Category Archives: Uncategorized

IN HAMLET AND IN LIFE, RUTH NEGGA DOES NOT HOLD BACK ·

(Robert Ito’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/17; via Pam Green.)

The Ethiopian-Irish actress returns to a “completely destroying” stage role. Next: a film adaptation of a 1920s novel about passing for white.

LOS ANGELES — What stage actor wouldn’t jump at the chance to play Hamlet? Ruth Negga, for one. When she was offered the role at Dublin’s Gate Theater in 2018, her first impulse was to say thanks, but no. Too tough, too daunting, “too much,” she said. In 2010, Negga had tackled Ophelia at the National Theater in London — surely that experience would give her a leg up?

Nothing helps you play Hamlet,” she laughed.

Negga ultimately took the role, however, earning rave reviews. The Guardian praised her “priceless ability to savor the language,” while the Irish edition of The Times of London called her performance “a stunning gift for Irish theatergoers.”

If she made it all look easy, however, it was anything but. “It nearly killed me,” said Negga, who is perhaps best known for her Oscar-nominated turn in the 2016 biopic “Loving,” in which she played a woman who endures jail time and exile for the then-crime of being married to a white man in 1950s Virginia. “If you ask anyone who’s played Hamlet, it’s completely destroying,” she said. “It cracks you open, and you feel like you’re this mass of nerves and open skin.”

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Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (63) ·

We exaggerated the outward and external side of manners. . . . . This resulted in naked naturalism. And the nearer it was to reality, the more ethnographical it was—the worse it was for us.  There was no spiritual darkness, and therefore the outward and naturalistic darkness proved unnecessary. It had nothing to round out and illustrate. Ethnography choked literature and the art of the actor. (MLIA)

ALAN BENNETT: DIARY ·

(from the London Review of Books, 12/19, where he reads the entries.)

1 January 2019, Yorkshire. The New Inn, the village pub, always lays on a quarter of an hour of fireworks at midnight, which we can see if not actually from our bed then certainly from the bedroom window. Brushing my teeth this morning, I catch a glimpse of my New Year self and am depressed to see how depleted I’m looking, though not quite as much as Raymond Briggs, who’s pretty much my age, and a good documentary on whom we watched earlier yesterday evening. He’s almost two-dimensional, thinned to a knife blade. Still, he drives, which after the latest bout of arthritis in my ankle, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do.

7 January, Yorkshire. On the war memorial at Malham is the inscription:

Live thou for England
We for England died

I don’t know if this is a quotation, or an injunction that was, as it were, custom-made, but I find it – if only slightly – misplaced, and I don’t wholly concur, as the sentiment reduces what was a sacrifice to more of a bargain: we did this for you, now see you do your bit in return by living in a way the dead might have approved (whatever that might be). It’s an admonition, which I don’t like, but war memorials often take this finger-wagging tone. ‘Do better.’

8 January. My six-monthly aorta scan at University College Hospital. Due at 12.30 I’m early, so that by 12.45 I’m back home. It’s a model service, today’s radiographer a bearded young man who asks about Allelujah!, and shows me the screen and how he measures the width of my (quite small) aneurysms. Good young medics always cheer me and offer hope, not for my future but for the world in general.

19 January. Wake this morning thinking of a line that I’ve always remembered Burt Lancaster delivering in a costume drama. Caught out after curfew, he says: ‘I am apothecary Manzoni on an errand of mercy for the Sisters.’ What the film was I’ve no idea. The Crimson Pirate? Doubtless some LRB-reading cinema buff even sillier than I am will be able to tell me.

26 January. We are comfortably ensconced in our Weekend First seats at King’s Cross when John Bercow comes along the platform. Not quite the elegant, slightly flamboyant figure one sees in the Commons, he’s in a scruffy suede jacket and, according to the trolley attendant, sitting in standard class, where he is happy to have a conversation about Brexit and related matters. I’m hoping he will come down the train at some point, when I’d shake his hand and say how much of the country is with him. However, when we get to Grantham, my eye is taken by an old man with an enchanting blond Labrador, and now Bercow comes along the platform and the dog makes a great fuss of him, the old man equally delighted.

9 February. This evening we watch the much vaunted The Favourite, which is good if a bit – and perhaps deliberately – casual about period details and language, ‘letters’ becoming ‘mail’ and (a battle I had in The Madness of King George) the occasional ‘OK’ and ‘fine’. The film owes something to ours, beginning slightly as I intended to begin, with the court seen from the cramped perspective of the royal servants. Not looking at the monarch is made something of a feature, though not as specifically as we tried to do, and our film was more physical than this is allowed to be. ‘Cunt’ occurs quite often, possibly less as a deliberate attempt to shock than to show how down to earth these courtiers were. Or it may just be laziness, there being some skill in inventing euphemisms or devising elaborations that get round obscenity. Still, an enjoyable film, if an anachronistic one, e.g. ‘the opposition’ not a feature of Parliament in the 18th century.

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Photo: Keplarllp.com

FOR ENTERTAINING MUSICALS, LOOK NO FURTHER THAN … PARIS ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/5; via Pam Green.)

The genre has long been seen as minor in the French capital, but a string of English-language productions is creating a pleasingly upbeat dynamic.

The answer is unlikely to be musicals. While one of the genre’s ancestors, the 19th-century operetta, once thrived in France, musicals have long been considered minor in this country, which prizes conceptual seriousness over entertainment onstage. Yet a string of successful English-language productions has jazz hands and fidgety feet working their way into the local parlance.

“An American in Paris,” back from a Tony Award-winning Broadway run and an international tour, is competing this month with a sparkling new revival of “Funny Girl” at the Théâtre Marigny. And the two productions share a producer who has played a major role in the wave of musicals in Paris this past decade: Jean-Luc Choplin, who directed the Théâtre du Châtelet from 2004 to 2017 and is now leading the Théâtre Marigny down a similar path.

While some production companies have translated American musicals into French in recent years, Choplin has invested in English-language productions presented with subtitles. It’s a sensible choice, because the upbeat earnestness of the genre sits awkwardly with the taste for irony that is built into French discourse.

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Photo: The New York Times

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (53) ·

Doctor Stockman became popular at once in Moscow, and especially so in Petrograd. “The Enemy of the People” became the favorite play of the revolutionists, notwithstanding the fact that Stockman himself despised the solid majority and believed in individuals to whom he would entrust the conduct of life. But Stockman protested, Stockman told the truth, and that was considered enough. (MLIA)

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (52) ·

Chekhov always had the best of opinion about military men, especially those in active service, for they, in his own words, were to a certain extent the bearers of a cultural mission, since, coming into the farthest corners of the provinces, they brought with them new demands on life, knowledge, art, happiness, and joy. Chekhov least of all desired to hurt the self-esteem of the military men. (MLIA)

‘THIS IS WHY WE LIVE’ AND ‘OEDIPUS, SEX WITH MUM WAS BLINDING’ (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

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.

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THIS IS WHY WE LIVE

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

OEDIPUS, SEX WITH MUM WAS BLINDING

ODC Ensemble (Athens, Greece) with
The Directors Company

OEDIPUS:
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

Featuring
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