicits the feelings Symborska transcribes, in, as another illustration, the baldly titled poem:  “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself”:

The buzzard never says it is to blame. /

The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean. /

When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame. /

If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.”

The poet finishes:  “On this third planet of the sun / among the signs of bestiality / a clear conscience is number one.”

Current women’s theatre explicates, however, that no human, at least, has one.

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit La MaMa 

Visit BAM 


Design Assistant: Judie Plaza
Set Design Assistant: Kevin Yung
Lighting Design by Rebecca Picherak
Lighting Associate: Nic Vincent
Projection Design by Wesley McKenzie
Stage Management by A.J. Morra

Dramaturgy and Translation Support by Viktor Lukawski
Poetry by Wisława Szymborska
French Translation by Piotr Kamiński
English Translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Artistic Support by Yearime Castel Barragan and Sallie Lyons

This project is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Polish Consulate (Canada) & The Polish Institute

Press:  Jonathan Slaff


ODC Ensemble (Athens, Greece) with
The Directors Company

Sex with Mum Was Blinding

An Immersive Opera
Conceived, written and directed by
Elli Papakonstantinou

Original Music Composed by
Tilemachos Moussas
and Julia Kent

Cinematic Environments by
Stephanie Sherriff

Lighting design: Elli Papakonstantinou
Mask concepts, design and materialization: Maritina Keleri & Chrysanthi Avloniti
Costume Design: Jolene Richardson

Nassia Gofa, Elias Husiak, Anastasia Katsinavaki, Theodora Loukas, Lito Messini, Manos Tsakiris, Julia Kent (cello), Misha Piatigorsky (piano), Hassan Estakhrian, Barbara Nerness (electroacoustic environments), and Stephanie Sherriff (live cinematic environment)

Scientific Advisor: Professor Manos Tsakiris

Press:   Michelle Tabnick

Photos–This Is Why We Live: Jonathan Slaff; Oedipus: Carol Rosegg



(Alison Flood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/16.)

Hailed as one of the most significant archival discoveries of modern times, text seems to show the Paradise Lost poet making careful annotations on his edition of Shakespeare’s plays

Almost 400 years after the first folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623, scholars believe they have identified the early owner of one copy of the text, who made hundreds of insightful annotations throughout: John Milton.

The astonishing find, which academics say could be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times, was made by Cambridge University fellow Jason Scott-Warren when he was reading an article about the anonymous annotator by Pennsylvania State University English professor Claire Bourne. Bourne’s study of this copy, which has been housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia since 1944, dated the annotator to the mid-17th century, finding them alive to “the sense, accuracy, and interpretative possibility of the dialogue”. She also provided many images of the handwritten notes, which struck Scott-Warren as looking oddly similar to Milton’s hand.

(Read more)





Proudly Presents the World Premiere of the Spanish Language Version of

“Powerful production by Ramiro Antonio Sandoval.” – Carlos Navedo, Impacto Latino 


(In the eye of the needle)

You must have a plan B and know where the nearest exit is……

You better catch them before the wall is up!

Written by








TABULA RASA NYC THEATER AND PERFORMANCE LAB is pleased to announce the world premiere production in Spanish of their collective creative collaboration EN EL OJO DE LA AGUJA (In the Eye of the Needle), written and directed by Ramiro Antonio Sandoval in association with Johanna Bock (Spanish translation is based on a free interpretation by Edna Lee Figueroa from the English original). EN EL OJO DE LA AGUJA will play a three-week limited engagement at Off-Broadway’s The Tank (312 West 36th Street, NYC). Performances begin Saturday, September 7 and continue through Sunday, September 22. Opening Night is Sunday, September 8 (7 p.m.).  Tickets are $30 and available at  

Mad or maddening?

Three characters challenge each other’s imagination on their coexistence in a ‘far-away-so-close’ location from our actual condition. 

“Always have a plan B and know where the nearest exit is”

At the count of four, three, two …missing!

…You better catch them before the wall is up!

EN EL OJO DE LA AGUJA (In the eye of the needle) is a contemporary high tech-tragicomedy.

EN EL OJO DE LA AGUJA (In the eye of the needle) is a personal, social, and political exploration of conflict resolution (or the lack thereof). The deliberate avoidance of conflict or exchange of different points of view, can lead to isolation and alienation. In recent history, governments lack of attention to the needs of the needy, have resulted in not only uprisings, but forced displacements, unwelcomed migrations, and a refugee crisis. 

The patriarchal vision of the contemporary world, may also have a key role in the social crisis sprouting worldwide. The absence of ethics present us with a cruel, almost comedic landscape (due to an almost pathologic state of mind), where a “back to basics” call is required. 

In a world where thought leaders are ostracized and killed while the brute and inhuman rise in control over the land, the environment, women’s and human rights…What is left? 

