(Harrison Smith’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 4/14.)
Bibi Andersson, a Swedish actress whose portrayals of chaste schoolgirls, beguiling young women and tortured wives made her a muse and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, most notably in “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Persona,” died April 14 in Stockholm. She was 83.
Her death was confirmed by Jan Goransson, head of media at the Swedish Film Institute, who said she had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in 2009. Additional details were not immediately available.
Easily recognizable by her short blonde hair, button nose, slim figure and wide smile, Ms. Andersson appeared in more than 100 film and television productions through the years, often playing luminous characters whose warm demeanor masked past traumas or intense self-doubt.
Although she starred in Hollywood movies such as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in the 1970s, working with American directors such as John Huston (“The Kremlin Letter”) and Robert Altman (“Quintet”), she never attained the spectacular success she found in Sweden, where Goransson called her “one of the greatest stars we ever had.”
Mathew Baynton, Andrew Buchan and Toby Jones star in an energetic new production of the play that made Tom Stoppard’s reputation overnight in 1967. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet’s ill-fated attendant lords, condemned to an existence in the wings, with no control over their own destinies.
A New Jersey high school has found itself the unexpected recipient of online acclaim and viral attention for its recent stage production of “Alien,” the 1979 science-fiction thriller.
“Alien: The Play,” presented last weekend by the drama club of North Bergen High School, starred a cast of eight students in the film roles originally played by Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Ian Holm.
Whereas the movie had a budget in the range of about $10 million, “Alien: The Play” had costumes, props and set designs made mostly from donated and recycled materials.
The frantic sex in Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Miss Julie, directed by Shariffa Ali and retitled Mies Julie, now playing at Classic Stage Company (CSC) until March 10, provides a contrast to Liv Ullmann’s stately 2014 film version; but, in both, viewers are left staring at semen-stained underwear on the floor. Other current Strindberg directors, like Victoria Clark and Arin Arbus, make Strindberg (1849-1912) conventional for our time—they can’t unleash him or really take him seriously, although Alf Sjöberg did so in his 1951 film on the daughter of a count who sleeps with a servant–a classic, which opens up the story, on the order of Birth of a Nation. Ullmann, who has directed A Streetcar Named Desire and can see Strindberg’s influence on Tennessee Williams, encloses her Miss Julie in an Irish castle, but her apparent lack of budget (this is really a filmed play) and two hour running time undermine Strindberg’s brevity and pace (Farber’s setting is a farmhouse in the Karoo of South Africa, and she relentlessly brings her inter-racial version in at 75 minutes; Strindberg timed the original at 90).
Farber’s other changes include making the third character, Jean’s mother (Vinie Burrows, of the sheet-metal screech), instead of his intended, and giving the idea to start a hotel, to Julie, instead of Jean (James Udom). Elise Kibler seems too young and unglamorous to be playing the title role, although a friend corrected me: “She’s not that young.” She is a tomboy, though, who still seems imprinted from parochial school, and the audience is stunned by her voracious entry into sex, not unlike when reading the reminiscences of Linn Ullmann in Unquiet(Norton, 2015, 2019), in which the author, daughter of director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2017), himself no stranger to Strindberg (Americans may recall his production of Miss Julie, brought to BAM in 1991, starring Lena Olin and Peter Stormare) pretends not to discuss the final part of the life of her father: as a teen, though, she describes wanting an older lover to keep “doing it” and when she comes, it surprises them both: “How sudden and violent it was, like shame, like betrayal.”
Ingmar Bergman in Stockholm, 1961
Udom kisses Kibler’s foot: “Kiss my foot; fucking do it!” (in The Dance of Death, also playing a CSC—the boot is kissed, the fetish Strindberg calls for in both scripts). Udom continues up the lower leg, matching Julie’s boldness. Liv Ullmann, in her film, shows that Julie and Jean are really children, which is a point also repeated in Ingmar Bergman’s corpus; in fact, her Julie, Jessica Chastain, appears to be stunted in terms of her emotional growth, because of the early death of her mother: Kibler and Udom, however, seem to be experimenting, “playing with fire” (they’ve known each other all their lives). On the evening of the annual Freedom Day celebration, neither has ever been so fearless or unaware of the messiness of love. Ali’s direction, at a kitchen table, with African drumming, music, and a ghost, however, may be one variation of Strindberg’s play that outdoes even the playwright, regarding misogyny: Farber’s reconstruction includes a death even more violent than that of the original.
