(Olena Makarenko’s reporting appeared in the Kyiv Independent, 2/2/23.)
Following a three-month break after the start of Russia’s all-out war, the National Opera of Ukraine resumed its performances. With some of its members serving in the army, and having dropped all Russian pieces from the repertoire, the theater team argues that art is always political.
(Kelly Burke’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/26/23; Photo: … Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada of Belarus Free Theatre in London. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters.)
Belarus Free Theatre currently face years in prison if they return home. Now living in exile, they’re bringing their show Dogs of Europe to Australia
Long before the pandemic, working over video calls was completely normal for husband-and-wife team Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin. The founders of Belarus Free Theatre, who arrive in Australia soon to put on the production Dogs of Europe at Adelaide festival, have worked under extreme conditions since the company’s birth in 2005.
Then, the repressive regime of Alexander Lukashenko had already been in power for 11 years. Performing arts companies were owned by the Belarusian government; artistic directors appointed by the country’s ministry of culture. From the moment it was created, Belarus Free Theatre was an illegal entity.
‘Today there are more artists in jail in Belarus than journalists and human rights defenders’ … Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada of Belarus Free Theatre in London. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters
Kaliada and Khalezin directed their actors remotely using Skype and a network of CCTV cameras, installed in a secret rehearsal room. To attend a performance, the phone number of a theatre administrator would be quietly circulated by word of mouth.
A meeting point would be arranged and the audience would proceed to the secret venue – a private apartment, a vacant warehouses, sometimes a forest – that would be constantly changed to elude authorities.
Audience members were told to bring along their passports: if the performance was raided by special forces, being able to easily prove your identity meant less time in a cell.
In October 2021 Belarus Free Theatre’s actors, directors and audience were all arrested. Released pending a trial, most were facing a prison sentence of up to eight years. The company fled to Ukraine using a border resistance network. When Russia declared war on Ukraine in February 2022, the company crossed the border to Poland.
“Now we are all in different locations, but nobody can go back to Belarus,” Kaliada says from London. “We all face jail. Today there are more artists in jail in Belarus than journalists and human rights defenders.”
According to Pen International, almost 600 writers, artists and cultural workers alone were targeted by armed forces in the aftermath of the 2020 election that reasserted Lukashenko’s dictatorship. Pen estimates that almost one in 10 political prisoners held in Belarusian prisons, as of 2021, are citizens working in the cultural sphere, found guilty of charges such as “extremism” and “petty hooliganism”.
Kaliada now accepts that she, her husband and the dozen or so actors and technicians that make up the permanent company, likely face permanent exile from their home country. Belarus’s collusion with Russia in the invasion of Ukraine has only cemented that belief.
A single production of Dogs of Europe would mean facing a maximum eight-year prison sentence for those involved if staged in Belarus. Copies of the 1,000-page novel by Alhierd Baharevich, upon which the play is based, were seized by the regime when published in 2017. Notwithstanding its political content, the book is written in the Belarusian language; myriad ethnic languages and cultures within the broad sweep of the Soviet Union were stamped out and the Russification of Belarus has continued under Lukashenko. His regime has overseen a renewed crackdown on booksellers and publishing houses specialising in Belarusian language publications, likely to appease the Kremlin.
(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/17; via Pam Green; Photo: Never an outright monster … Sophie Okonedo, right, and Ben Daniels in Medea. Photograph: Johan Persson.)
Medea is as much victim as villain in Dominic Cooke’s psychologically subtle and subversive production, and Ben Daniels is superb playing all the puffed up men in her life
Medea sits high up in the ancient Greek pantheon of rebel women: a murderous mother and conniving sorceress who exacts revenge by killing her own children. What is remarkable in this production is that Sophie Okonedo’s spurned wife is never an outright monster but rather a deeply wounded, highly strategic, stateswomanly figure; a formidable opponent to unfaithful husband, Jason, and almost upstanding in her anger. It is a magnificent performance.
So is Ben Daniels’ as Creon, Jason and Aegeus, to whom she runs for safety in Athens. Daniels is superb in each role but the final scene, depicting Jason’s grief, is immense and abject.