Who will leave next? 

When will we stop building walls to solve our problems? 

When will we come out of our selfish caves to demand honesty, to create new ideas? 

Will we be able to stop losing human kindness before the wall is up?

The production stars Klara Lopera-Sánchez, Andrés López-Alicea, Vanessa Hernández and Jei Fabiano.

The production features original music by Samuel Torres, stage design by Verónica Álvarez with Omayra Garriga and Edu Canal with Alexis Mendoza and Elisabet Díaz Cintrón, technical direction by Omayra Garriga with Jorge Berrios Cuevas, costume design by Alejandra Laverde with Bibiana Torres Rey, lighting design by Karim Rivera Rosado. Juan Esteban Vélez is the production assistant.


EN EL OJO DE LA AGUJA plays the following schedule through 

Sunday 9/15 at 7 pm.

Friday 9/20 at 7 pm;

Saturday 9/21 at 7 pm;

Sunday 9/22 at 7 pm.

Tickets are $30 ($20 students/senior) and are now available online at Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater a half hour prior to performances.

Running Time: 75 minutes

Website: or

Top Photo: David Troncoso; photos courtesy of TabulaRaSaNYC


Palpable objects seen by us on the stage are much more necessary and important for us actors than colorful canvases that we do not see.  Sculptural things live with us and we with them, while painted backdrops hang behind us and live separately from us, for there is not connection between us and them. (MLIA)


(Benjamin Moser’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 9/9.)

David Rieff went to Bosnia in September 1992, at the end of the first summer of siege. Like so many of the journalists who made the journey to Sarajevo, he did so because he believed, however implicitly, in the existence of a civilized world and in the duty to inform it. “If the news about Bosnia could just be brought home to people,” he thought, “the slaughter would not be allowed to continue. In retrospect, I should have known better than to believe in the power of unarmed truths.”

At the end of that first visit, he spoke to Miro Purivatra, who later founded the Sarajevo Film Festival, and asked if there was anything, or anyone, he could bring back. “One of the persons who could be perfect to come here to understand what’s going on would definitely be Susan Sontag,” he said. Without mentioning the connection—“for sure,” Miro said, “I did not know that he was her son”—David said he would do what he could. He appeared at Miro’s door a few weeks later. “We hugged each other and he told me, ‘Okay, you asked me something and I brought your guest here.’ Just behind the door, it was her. Susan Sontag. I was frozen.”

It would be at least a month before he figured out their relationship: “They never told me.” The first of what would turn out to be Susan’s eleven visits to a place that became so important to her life that a prominent downtown square is today named for her—so important that David would consider burying her there—took place in April 1993.

(Read more)



The more times emotion is forced to attack problems too difficult for it, the more timid it becomes and the more used to its buffers.  And the more the buffers are developed, the harder it is for emotion to appear when needed and the more necessity there is for old stencils and stagy craftsmanship.  The more stamps and staginess, the farther emotion runs from them. (MLIA)


(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/25.)

The annual celebration of the work of Brian Friel carries powerful reminders of the work of building community

“Politics are so obtrusive here.” The great Irish playwright Brian Friel (1929-2015) was being interviewed in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980. Gesturing to the Ebrington barracks beyond the window, on the other side of the River Foyle, he continued: “For people like ourselves… definitions of identity have to be developed and analysed much more frequently [than in England]. We’ve got to keep questioning until we find… some kind of generosity that can embrace the whole island.”

The cross-border FrielFest, now in its fourth year, invites audiences to participate in both the questioning and the embrace. In doing so, it reflects Friel’s own strength – making works particular to time and place that express our universal experiences. The quest for answers to shifting questions is reflected in the peripatetic form of the festival, with dramatic readings of Friel’s works presented in and around Derry and Donegal – and audiences, on occasion, visiting multiple venues in the course of one performance.

First produced in 1973, The Freedom of the City is set in Derry’s Guildhall, where, poignantly, this production is staged. A few hundred yards away, people are gathering around a makeshift music stage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside. On the night I attend, the audience meets outside the Museum of Free Derry (on other evenings, the rendezvous point is the Ebrington barracks). We are sung to the Guildhall by Nigerian-born, Liverpool-based performer and playwright Tayo Aluko, and walk in the wake of his resonant spirituals. Where some of us see city streets, others see invisible barriers crumbled (“I would never have crossed this road when I was young,” says one). The play is partially based on events around 1972’s Bloody Sunday. Its action unfurls in double-time. The fictional experiences of three civil rights demonstrators, who stumble into the Guildhall, fleeing a tear gas onslaught, are interspersed with the official inquiry into their subsequent deaths (shot leaving the building by the army, which maintains they were armed terrorists).

(Read more)

Photo: Guardian