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Volume 24, Number 2 Fall 2012

Marvin Carlson
Contributing Editors

Christopher Balme
Miriam D'Aponte
Marion P. Holt
Glenn Loney
Daniele Vianello
Harry Carlson
Maria M. Delgado
Barry Daniels
Yvonne Shafer
Phyllis Zatlin
Editorial Staff
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center-Copyright 2012
ISSN # 1050-1991
Professor Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director
Thomas Ostermeier
Photo: Courtesy of Ouest France.
Alexandra Sascha Just, Managing Editor Anita Yarbery, Editorial Assistant
Shiraz Biggie, Circulation Manager
To the Reader
With this issue Western European Stages completes its twenty-fourth year of publication. During that
quarter of a century, this journal has provided one of the most detailed and comprehensive overviews of the
season-by-season activities in this major part of the theatre world available anywhere in any language. It has been
an extremely exciting and innovative period, marked by the work of many of the greatest directors of the twentieth
century, by actors and designers of equal achievement, and by remarkable changes in theatre design and technology.
At the turn of the century we offered two special issues that gave a complete survey of the current theatrical scene
in every country, down to the smallest, in this part of the world, a kind of overview unavailable anywhere else.
Many of the larger countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have received special issues, as have certain aspects
of the contemporary stage, such as the growth of women directors in Europe. Interviews with leading artists have
also been a regular feature, as have been detailed reports on all of the leading Western European theatre festivals.
The quarter century is a good time to take stock of what has been done by WES and where we should
move in the future. The most obvious matter to consider is how the face of Europe has changed in the past quarter
of a century. When this journal was founded, Eastern and Western Europe were two quite distinctly political and
theatrical spheres. Today, with the disappearance of the Russian control in the East, the rise of the European Union,
and the rapid increase of productions combining the artists from a variety of countries, east and west, this cold war
division no longer makes much political or theatrical sense.
Much more locally, the unexpected death of our dear colleague, Daniel Gerould, for many years the editor
of our sister journal, Slavic and East European Performance, raised the immediate question of whether and in what
form that journal should continue. Fortunately, Professor Gerould had already initiated conversations with Allen
Kuharski at Swarthmore University about the future of the journal, conversations which we have continued after
Dans death. The result has been the decision to combine the interests of these two journals into a new journal, to
be called European Stages, which will, we hope more accurately refect the contemporary European situation. It
will operate as a peer-reviewed journal.
Library and other subscriptions to WES will be continued in the new publication, although we are planning
to gradually convert the publication to an on-line journal, for greater ease of access. We wish to express our
warmest thanks to those who have supported WES in the past and we hope that you will fnd this new development
continues its service in an even more comprehensive and useful way.
Western European Stages is supported by a generous grant from the Sidney E. Cohn Chair in
Theatre Studies.
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Journals are available online from ProQuest Information and
Learning as abstracts via the ProQuest information service and the International Index to the
Performing Arts. www.il.proquest.com.
All Journals are indexed in the MLA International Bibliography and are members of the Council
of Editors of Learned Journals.
Western European Stages will become European Stages / Plans for On-line Edition
Table of Contents
Fall 2012
Marvin Carlson
Philippa Wehle
Peter Zazzali
Glenn Loney
Stan Schwartz
David Willinger
Stan Schwartz
Maria M. Delgado
Tiina Rosenberg
Eero Laine
Daniele Vianello
Eero Laine
Volume 24, Number 2
The Berlin Theatertreffen 2012
Jean Vilar's Legacy: The Sixty-Sixth Avignon Festival, 7- 28 July, 2012
The Sixteenth International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama
in Cyprus, July 2012
The Bregenz, Munich, and Bayreuth Festivals
The Ingmar Bergman International Theatre Festival
Following Favorites Around Europe
A Conversation with Thomas Ostermeier
Barcelona and Madrid 2012: Making Theatre in a Time of Austerity
From Here to Eternity: Miss Julie Strikes Back and Refuses To Die
Antigone at the National Theatre, London
Bob Wilson: Lulu between Theatre, Visual Arts, and Musical
The Prophet by Hassan Abdulrazzak, The Gate Theatre, London
Hate Radio. Photo: Frank Schroeder.
The annual Theatertreffen in Berlin is
among the outstanding representations of one of the
world's most active and innovative theatre cultures,
presenting the ten most outstanding productions of
the previous year selected by a distinguished jury
from the theatres throughout German-speaking
Europe. The festival is now approaching its frst half-
century (it began in 1963) and has for many years
been the best indication of what actors, directors,
designers, and dramatists are the most respected in
the contemporary German theatre.
The Theatertreffen juries have long valued
signifcant innovative works over even quite
admirable conventional stagings, as for example,
those of Peter Stein or Claus Peymann, once
favorites at these festivals but now long absent
from them, though still actively producing. On the
other hand, new styles of interactive and collective
work are included in this year's festival, quite unlike
anything seen in previous Theatertreffen selections.