What seems like a formal, declamatory interpretation of the play at first becomes psychological and subtly subversive in Dominic Cooke’s hands. Robinson Jeffers’s celebrated adaptation has an epic quality but is more Shakespearean than Euripidean in its pace and poetry; the show runs over 90 minutes but is meditative rather than fevered.
There is no high concept behind the production, only ancient drama in modern dress. Vicki Mortimer’s set is an illuminated circle outside which are the women of Corinth (Jo McInnes, Amy Trigg and Penny Layden). They are witnesses to the violence, seated among us and unable to stop the rumble of fate. But they are also voyeurs, looking on at a woman’s dramatised pain, to which Medea refers at the start. “You’ve come, let me suppose… to peer at my sorrow,” she tells them and us.
Gareth Fry’s sound cranks up the tension with drums, rattles, alarms and helicopters overhead, while the violence is all the more horrific for remaining unseen. A staircase leading down to a basement allows us to hear the children’s screams as they are murdered without seeing them, just as the death of Jason’s new wife – poisoned by Medea – is delivered in a report of eye-watering brutality. The children (Oscar Coleman and Eiden-River Coleman on the final night in preview) are angelic, running on to stage doe-like and silent.
(Laurence Maslon’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/13; via Pam Green; Photo:Burt Bacharach, at the piano, arrived in New York as rehearsals began in September 1968. He was joined by, from left, Jerry Orbach and Jill O’Hara, the stars; the director Robert Moore; the playwright Neil Simon; the producer David Merrick; and the actor Edward Winter.Credit…Bob Wands/Associated Press.)
The perfectionist composer was content with being a one-hit musical-theater wonder, calling the experience the hardest thing he had ever done.
In the late 1960s, when Broadway show tunes and popular music were veering in opposite directions, the producer David Merrick, one of the most hidebound curmudgeons on Broadway, reached out to one of the most successful American pop composers of the time: Burt Bacharach.
Bacharach (who died on Feb. 8 at age 94) already had more than a dozen international hits with his lyricist partner, Hal David, including “Walk on By,” “Alfie,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “The Look of Love.” That last song was introduced in the spy parody “Casino Royale,” and, in fact, Bacharach had met Merrick at that movie’s London premiere in 1967. They agreed to work together if the right project came along.
Bacharach wasn’t exactly bedazzled by the bright lights of Broadway. “When I was getting successful with pop songs, and having hits, there wasn’t something burning inside me that said, “Boy, I need to write a Broadway show,’” he said in an interview for the 1985 book “Notes on Broadway.” “I was quite content being in the studio and making my records.”
It just so happens that when Merrick eventually wrangled the playwright Neil Simon to adapt Billy Wilder’s 1960 Academy Award-winning film “The Apartment”as a musical, it was Simon who pushed for Bacharach and David, as he wanted to update the material and incorporate a sound that might reach contemporary audiences. “Promises, Promises,”as the show would be called, centered on a well-meaning milquetoast accountant in a New York insurance firm who essentially pimps out his apartment to his superiors in exchange — so he is promised — for a series of promotions. Merrick, a master of the Show for Tired Businessmen (“Do Re Mi,”“Hello, Dolly!,”“How Now, Dow Jones”), assembled the perfect team for a show about tired businessmen.
The material was beautifully tailored for Bacharach and David’s sensibilities — urban, witty, rueful, alienated but passionate — and the songwriters were faithful to the tone of Simon’s book: a savvy mix of wisecracks, romantic heartbreak and contemporary satire.
But one early aspect of this collaboration was telling: While Simon and David crafted the text together in New York, Bacharach remained deeply involved with other studio projects in Hollywood, setting his music to David’s lyrics from afar. He would not arrive in New York until September 1968, with the first Broadway preview just two months away.
(Carmel Dagan’s article appeared in Variety, 2/15; via Pam Green; Photo: Corbis via Getty Images.)
Raquel Welch, the actor who became an icon and sex symbol thanks to films like “One Million Years B.C.” and “Three Musketeers,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, her manager confirmed to Variety. She was 82.
She came onto the movie scene in 1966 with the sci-fi film “Fantastic Voyage” and the prehistoric adventure “One Million Years B.C.,” the latter of which established Welch as a sex symbol. The actor went on to appear in the controversial adaptation of Gore Vidal’s “Myra Beckrinridge,” “Kansas City Bomber” and Richard Lester’s delightful romps “The Three Musketeers” (1973), for which she won a Golden Globe, and “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974). She was one of the first women to play the lead role — not the romantic interest — in a Western, 1971 revenge tale “Hannie Caulder” — an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (2003), according to the director.