Although it does seem as though women artists trying to solve Strindberg, usually in their favor, are part of a current trend, the idea is actually not new. The concept goes at least as far back as Trifles, the 1916 play, and curriculum staple, by Susan Glaspell, which is an obvious riposte to Miss Julie, and also includes killing a canary; but here, the man in the relationship is killed, not the woman. Arbus’s direction of The Father, in 2016, asked the audience to laugh at Strindberg, as she analyzed him in a multiracial context, rather than via the kind of homogeneous society he wrote in; nevertheless, Laurie Slade’s 2013 BBC production was compelling because it was brutal. New York producers equate entertainment with comedy, but Strindberg, whose play The Dance of Death, about the death spiral of an aging couple—and which has influenced, in a hasty, incomplete tally, Bergman, Brook, O’Neill, Albee, and Ionesco–while not unfunny, poses an issue for casts, because without appropriate transitions (an actor has supplied the correct terminology), his sentiments can play like laff lines: “there are no real men today.” Actors may want the instant gratification of the audience response, but Strindberg is on to something deeper; yet, this production’s vigorous actors, Cassie Beck, Richard Topol, and Christopher Innvar, using an adaptation by Connor McPherson, are only finding identifiable contemporary counterparts to Swedes of 1887; not essences. Maybe a clearer way to say this is that they seem to be playing at their roles, but they haven’t become them yet.
For a successful immersion into Strindberg-like characters, one might watch Bibi Andersson and Jan Malmsjo in Scenes from a Marriage, where Strindberg is quoted. What the director, Victoria Clark, does bring to her production, which also plays until March 10 (this reviewer can recall an earlier production at CSC, in 1984) is an interest in movement, literally allowing the actors to present choreographed dances of death during the evening.
The mundane questions Linn Ullmann thinks to ask her father, Ingmar Bergman, during the end of his life, in Unquiet, A Novel, do nothing to illuminate an understanding of August Strindberg, by his foremost contemporary interpreter and literary inheritor. Bergman only allowed Ullmann to see him for one month every summer–on a remote Swedish island, from which her mother successfully freed herself, in the sixties. Unspoken depicts a daughter continuing to inhabit the isolated landscape, in an obsessively repetitive text, Joycean in some sentence lengths, and often banal in the points made, along with a bad copyedit (a lack of understanding of the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, is apparent, for example). Nevertheless, her book (true in all of Linn Ullmann’s work) has been highly influenced by her father’s film techniques and writing, as well as her mother’s books, Changing and Choices. Ullmann documents a man “vanishing,” as Bergman describes it, agreeing with Strindberg, in The Dance of Death, that “growing old is horrible,” passing his artistic legacy on to an observer, whom he might not even recognize.
Certain dramatists really can imprint their visions enough on audiences so that, after a play is over, the world seems reorganized. Ibsen, in Peer Gynt, as directed by Ingmar Bergman, could do this and so can Beckett, who retreats to isolated settings and characters. In Ionesco Suitefrom the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, which played at BAM Fisher, from to January 23-26, the French playwright, whom The New Yorker correspondent Janet Flanner noted, started in Paris in the mid-‘50s, “as an unknown, penniless Romanian in the avant-garde little theatres” and was , ultimately seen at the Comédie-Français and internationally, reflects society in a circus mirror, or as the dramatist would accede, a puppet show (although some of his characters don’t want to be puppets!). Flanner, who wrote about Ionesco’s Hunger and Thirstin Paris, in the ‘60s, found his work “stimulating” but “addling,” although adherents insist that Ionesco’s ouvre accurately depicts the human
Brooklyn, NY – 23 January 2019. The final rehearsal prior to the New York premiere of Director Emanuel Demarcy-Mota’s Ionesco Suite at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space.