The program opened in 2012 with a
powerful reworking of the fnal three plays of
the late British dramatist Sarah Kane: Cleansed,
Crave, and 4:48 Psychosis came from a theatre
often represented in the Theatertreffen, the Munich
Kammerspiele, and was directed by Johan Simons,
a most distinguished name in the European theatre.
Simons gained a major reputation as the leader of the
Amsterdam company Hollandia from 1985 to 2000.
Since then he has served as guest director in, among
others, Paris, Ghent, Munich, Zurich, Cologne, and
Zurich. He has presented works at the Salzburg
and Avignon Festivals and three times before at the
Theatertreffen, in 2003, 2005, and 2010. In 2010 he
was appointed to his present position as Intendant of
the Munich Kammerspiele.
Sarah Kane has enjoyed a high reputation
in Germany ever since her death in 1999. In the early
years of the new century all four of her major works
were in the repertoire of one of Berlin's leading
theatres, the Schaubhne. From the beginning,
however, she has been seen in Germany as in
England, as a major member of the "in-Yer-Face"
school of drama, like Shopping and Fucking, played
The Berlin Theatertreffen 2012
Marvin Carlson
Sarah Kane's Cleansed, directed by Johan Simons. Photo: Julian Roder.
in both countries in a cruel, violent, bloody style of
what might be called hysterical naturalism.
Simons directly challenges that line of
interpretation, fnding a lightness, grace, and lyricism
in Kane often lost in the dystopic, nightmarish
exploding worlds of torture, cannibalism, mad
scientists, and rampaging rats seen in so many Kane
interpretations. Instead of the horror flm laboratory
setting usually depicted in Cleansed, Simon plays his
actors in an infantile therapy group, whose innocent
cruelty reminded some German reviews of the world
of Shock-headed Peter. The suffering, thwarted love
and breakdown of communication remain, but not
the amputations, nor the deaths, all of which seem
to be imaginary, nor even the division between
"doctors" and "patients." Even Tinker (Annette
Paulmann), who claims the role of "Doctor" at frst,
eventually is clearly just another disturbed child.
The Beatles' song "A Day in the Life"
bridges between Cleansed and Crave. The setting
remains much the same. It is an essentially open
area, the main acting space marked by a large shiny
metallic foor surrounded by lighting stanchions and
containing a group of mismatched chairs and one
tall stool. For Cleansed, the chairs are arranged in
a small group, like a classroom setting on the right,
facing the audience, with the stool on the left. For
Crave, all are lined up in a row downstage where
the four actors (Sandra Hller, Sylvana Krappatsch,
Marc Benjamin, and Stefan Hunstein) sit in various
combinations for most of the play. Perhaps the most
striking visual element in both plays is the overhead
lighting, consisting of a forest of downlights hung
at various heights and each one at the top of a white
downward-hanging tube perhaps three feet long.
Near the end of this linguistic quartet, delivered
almost like a musical piece, a gentle mist and then
a heavier quasi-rain begins falling from the fies,
not apparently disturbing the actors, but wreaking
havoc among the overhead lighting. The long white
tubes, apparently made of heavy paper, begin to
decompose, with occasional fashes suggesting
shorts in the lighting. Eventually nothing is left of
many of them but the black wheels from which they
were hung, while a few remain intact and a large
number hang in shreds and dripping pieces, creating
a vista of desolation and decay.
This vista remains over the fnal piece,
4:48 Psychosis, whose fevered and suicidal
meditations are perhaps ultimately the darkest of
this trilogy. Again Simon seeks the beauty within
them, carrying further the musical suggestions of his
Crave by placing a chamber sextet (piano and fve
strings) center stage to provide an elegiac musical
background to what becomes essentially a feverish
monologue by Thomas Schmauser. At the beginning
of the piece, Schmauser occasionally speaks to or
with a male and female doctor (Stefan Merki and
Annette Paulmann), during which brief interchanges
the orchestra is silent; but near the end Schmauser's
role is assumed by a female voice, that of the moving
Sandra Hller, who has been sitting in a dark dress
among the orchestra and is the only member of the
company to appear in all three plays. Her quiet rage,
desperation, and suffering take the monologue and
the emotional impact of the play to new depths.
For several years the Theatertreffen has
sought to include cutting edge new performance
pieces that stretch the boundaries of conventional
theatre. Some of these are truly original, others, like
this year's second offering, Conte d'Amour, although
(and perhaps in part because) they come trailing a
history of European avant-garde festival prizes, prove
in the event to be little more than rather overblown
explorations of much more original experimental
work of the past. Anyone who has seen the work, for
example of Radiohole or Collapsable Giraffe in New
York will have experienced performances highly
similar to Conte d'Amour, but far more original and
theatrically exciting.