(Earlier, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford toplined 1952’s “Rancho Notorious” and 1954’s “Johnny Guitar,” respectively, but these were Western roles in which each actor held court, in effect; they didn’t ride the lonesome trail — like Clint Eastwood or Welch — bent on righting wrongs.)
Welch also showed some grit in the 1972 roller derby movie “Kansas City Bomber.” Variety said the film “provides a gutsy, sensitive and comprehensive look at the barbaric world of the roller derby. Rugged, brawling action will more than satisfy those who enjoy that type of commercial carnage, while the script explores deftly the cynical manipulation of players and audiences. Raquel Welch, who did a lot of her own skating, is most credible as the beauteous but tough star for whom team owner Kevin McCarthy has big plans. At the same time, Welch is torn between her professional life and her two fatherless children.”
Also in 1972, Welch appeared as a female cop who serves as a decoy in the hunt for a rapist in the police farce “Fuzz,” starring Burt Reynolds. The New York Times said: “The straightest performance is given by Raquel Welch, who isn’t around much of the time. When she is, she looks as irritated, but as resolutely patient, as Gloria Steinem defending women’s rights on a TV talk show.”
In 1973 she was part of the all-star ensemble for “The Last of Sheila,” a Herbert Ross-directed mystery movie famous for having been scripted by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Welch appeared along with Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason and Ian McShane.
(Sarah Crompton’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/12/23; Photo: ‘I think you must do it just by feel’: Dada Masilo’s interpretation of The Rite of Spring, based on the traditional dance of Botswana, has its UK premiere later this month. Photograph: John Hogg.)
Stravinsky’s ballet sensation of 1913 shocked its first Paris audience. More than 150 versions later, the far-reaching pull of this modernist masterpiece remains irresistible…
For a work that changed the course of dance, introducing a blast of modernism into a conventional art form, Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring had a surprisingly short shelf life. Despite more than 130 fraught and complicated rehearsals as the dancers struggled to get to grips with the stylised steps and Stravinsky’s radical rhythms, Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performed it only 10 times before consigning it to the history books.
Even the famous riot that greeted its premiere in Paris on 29 May 1913 is a subject of some dispute. In his new book, Diaghilev’s Empire, Rupert Christiansen says that there are more than 100 accounts of the events of that night and they are “wildly at variance and even downright contradictory… Some scarcely dwell on the hubbub.”
But what is without doubt is that from the second the soaring bassoon starts to play the melody that marks the opening, the music has propelled itself into the heart of western culture, its searing power undimmed by time. I heard Stravinsky’s score and read about Nijinsky’s Rite long before I saw any version of the ballet, poring over descriptions of its creation – where a young Marie Rambert was recruited to help with the counts and then quietly fell in love with its creator – and looking at photographs of the dancers in poses with turned-in legs and uncomfortable felt costumes.
The first production I ever saw was Kenneth MacMillan’s at the Royal Ballet, made in 1962 and slightly dated now, with its Sidney Nolan designs and dancers in long matted wigs and pointe shoes, like predatory insects.
The music never fails to thrill, but the ultimate fascination of Rite is just how wide-reaching its inspiration has been: two new versions, one by the South African choreographer Dada Masilo, the other by the British dance-maker Seeta Patel, are about to tour the UK. Both have their roots far outside western ballet and now take their place alongside more than 150 danced versions of the Rite already in existence, dating back to 1920 when Léonide Massine made one to replace Nijinsky’s original.
That Rite’s US premiere in 1930 starred a young Martha Graham, who went on to create her own version at the age of 90. The American choreographer Lester Horton switched the action to the wild west; the pioneering Mary Wigman and the dramatic Maurice Béjart emphasised the erotic qualities of a piece that culminates in a virgin dancing herself to death. Michael Clark’s Mmm… added music by the Sex Pistols and Stephen Sondheim and featured his mother giving birth to him on stage.