condition. A first look at the work, when compared to conventional American or movie realism, can seem an unnecessary impropriety (Ionesco felt “our existence is unimaginable, unthinkable,” but his Absurdism helps define American downtown theatre, as well as many American playwrights, who have been influenced by him (Arthur Kopit, John Guare, Christopher Durang, Tina Howe, David Ives, Albert Innaurato, and more). The dramatist has not ascended to the level of Beckett (whom Ionesco considered “a great man”), which might have to do with his not writing in English (actually, the Tony Award-winning Irish director Garry Hynes may have made her recent production of Waiting for Godot more accessible by infusing it with Ionesco’s cartoonishness). Presenting selections from Ionesco pieces is not a new idea, though–many of the plays are short and traditionally played together, such as The Bald Sopranoand The Lesson, and aficionados will recall a 1974 musical called Ionescopade, revived in 2012 by the York Theatre Company, also an anthology of the playwright’s work. Ionesco Suite, however, lets modern theatregoers see a French production (with English surtitles) of his work—under the direction of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who, as an experiment, “just sat listening . . . taking pleasure in rediscovering each one (of the pieces), letting [himself] be fascinated. . . .”
The first of the five texts in Ionesco Suite is Jack, or the Submission, where a young man, in a child’s birthday hat, is called, by his family, “ungrateful,” a monster,” and “not worthy of his ancestors” (his sister, in red pigtails, is played by a man, gliding around the stage kneeling on a dolley). Nevertheless this grave disappointment, “disowned,” can challenge Beckett’s despairing existentialism. The costumes and makeup (by Fanny Brouse and Catherine Nicholas, respectively, in dark colors, with dangerous splashes of red or purple, are ghoulish, mime white. The early pacing is intentionally slow, to purposefully allow for acceleration throughout the evening, in a production which is masterfully paced), and the actors, five men and two women: Charles-Roger Bour, Jauris Casanova, Sandra Faure, Sarah Karbasnikoff, Stephan Krähenbühl, Walter N’Guyen, and Gérald Maillet) may deal directly with those in the audience. The young man, awaiting his cake, observes the world in disbelief: “Nothing else to do.” The theatre even begins reeking of urine.
Brooklyn, NY – 23 January 2019. Walter N’Guyen (seated) and Charles-Roger Bour in the final rehearsal prior to the New York premiere of Director Emanuel Demarcy-Mota’s Ionesco Suite at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space.
Ionesco and Beckett have also both been said to show the breakdown and failure of language and communication. In watching Ionesco Suite, however, primarily in Delirium for Two and The Bald Soprano (the fifth play in the evening is Conversation and French Speech Exercises) the dramatist seems to be commenting on the failure of logic. Ionesco, for instance, gives us a proof that a turtle and snail are the same animal and provides a syllogism for discovering who must be ringing a doorbell (and then disappearing when a front door is opened). Demarcy-Mota arranges the evening around social conventions associated with meals—besides a birthday, a wedding, and family meals also become focal points, set at a long banquet table, while his characters demand to be defined, sometimes even seeming to be deliver Yogi-isms: “The children my age were also little.” The Lesson is played exceptionally well in this production, between two men, one as a young girl (now in a blonde wig) who can add, but not subtract, and her sadistic instructor. Ionesco, who lied in occupied France during World War II, blamed “demi-intellectuals” for the rise of Nazism, fascism, and the Left (those who subscribe to sloganeering): “Writers, journalists, professors, and the like” are his rhinoceroses.