Conte d'Amour is not so much a collective
but a corporate creation, very typical of the
kind of collaborative endeavor between various
experimental groups and experimental venues
and festivals today in Europe. It was created as a
package by the Finnish collective Nya Rampen, the
Swedish collective Institutet, and the Swedish visual
artist Markus hrn, who serves as both director and
designer. The performance is based on the real-life
crimes of Austrian Josef Fritzl, which have already
inspired a large number of dramatic treatments in the
German-speaking world. In 2002 Fritzl's daughter
published a shocking autobiographical report of how
she spent most of her youth as a sexual captive in her
father's basement, having several children by him.
This grim situation is recreated in the
hrn production, where the audience enters to see a
construction distinctly reminiscent of the Neumann
bungalow utilized by Castorf in the late 1990s. A
small white picket fence and green border surround
a large box, the size of a capacious room, covered
with translucent plastic so that we cannot see inside.
On top of this box is a platform with a wall behind
it, suggesting an upstairs room. When the audience
enters, a tumble of fgures is dimly seen on a sofa
in this upstairs area; and when the performance
begins this tumble is revealed to be a single living
fgure, Jakob hrman, as the "father," dressed only
in a bathrobe and briefs, and three large and rather
crude mannequins that he treats as children, trying
to crush cereal into their closed mouths, and to pour
soft drinks over them.
This scene serves as a prologue to the main
action, which takes place downstairs in the plastic-
fronted basement. hrman leaves the upstairs by a
small hidden door in the back wall, and from that
time on we see the performance's action only through
two video cameras, one normally held by one of the
actors, the other hung on a wall of the "basement,"
offering a more panoramic view. hrman uses a
ladder to descend to the basement, then pushes it
back above, cutting off all escape. He brings with
him a McDonald's hamburger, fries, and drink, to
feed his "family" in the basement.
This family is composed of three live actors,
Elmer Bck, Rasmus Sltis, and Anders Carlsson,
all apparently somewhat demented, one dressed as a
woman, another played apparently as a hyperkinetic
imitation Chinese. The main scenery is a center
pole around which characters frequently swing,
a sofa, the apparently home of the cross-dressed
character, and a help of china dolls which are from
time to time crushed and broken. The text consists
of bursts of mixed English and German, usually
having to do with father-child relationships, love,
and dominance. There is almost no overt sexuality,
but much suggested intercourse and even more
violence, both real and suggested. The audience is
cast as voyeurs, following the action on two large
live video images continuously projected on the
upper wall, one from the hand-held camera and one
from the stationary one. The actors sing, speak, and
occasionally dance both for each other and for the
ever-watching cameras.
At the opening of the production hrn
announces to the audience in English that the
performance will last three hours, without an
intermission, and so, "because we love our
audiences" people should feel free to come and go
as they please. Given the fact that the performance
was scheduled to begin at 9:30 in the evening (and
actually began later as the doors were not yet open at
that time), this seemed a clear invitation for people
to drift away from this lengthy, unstructured, and
highly repetitive production. People began drifting
out after the frst half-hour and continued, sometimes
quite noisily, for the rest of the evening. By the end, I
would estimate about half of the audience (originally
about 300) had departed, and the fnal applause
was less than enthusiastic, and not devoid of boos.
It was, alas, not hard to see why a production
containing so many of the clichs of experimental
Conte d'Amour, co-produced by Nya Rampen, Institutet, and Markus hrn. Photo: Manuel Neureiter.
staging and salacious material of the avant-garde
of the last twenty years would be embraced by the
contemporary commercialized packaging of the
European avant-garde, but it is still depressing to see
a work with so little real innovation or imagination
being presented not only at the Theatertreffen, but
at Avignon, the Vienna Festwochen, Impulse, the
Baltic Circle, and in Paris, Malmo, Cracow, and
heaven knows where else. Nothing could more
clearly illustrate the contemporary herd mentality of
these institutions.
The Macbeth from the Munich
Kammerspiele, directed by Karin Henkel, also
contained many familiar elements from the recent
avant-gardea much truncated and rearranged text,
a severely reduced number of players, and cross-
gender casting, but created from them a highly
original and moving interpretation. Henkel is a
leading member of the still small group of acclaimed
female directors in Germany. She does not have
an established theatre home but has regularly
directed at most of the country's leading theatres,
primarily in recent years at Hamburg and Stuttgart.
She has received two previous invitations to the
Theatertreffen, for her Platonov in 2007 and for her
Cherry Orchard last year.