The majority, though, follow the pattern mapped out by Stravinsky in collaboration with the Russian mystic and expert on folk rituals Nicholas Roerich, who conceived the work as a pagan rite in which a tribe of elders welcome the spring by sacrificing a chosen maiden to guarantee the earth’s continued fertility. The score is divided into sections with titles such as Procession of the Sage and Glorification of the Chosen One.
Perhaps the most influential modern version was made in 1975 by the dance theatre pioneer Pina Bausch. Performed on an earth-covered floor, it emphasises the patriarchal, animalistic nature of the ritual, portraying a terrified young woman sacrificed to appease the misogyny of the male elders. A touring production of Bausch’s piece, performed by a specially created company of dancers recruited from 14 African countries, was one of the three versions of Rite seen at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre last year. (Dancing at Dusk, a film capturing its creation in Senegal in the middle of Covid returns to Sadler’s Wells’s Digital Stage this month.)
This was followed by the distinguished Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s re-envisioning for English National Ballet that staged Rite as an intimate family drama, with an arranged marriage as its theme. Finally, the flamenco dancer Israel Galván performed a devastating solo flamenco interpretation that seemed to hold a conversation with the splintering complexities of Stravinsky’s score. Both are choreographers who are finding new ways to interpret the music and the narrative arc. “I wanted to tell the story in a way that makes it mine, in the way I read the music,” Ek told me at the time. “The music is my guidance, and I have to have my own meeting with it.”
New York, NY – After 30 years as an indispensable pillar of the downtown independent theatre community, New Ohio Theatre will conclude operations at 154 Christopher Street at the end of the current season on August 31, 2023. “We had a hell of a run,” says Founding Artistic Director Robert Lyons.
The decision is the result of a confluence of factors, including Robert’s intention to step down as Artistic Director, the shifting landscape and dynamics of the field, and increased financial pressures. The Board felt the time was right for New Ohio to step aside and make space for the next generation of theatre-makers and producers. “We think theatre organizations have their own natural life spans. This is a perfect moment for new ideas, new energy, and new models for the indie theatre scene,” says Lyons.
The 74-seat theatre space at 154 Christopher in the West Village will remain a home for not-for-profit theatre. The building’s landlord, Rockrose Development, will accept proposals starting February 15th, in a similar process that brought New Ohio Theatre to the space 12 years ago. At that time, New Ohio managed a floor-to-ceiling renovation including the installation of a new sprung stage, a new grid, new risers, an HVAC system, and a bathroom in the dressing room for actors. “We’re proud to have stewarded this space for 12 years and to be able to hand it off a dramatically improved, turn-key theatre,” says Board chair Margaret Grossman. More information is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/ivgo5m2ddew0d7p/Theatre%20Flyer%201.26.23.pdf.
Lyons founded Soho Think Tank (d.b.a. Ohio Theatre) on Wooster Street in Soho in 1994, where it thrived as a hotbed of downtown theatre inspiration and experimentation. Through a variety of developing, presenting, producing, and hosting programs, Ohio Theatre developed long term relationships with exciting NYC theatre artists and independent theatre companies. In 2011, the organization transitioned to the historic Archive Building in the West Village (d.b.a. New Ohio Theatre) where it continued to support the next generation of indie theatre artists. Over the years Ohio/New Ohio has fostered work that has gone on to garner Drama Desk nominations, Obie Awards, Audience First Awards in Edinburgh, Off-Broadway productions, and national and international tours. Widely recognized as a vital hub of the independent theatre community, it has been awarded two Obie Awards for Sustained Excellence. “I am deeply grateful to all the theatre-makers who have shared their amazing talents with us over these many years,” says Lyons, “and for all the audience members who brought their hunger for exciting new work.”
The Board of Directors expressed appreciation for all the many years of support from its intrepid staff members, generous individual donors, and long-term funders, including Mental Insight Foundation, Peg Santvoord Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Emma Sheafer Charitable Trust, the Samuels Foundation, and government support from DCLA, NYSCA, and the NEA. “We would like to thank the broad network of support that has helped us thrive for these last three decades,” said Erich Jungwirth, the longest serving board member.
Lyons (a playwright with more than twenty NYC productions) will continue to work with collaborator Daniel Irizarry on bringing their critically acclaimed September 2022 hit show My Onliness (“A welcome gust of weird!” – New York Times) to Warsaw and beyond. They will also continue to tour their earlier project Yovo (NYC, Poland, Cuba & South Korea). Both plays were included in My Onliness and Others, a collection of Lyons’s plays published by Mercer Street Books in fall 2022. Lyons is also embarking on a new programming initiative with the Stissing Center in the Hudson Valley: DOWNTOWN UPSTATE, that will bring indie NYC productions to upstate performance spaces.