Another playwright concerned with “mass mind” is Amir Nizar Zuabi, whose Grey Rock examines the effect of occupation on the lives of contemporary Palestinians. Like Ionesco, or perhaps because of him, Zuabi, who also directed the play, finds his way to absurdism, as his characters work to launch a rocket to the moon. The society he characterizes is consumerist, and not politically violent, which may challenge assumptions about the Occupied Palestinian Territory—the lives are mundance, “only able to react to the present.” Then an Ionescian-like line helps the characters find their bearings: “Stop thinking like a clerk; like a victim!” Grey Rock, commissioned by Remote Theater Project, was presented at La MaMa from January 3-7 and was played with determination by its Palestinian actors: Khalifa Natour, Ivan Kevork Azazian, Fida Zaidan, Alaa Shehada, and Motaz Malhis. The creative team included Tal Yarden (set & video design) and Nicole Pearce (lighting design). They ask us to dream, use our curiosity and imagination, for even in America (a land which helped inspire Grey Rock), it has taken almost fifty years to decide to walk on the lunar surface again.
Ionesco said that theatre “must be simplified and grotesque” and that “comedy is more tragic than tragedy.” Perhaps he would agree that when correctly staged, Ionescian writing can scramble the brain—and produce an “alternative fact”; as an instance, take trying to find the number 2 train at the Atlantic Avenue/ Barclays Center station after watching Ionesco Suite at BAM. The scene is a cold night, the day the Shutdown has ended. The feeling one gets is vertigo.
Culturally, winter holidays and families may be more important to Arts curriculum than what is taught in schools. During the recess, children can be exposed to The Nutcracker or Hamilton, see a movie, receive a book, or listen to show tunes—and something in them may open up. Hopefully, they will feel surprise at what they discover, and suddenly, have a memory to savor for a lifetime. The occasion can give a student special definition or identification, which has nothing to do with grades or societal programming, expectations or approval. Some may even believe that such a turning point has the potential to turn the young into future ticket buyers, but that is too crass an estimation. Building this secret place might begin with Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Lion King, or learning about the settling of New Amsterdam or Winston Churchill. The subject might be old-fashioned or quirky, like first reading Alice in Wonderland, going to the circus, or listening to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. What is important is that, in a nation where most people do about the same things during a day, the mundane is broken and individualism can emerge.
Cleverly directed, as well as conducted, by Albert Bergeret and choreographed by Bill Fabris, with ballet, comic marches, and even a nod to A Chorus Line,The Pirates of Penzance, from New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (which ran at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College from December 27-30) strikes this reviewer as a production with ingredients to inspire—coming from the kind of theatre company you always hoped was out there and getting supported. The cast, on the evening of December 28, included David Macaluso, Mathew Wages, James Mills, Carter Lynch, David Auxier, Katie Dixon, Hannah Holmes, Abigail Benke, Merrill Grant, and Angela Christine Smith, among other well-trained singers in an ensemble of pirates, police, and wards, working with good humor and high spirits. The set, an old-fashioned painted backdrop with rainbow lighting—including a Celtic ruin and the dangerous clifftops of Cornwall, England–was by Lou Anne Gilleland (scenic design) and Benjamin Weill (lights)—the period costumes come from Gail J. Wofford& Quinto Ott. W.S. Gilbert’s libretto is nonsensical, using Queen Victoria as a deus ex machina, but there are moments in Shaw and Shakespeare that seem about as contrived, as well.
What is noticeable, however, is how well the tuneful music continues to captivate and flow–and here its orchestration is superior to the rather tinny, electronic hurdy-gurdy sounds used for the Joseph Papp production of 1980, starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt. Maybe this is all a way of saying that this reviewer had something of an epiphany himself regarding Gilbert and Sullivan, after assuming that such a piece would be rather moldy. But the presentation, played at a human scale, glistens like the bright, sparkling earrings worn by Dixon’s Mabel. Tell someone about the integrity of this company and perhaps recommend it to a young person looking for purpose—maybe he or she will ask the artists what they did over their holidays as kids.
PlaywrightsHorizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford,Managing Director Leslie Marcus) presents the New York premiere of Noura, a new Americandrama from 9 Parts of Desire playwright and actor Heather Raffo,continuing her longtime collaboration with director Joanna Settle, November27-December 30, in the Mainstage Theater at PlaywrightsHorizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Produced in associationwith Shakespeare Theatre Company,Noura wasdeemed by The Washington Post the “best premiere of the Women’sVoices Theater Festival” when it made its world premiere in Washington,D.C. Noura isset in the home of its titular character, a former architect from Mosul. Sheand her husband now have a successful life in New York, and, eight years afterhaving fled their home in Iraq, they’ve finally gained citizenstatus—which Noura, as anIraqi Christian, is celebrating by planning the perfect Christmas dinner. But when the arrival of a visitor stirs up long-buried memories, Nouraand her husband are forced to confront the cost of their choices, and retrace the past they left behind. With compassion and startling clarity, Raffo’s play considers a woman’s options across two nations and exposes the fragility of the structures—nationalities,marriages, mores—in which we consider ourselves at home.
Heather Raffo (Playwrights Horizons: The Profane; other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of Desire, In Darfur) gives an “impassioned” (The Washington Post), “brilliant” (Theatermania) performance as Noura, in a cast that includes Dahlia Azama (Veil’d, I Call My Brothers) as Maryam, an Iraqi Christian refugee who fled ISIS, and is being sponsored by Noura and her husband in the United States; Liam Campora (“The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods,” The Dictator) as Yazen/Alex, Noura’s son; Matthew David (Glamping, A Streetcar Named Desire, Boeing, Boeing) as Rafa’a, Noura’s childhood best friend from Mosul, an Iraqi Muslim OB-GYN living in New York; and Nabil Elouahabi (Oslo, A Tale of Two Cities, “The Night Of”) as Tareq/Tim, Noura’s physician husband, who longs to have a second child. (Nabil Elouahabi is appearing with the permission of Actors’ Equity Association. The Producers gratefully acknowledge Actors’ Equity Association for its assistance of this production.) The creative team includes Andrew Lieberman (scenic design), Tilly Grimes (costume design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), and Laura Smith (Production Stage Manager).
Raffo was inspired to write Noura—whosetitle and certain themes nod to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—after leading theaterworkshops with Middle Eastern women in New York and seeing the feminist drivein their responses to Ibsen’s play as well as their many harrowing stories ofleaving home. Raffo’s new play is the story of a woman’s restless mind pushingagainst the confines of her home life and her past.
Raffo was born in Michigan to an American mother and Iraqi Christian immigrant father from Mosul. At the start of the 2003 War, she had around 100 immediate family members living between Baghdad and Mosul. Over the last decade, particularly in the aftermath of ISIS overtaking Mosul in 2014, all but two have fled the country. In Noura, Raffo keenly explores the spiraling results of America’s invasive presence in Iraq, and Iraq’s presence in the American imagination—all from within the intimacy of a family home. Her characters are pulled as strongly by the American pursuit of rugged individualism as they are by their need to maintain a collective cultural identity.
The production of Noura exhibits the power of collaboration between two artists who have been in sync for 15 years. Raffo and Settle (Sky on Swings, TheTotal Bent, In Darfur) began their collaboration and friendship with 9 Parts of Desire, first produced in 2003. Conceived between the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and performed after the latter began, that play was an “impassioned theatrical documentary” (The New York Times) that offered a kaleidoscope of perspectives of contemporary Iraqi women characters—composites of women Raffo spent a decade interviewing throughout Iraq and its diaspora. (Incidentally, when Settle was a college student during the First Gulf War, she had moved to D.C. to interview people involved in the military—and their families—around that intervention, for her theatrical thesis project.) As 9 Parts of Desire made its way coast to coast across America over the course of two years, and as the war progressed, Raffo and Settle got to have pressing conversations with audiences—gauging the perceptions of the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq at every stop, reworking the play in each place.