The closing of New Ohio Theatre will mark the end of its programs, including Ice Factory, Now in Process, Theatre for Young Minds, New Ohio Presents and New Ohio Hosts. The Archive Residency program (in partnership with IRT Theater) will conclude in spring 2024 and the NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival may continue independently. Learn more about New Ohio at https://newohiotheatre.org.
(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/2; via Pam Green; Revelatory … Alex Kingston as Prospero. Photograph: Ikin Yum.)
Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Climate catastrophe and power struggles dominate Elizabeth Freestone’s RSC interpretation of Shakespeare’s play
If there were prizes for inventive recycling of props, this RSC staging would get the soup-tin statuette. Oil drums are rolled to illustrate anecdotes, drunkards quaff from petrol cans and Ariel’s flute is twisted together from plumbing pipes.
Such post-industrial stuff scatters Prospero’s island due to a climate event; the clothes are 21st century but the shipwrecked King of Naples and his entourage use sailing boats because wind is the only fuel left. With references to “the quality of the climate” and “mutinous winds”, The Tempest sustains director Elizabeth Freestone’s contemporary interpretation with little strain, helped by the opening storm being made by man.
Or, in this version, woman. Alex Kingston’s Prospero, though still an exiled “duke” of Milan, is mother to a daughter. This affects the text, neutralising Shakespeare’s “farther” puns and forcing recounts in Miranda’s lines about how many men she saw before Sebastian, while Prospero’s rather creepy concern with the security of Miranda’s hymen feels unlikely from a bohemian modern mother.
(Chris Morris’s article appeared in Variety, 2/9; via Pam Green; Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.)
Songwriter, composer, producer and arranger Burt Bacharach, a dominant force in American popular music for half a century, died of natural causes in Los Angeles on Wednesday. He was94.
Bacharach’s publicist Tina Brausam revealed the news on Thursday.
As a tunesmith, the nonpareil melodist Bacharach found fame in every medium.
His songs — many of them written with lyricist Hal David — became chart-topping successes, particularly in the hands of vocalist Dionne Warwick. Among ’60s songwriting duos, only Lennon-McCartney rivaled Bacharach-David in terms of commercial and artistic achievement. Bacharach collected six Grammys as a writer, arranger and performer from 1967-2005.
His music was ubiquitous on screens both big and small in the ’60s and ’70s, and he was recognized by the Academy Awards and Golden Globes for his work on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “Arthur” (1981). He collected a 1971 Emmy for a TV recital of his work.
On Broadway, the 1968 Bacharach-David tuner “Promises, Promises” rolled up 1,281 performances and garnered a Tony nomination as best musical.
Bacharach’s first notable gig in showbiz was as singer Vic Damone’s accompanist after Bacharach’s discharge from the Army in 1952; he went on to play behind the Ames Brothers, Imogene Coca, Polly Bergen, Georgia Gibbs and Steve Lawrence. He also backed singer Paula Stewart, to whom he was married from 1953-58.
In 1957, Eddie Wolpin of Famous Music partnered Bacharach with David. Laboring in the pubbery’s Brill Building song mill, the pair scored a No. 4 hit with Perry Como’s “Magic Moments”; less memorably, Bacharach reached No. 33 with the Five Blobs’ horror movie theme “The Blob.”
Bacharach worked as Marlene Dietrich’s musical director from 1958-61 and found time to craft hits like the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You” (No. 8, 1961), Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” (No. 23, 1962) and — with David — Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” No. 4 and No. 2, respectively, in 1962.
That same year, Bacharach and David began their fruitful writing and production collaboration with former backup singer Warwick, whom the composer had met at a Drifters session. Her first single with the cleffers, “Don’t Make Me Over” — with lyrics inspired by a heated remark by the vocalist, who had accused the writers of lying to her — launched a fabled series of hits that mated Warwick’s silken voice with Bacharach’s subtly shifting melodies and David’s poignant lyrics.
Their top-10 collaborations of the ’60s included “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Message to Michael,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “This Girl’s in Love With You” (previously a gender-swapped No. 1 hit for Herb Alpert) and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” Warwick also interpreted Bacharach and David’s theme song for the 1968 Michael Caine vehicle “Alfie.”
The writers were ubiquitous on the charts and onscreen during the ’60s. Their top 40 hits included Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now,” the 5th Dimension’s “One Less Bell to Answer” and Bobby Vinton’s “Blue on Blue.”
A move into film, enabled by actress Angie Dickinson, to whom Bacharach was married from 1966-80, led to soundtrack work that spawned several pop smashes. The 1965 farce “What’s New Pussycat” included Tom Jones’ title track, Manfred Mann’s “My Little Red Book” and Warwick’s “Here I Am.” Dusty Springfield’s sultry “The Look of Love” was featured in 1967’s James Bond spoof “Casino Royale.” Most memorably, B.J. Thomas’ breezy “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” from George Roy Hill’s serio-comic Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” reached No. 1; Bacharach received Oscars for best original song and score.
A film supplied the plot for Bacharach and David’s hit first stage venture: Billy Wilder’s darkly comedic “The Apartment” became “Promises, Promises,” which opened on Broadway in December 1968 to strong reviews. “Mr. Bacharach gives the musical its slinky, fur-coated feel of modernity,” wrote Clive Barnes in the New York Times. The show, which collected a best score Grammy in 1969, was revived on Broadway in 2010, with the addition of a couple of previous Bacharach-David hits.
The songwriters’ storied partnership dissolved acrimoniously after their misbegotten 1973 film musical adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1937 feature “Lost Horizon.” In the wake of that flop, Bacharach and David sued each other; Dionne Warwick launched a suit of her own against the team. For a time, Bacharach retreated to TV work and solo recording projects.
His writing career returned to commercial form after he partnered with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, to whom he was married from 1981-92. Their “Arthur’s Theme,” written with singer Christopher Cross and Peter Allen for the ’81 Dudley Moore comedy “Arthur,” vaulted to No. 1 and collected an original song Oscar. In 1985, the couple’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” originally written for the feature “Night Shift,” renewed Bacharach’s association with Warwick; her all-star single version was No. 1 nationally for four weeks, and the composition received a Grammy as song of the year.
Bacharach’s career was relatively becalmed until the mid-’90s. He briefly collaborated again with David on the song “Sunny Weather Lover,” for a 1993 Warwick album. However, he received greater attention for work with another writing partner: “God Give Me Strength,” an emotion-wracked ballad penned with admirer Elvis Costello for “Grace of My Heart,” Allison Anders’ 1995 feature about ’60s cleffers, led to the full-blown 1998 collaboration “Painted From Memory.” A track from the album won a Grammy.
During the ’90s and ’00s, Bacharach appeared in front of the camera as well: He did cameos in Mike Myers’ 1997 spy takeoff “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and its two sequels. The latter films included covers of Bacharach-David’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (by Costello and Bacharach) and “Alfie” (as “Austin,” by the Bangles’ Susannah Hoffs, wife of director Jay Roach).
Bacharach was born in Forest Hills, N.Y. His father was a nationally known authority on menswear, his mother a painter and singer. He attended the same high school as Mike Stoller of the Leiber and Stoller songwriting team.
A pianist from an early age, Bacharach studied music at several institutions, including New York’s Mannes School of Music, where he was instructed by composers Henry Cowell and Darius Milhaud. His influences ranged from the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy to the energy and harmonic invention of bebop.
In 1972, Bacharach and David were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They received the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award for their contributions as writers in 1997 and became the first songwriting team to be honored with the Library of Congress’ George & Ira Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2011.
In 1998, Rhino Records issued a three-CD compendium of Bacharach’s work, “The Look of Love.” A like-titled revue comprising Bacharach-David songs had a short-lived Broadway run in 2003.
Bacharach released a duo album with the Isley Brothers’ Ronald Isley in 2003, and in 2005 he issued “At This Time,” his first solo album in 26 years (and a best pop instrumental album Grammy winner). He continued to make concert appearances internationally.
His theatrical work continued late in his life and career: “New York Animals,” with music by Bacharach and book by Steven Sater, opened Off Broadway at the New Ohio Theater in 2015.