Raffo says of her artistic and personal kinship with Settle, “Those conversations became so integral to our trusted intellectual relationship. That was when I had family members in Baghdad wondering if they were going to live and die in a war and through an occupation. Now my 100 family members are scattered across the world as refugees, and Joanna knows a lot of them. She danced with them at my wedding. And now she’s living and teaching in the Middle East [NYU Abu Dhabi]. The conversation has continued in how we each raised our kids; this in-depth way of understanding the stakes is very different than me coming in with a smart, kind, talented new director and saying, ‘here’s the history of my family and my people.’ Joanna lived the history with my family.”
Settle’s direction of Noura sensitivelymaterializes the psycho-emotional world Raffo creates in her script (which takesplace in the household of an architect and coalesces around her character’svivid mind). She says, “Heather and I have experienced so much together. I gotmarried, Heather got married; I got divorced, she stayed married. We’veexperienced loss. Creative choices are born out of intuition and instinct, andthe only thing I have to offer an audience is my subjective perspective.Heather and I have curated our subjective perspective together.”
Heather Raffo (Playwright; Noura/Nora). Raffo is an award-winning playwright and actress whose work has been seen Off-Broadway, in London, in regional theater, and in a film. Writing credits: Noura(Weissberger Award), 9 Parts of Desire (Lortel Award, Blackburn, Drama League, OCC, Helen Hayes nominations), Fallujah (librettist: NYC Opera, Long Beach Opera). Performing credits: The Profane (Playwrights). Other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater), Palace of the End (Epic Theater Ensemble), Food and Fadwa (NYTW), In Darfur (The Public), Macbeth (The Acting Co.), Over the River and Through the Woods (Houseman). Regional: 9 Parts of Desire (Arena, Geffen, Kennedy Center, Traverse, Bush). Film: Vino Veritas.
About Joanna Settle (Director)
Joanna Settle (Director). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater, Geffen Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, and more); Stew/Rodewald’s The Total Bent,Winter Miller’s In Darfur, Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays finale (The Public); Martha Graham Cracker’s Lashed But Not Leashed, Jaime Leonhart’s Estuary (Joe’s Pub). Regional: Noura(Shakespeare Theater Company, Abu Dhabi); Lembit Beecher’s Sky on Swings (Opera Philadelphia); Stew/Rodewald’s Family Album (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Gina Gionfredo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon (Wilma Theater). Settle is currently appointed to NYU Abu Dhabi as an Associate Arts Professor of Theater.
About the Cast
Dahlia Azama (Maryam). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Veil’d (WP), I Call My Brothers (PlayCo). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theater Company). International: The School for Wives, Three Sisters, Taming of the Shrew (AUC, Egypt). Film/TV: “#WarGames.” Graduate Studies: The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London). Undergraduate Studies: The American University in Cairo (Egypt). Awards (Egypt): Winner of the Ahmed Zewail Prize for Excellence in the Sciences and Humanities.
Liam Campora (Yazen/Alex). Playwrights debut. Broadway: Marvin’s Room (Roundabout). Film: The Dictator, The Black List. Portraying Yazen in Nourais a dream role and the pinnacle of Campora’s young theatrical career. He is also an accomplished dancer with a scholarship at Alvin Ailey.
Matthew David (Rafa’a). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Glamping (East 13th Street Theatre). Regional: Noura(Shakespeare Theatre Company); A Streetcar Named Desire, Boeing, Boeing, A Stone Carver, Escanaba In Da’ Moonlight, Best Of Friends, Apartment 3A, Corktown, Bleeding Red, Consider The Oyster, Growing Pretty, White Buffalo (Purple Rose Theatre Company); American Buffalo, Disgraced (Jewish Ensemble Theatre); Nuts (Vertigo Productions); Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Much Ado About Nothing (Flint City Theatre). University of Michigan: BFA in Theater.