Translated and Directed by Vít Hořejš Performed by Vít Hořejš & Theresa Linnihan Production design: Alan Barnes Netherton Marionettes: Milos Kasal, Jakub”Kuba” Krejci, Theresa Linnihan Costumes, Vaněk and Brewmaster puppets: Theresa Linnihan Pre-show video: Suzanna Halsey Producer of GOH: Bonnie Sue Stein/GOH Productions Presented by: La MaMa in association with GOH Productions and Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Václav Havel’s conceptualization of a self-informing citizen and employee, set during Czechoslovakia’s communist era, loses its absurdly comic and ironic sting in Audience, now playing at La MaMa through February 19. The reason has nothing to do with the quality of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette’s puppet version, directed by Vít Horejš (puppetry is a practiced art form in Central and Eastern Europe), where Theresa Linnihan locates the desperation of a coarse, destructing Brewmaster with the intensity of exposing an O’Neill character (and the show includes a growing puppet; marionettes by Milos Kasal and Jakub “Kuba” Krejci; surveillance cameras; and an important historical overview on Havel and the fall of Czech authoritarianism, by Suzanne Halsey, which goes by too fast). Instead, the issue lies with American culture’s acceptance of privacy incursions, whether from, among others, TikTok, the NSA, computer hackers, the IRS, Facebook tracking devices, and Chinese spy balloons (which the government recently seemed conflicted about shooting down, like wavering about giving out a phone number).
Havel (1936-2011) was known for never being much good at giving an interview, as the president of the Czech Republic and statesman (he went from being jailed to Kafka’s castle in Prague), much less as a playwright, dissident, and prisoner. Apparently, he could not look into the eyes of investigators or T.V. hosts, for fear of giving himself away and being punished. A second-nature revulsion to self-disclosure might even be a reason why his Vaněk character (the role is thought to be a reflection of the author, which Havel denied), in the three one-acts in which he appears, remains a passive construction. Certainly, in Audience, the Brewmaster is more a full profile than a dramatic character in conflict with an evenly matched opponent (Havel, apparently, sees his creation as the “audience” for his boss, not as an adversary). Vít Horejš, as Vaněk, offers a generous, comedic performance for a largely mild, passive role and, with his associates in the production, he meets the complex demands of the tightly choreographed dance of puppetry—an under-rated technically challenging craft, on top of the acting involved. Horejš’s translation offers a harsher, perhaps more dramatically right, ending than has been seen before (Vaněk, typically, tries to sneak out of the office without being heard). Unlike many modern American theatremakers, and others around the world—Havel, apparently, learned not to reveal himself in his art–that may help to explain pauses in his texts, which the author hoped would cause audiences to think about why they are there; other “freer” dramatists might have taken the opportunity to fill out the roles autobiographically.
Written in 1975, Audience (sometimes translated as Interview) is set in a Czech brewery boss’s office—an arena which Havel knew about first-hand. He was forced to be re-educated—to disregard his bourgeois background and presumptions and learn how to put in “a real day’s work.” Some might see his “dumbing down,” for the common good, as relevant to privacy issues in the U.S. now. Even in the Covid age, how often is one asked to meet for a beer with those in the office, or after a Zoom meeting, provide gossip on other employees, deal with an office snitch, bully, or self-appointed rule enforcer, or give a self-evaluation?
Yet security cameras in public spaces for protection, such as in subway stations, may fail in New York City and the United States Supreme Court finds itself unable to pinpoint a 2022 leaker, regarding an abortion draft, from a limited number of potential suspects. Some could question how the general population is benefiting by accepting its own deep scrutiny–through so many offices and algorithms, which, basically want to pinpoint taxpayer mishandling or assert control–and to what extent someone should have the privilege of knowing someone else’s personal information (without reciprocal transparent terms). At the same time, hiring managers may question the need for a college education, where critical thinking can be learned. The future is uncertain as to whether AI will carve out white-collar jobs, in any case.
Which brings theatregoers back to Havel, Kafka, and bureaucracy: Personal data can be extracted so automatically and benignly, and the fear of interrogation, the way Havel had come to know it, through breaches in human rights (Havel maintained he was not tortured), is largely dismissed.
Audience is a play about a terrifying reality, that has already happened here and is becoming more and more noticeable—and will swell more.