Nabil Elouahabi (Tareq/Tim). Playwrights debut. Regional: Noura (ShakespeareTheatre Company); U.K.: Another World: Losing Our Children to IslamicState (National Theatre); Fireworks (RoyalCourt); Crossing Jerusalem, The Great Game – Afghanistan (Tricycle); Oslo (HaroldPinter Theatre); Oil (Almeida); A Tale ofTwo Cities (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), andmore.Film: Zero Dark Thirty, Charlie Wilson’s War, In This World, Ali G Indahouse,The Sum of all Fears. Television: “Dark State,” “The NightOf,” and more.
(Mimi Whitefield’s article appeared in the Miami Herald, 12/7; via the Drudge Report.)
A new law — reviled by many Cuban artists as another layer of censorship and control over artistic expression but promoted by the government as a defense against vulgarity, poor taste, mediocrity and low-brow cultural influences — went into effect Friday.
The new measure comes as artists and performers on the island continue to protest, and perhaps in response to those critiques, government officials said Friday that Decree Law 349 will now be rolled out gradually.
Ever since Decree Law 349 was first published in July in the government’s Gaceta Oficial , there has been plenty of pushback on the island and abroad and a flurry of meetings between government cultural officials and artists, who are still hoping for modifications. The law requires prior government approval for artists, musicians, writers and performers who want to present their work in any spaces open to the public, including private homes and businesses.
Live from the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts an all-star British cast and the BBC Singers. Presented by Andrew McGregor Live from the Barbican Hall, London Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie (Libretto by Amanda Holden after the play by Sean O’Casey) Act I Act II 8.05 Interval 8.25 Act III Act IV Harry ….. Ashley Riches (baritone) Susie ….. Sally Matthews (soprano) Croucher….. Brindley Sherratt (bass) Mrs Foran….. Claire Booth (soprano) Teddy ….. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) Barney ….. Alexander Robin Baker (baritone) Jessie….. Louise Alder (soprano) Mrs Heegan …..Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Sylvester ….. Mark Le Brocq (tenor) Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer ….. Anthony Gregory (tenor) Corporal ….. Benedict Nelson (baritone) BBC Singers Finchley Children’s Music Group Kenneth Richardson (Director) Ryan Wigglesworth (Conductor) Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play The Silver Tassie pries open the wound of the First World War and peers unblinkingly into its horrifying depths. The futility of war and its painful human cost is conveyed with even greater intensity in Mark-Anthony
Turnage’s beautifully crafted operatic adaptation, which explores what happens when young, football-mad Harry comes back from the war in a wheelchair. An all-star British cast has been assembled including Susan Bickley, Sally Matthews and Louise Alder, with rising young baritone Ashley Riches as Harry, for this long-overdue revival of the opera, premiered in 2000 at ENO. SYNOPSIS The Silver Tassie, Turnage’s second acknowledged opera, is on a much larger scale than his first, Greek.
Based on the play by Sean O’Casey written in 1927, it is set at the time of the Great War (World War I) and its title, referring to a footballing trophy, comes from a Scottish song text by Robert Burns ‘Go fetch to me a pint o’ wine, an’ fill it in a silver tassie; that I may drink before I go, a service to my bonnie lassie’. Harry Heegan (23) is a local hero – a soldier on leave from the Great War, and a renowned footballer. An only child, he lives with his parents (both in their 60s), having grown up close to the girl next door, Susie. In the flat above is a volatile young couple, Mrs Foran and her husband Teddy. The other main roles are Harry’s glamorous girlfriend, Jessie, and his best friend, Barney. Triumphant after a footballing success and winning the cup (‘The Silver Tassie’) for his team, he leaves for the front. The second act, a darkly expressionist vision of war, is cast for male voices (boys and men) only. In the second half of the opera, Harry is in a wheelchair, Teddy is blind and Jessie has deserted Harry for Barney. The final act, in which dance music plays almost continuously, brings the tragi-comedy to a poignant and moving conclusion, as Harry and Teddy set off to face the future.
Karen Finley’s set design for Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known is made up of flowering plants of pink and white and pastel colors—and for an early section of one of her monologues (three are read today: one a poem, written in the hours before curtain), she speaks as a film of time-elapsed lilies and orchids break into bloom behind her. Blown-up, they appear comic and sexual and too fragile, which, of course, is part of what Finley is, too, but on Saturday, October 27, she finds she is someone else, as well: an artistic first responder, to the eleven deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. She is playing at La MaMa, as part of the Call to Action weekend, a gear-up for the midterms and an opportune moment to publicize her new book, from which proceeds will be given to Planned Parenthood. People who don’t believe that all actors must be liberals, as if it’s in their DNA, instead of it being more convenient or concessionary for their careers, do believe Finley’s activism, even if they disagree with her politics. They know that, famously, she has been attacked by the right, as part of the NEA4—and she still can be brought up derisively, as “the chocolate-smeared woman,” in Ann Coulter’s writing (Finley’s Tawana Brawley-inspired monologue actually goes way back to the ‘80s, however; probably a signal that the conservative columnist needs fresh material).
Standing in front of her script, which rests on a music stand, now, in her stylish black-and-white performance shoes, pink top, black capri pants, and an academician’s glasses—her hair is loose and red–Finley seems taller than she appears in photos: a distinguished Commissar of the left, like a Katarina Witt–not only because she also posed for Playboy. As a veteran of the culture wars, the actress toes the party line—and she does so aggressively, fueled by the anger that has never left her, jumping on Trump’s “bleeding eyes” remark from the 2016 presidential campaign and bringing up, exasperatedly, “the obsession” with Hillary’s deleted e-mails—“30,000 of them,” should the number have been forgotten. Unlike Camille Paglia, Finley’s association, her alignment with the Democrat party—and mistrust of practically everything else–may not always serve her writing—which does not seem able to get above the political; above her politics–and which in Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, could possibly be described as Beckettian punditry. She knows how to pace a show, though—how to start and stop her work, how to move in and out of character, which may not always make for writerly, well-made theatre. She works with tension that can explode—and she is superior as a performer and in improvisation–even as her own plays tend to invoke others, such as: Come Back, Little Sheba;Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; or even her own previous work, for example We Keep Our Victims Ready. Actually, it can be difficult to think of Karen Finley in a sustained role of length, although she should have been seen, when she was younger, as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew–as long as she could change the ending. Perhaps she’s really an illusionist, always impatiently waiting to direct a new mirage, although now, she states, she has been moved to use “poetic” space, where she can keep her script with her and provide minimal movement–as opposed to playing on a traditional stage, theatrically.
Don’t think she has gone too soft, though. She’s “one angry bitch,” she cautions, “never in a good mood and that’s on a good day.” In Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, Finley goes off on, among others, Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and border separations: Her speech can be sarcastic, mocking, hysterical, overly hurt, decisively Midwestern, and even like that of a Southern preacher or witch hag. Yet the person she reminds one of most is . . . Rush Limbaugh. She’s a shock jock, it’s true: she doesn’t need to play off anyone, and she can rant and go into stream of consciousness: “It’s my body . . . not Sessions’s . . . not Jared’s . . . This body. You’ll not own my body. It’s my body. Pussies speak out!” In her public meltdown, amid free-floating anger, desperation, black comedy, anguish, outrage and outrageousness–on the day when it is learned that eight and then eleven have been slaughtered—she confides, as everyone must: “I’m really trying to do something with this life.”
Looking at the vases and containers on the stage, the flowers seem funereal. Yet the show must have been conceptualized weeks, if not months, ago. This gathering couldn’t have been what was originally intended, but Finley has been working fast and doggedly to incorporate the new reality–leaving behind the remains of an event with an entirely different meaning: a memorial.
Photo credits, from top: Notey; La MaMa; Shuman, Mandatory Credit: Photo by JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9948253an)
The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 29 October 2018. Officials report 11 people were killed by the gunman identified as Robert Bowers who has been charged with hate crimes and other federal charges .
Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA – 29 Oct 2018Variety