At the center of Henkel's Macbeth, in
every sense of the word, is the remarkable actress
Jana Schulz, a thin androgynous fgure who wears
throughout the bloody shirt from the opening battle
as an indication perhaps of post-traumatic stress. If
this Macbeth is driven, it is not by a lust for power,
but by a gnawing conscience and a horror at a world
of bloody struggle, a nightmare from which he cannot
escape and to which he is driven to contribute. There
is much more of Hamlet in this Macbeth than I have
ever seen and just as the melancholy Prince has often
been successfully played by women, Schulz seems a
perfect embodiment for Henkle's reinterpretation of
this fgure.
Macbeth is the only role played by a single
actor. The other four members of the company play
a variety of roles from two to six. The one after
Schulz most associated with a single role is the
corpulent Benny Claessens, who primarily plays
Banquo. After Banquo's death he rarely leaves the
stage, serving as a continual reminder to Macbeth of
his falling into the world of violence that so attracts
and repels him. Although a few settings, such as "an
open place," "Macbeth's castle," or "England," are
indicated by crude letter signs in English held up by
the actors, the setting remains essentially the same. A
large black box center stage in the shape of a simple
house, surrounded by a lighter colored acting area.
At the opening, the front of this box is opaque and
bears in large letters the title (in German) Sleeping
William Shakespeare's Macbeth, directed by Karin Henkel. Photo: Courtesy of the Berlin Theatertreffen.
Room. Later, when the lights come up inside this
space, we fnd that this description is correct. The
single piece of furniture in the room is a simple bed,
far upstage. This is the royal bed, and synecdochally
represents the kingdom, a reference reinforced by
the fact that its inhabitant often wears a large golden
paper crown. Surely the most impressive and striking
use of this bed is that in the fnal third of the play, the
highly corporeal ghost of Banquo takes possession
of it and lolls about on it, wearing the crown, and
clearly indicating the eventual possession of it by his
offspring while Macbeth struggles elsewhere around
the stage with his own demons, real and imaginary.
Although the most striking example of
cross-gender casting is Macbeth, there are a number
of other examples. Two of the witches are female
(Katja Brkle and Kate Strong) and one male (Stefan
Merki), the three members who make up the rest
of the cast. Brkle plays both Lady Macbeth and
Malcolm. Strong plays Macduff's son, a murder,
and a chambermaid. Merki plays Duncan and both
Macduff and Lady Macduff. I had never realized
before how often references to gender and sexuality
appear in this play, and this production foregrounds
them both literally and symbolically, beginning
with Banquo's characterization of the witches as of
ambiguous gender, and continuing through Lady
Macbeth's "unsex me," and her frequent charges that
Macbeth is less than a man.
The production abounds in striking tableaux
and sequences. Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene
is done as a duet with Brkle and Strong in identically
dark fowing nightgowns and standing behind thick
candles and moving through identical and highly
complex washing actions along with the lines. A
section of the back wall above the stage is from time
to time removed to reveal an inner playing space,
somewhat like a puppet theatre, which, because of
its proximity to the bed, often suggests a dream or
nightmare sequence. Here, for example, the murder
of Lady Macduff and her child is shown, rather in
the style of a puppet Grand Guignol, with Macbeth
himself climbing into the acting area to carry out the
bloody execution.
Among the few stage props is a spindly
tree branch, not much larger than a broom, which is
established in the opening scene as an accessory of the
witches, both as the conventional riding broomstick
and a kind of mock scepter. Later, it appears in their
fnal prophesy to the king as a symbol for Burnam
Wood. Only the frst two of the three prophecies
are given in this adaptation, the fnal confrontation
with Macduff and the revelation of his birth having
been cut. Thus, in the fnal sequence, Macbeth dies
not in battle but suffocated under the encroaching
wood. Branch after branch, multiple copies of
the witches' broom, are thrown into the "sleeping
room" by invisible hands through the puppet stage
opening at the rear, totally covering Macbeth, who
falls to the foor beneath the window. When he is
completely covered, the three witches, dressed in the
elegant matching cocktail dresses they wore at the
beginning, appear in silhouette in the opening above
the heap of branches, as if to make a fnal appraisal
of their work.
One of the most popular pieces in this
year's Theatertreffen was the delightful (S)panish
Fly, created by Herbert Fritsch, appropriately hailed
by Der Spiegel as the "director of the hour." Clearly,
however, Fritsch is not that ephemeral a phenomenon.
He has long been known to Berlin theatre audiences
as a leading actor in the much-lauded company of
Frank Castorf, beginning in the early 1990s, the
Golden Age of that company. At that time, Castorf
held a position much like that of Fritsch today, the
darling of the Berlin theatre world, his productions
appearing annually at the Theatertreffen. During the
new century, Castorf's star has distinctly faded, but
in this new decade Fritsch's has suddenly burst forth.
Although he has gained distinction as an actor, a
flm director, a graphic artist, and a photographer, he
turned to directing only at the age of ffty-six. This
was in 2007, when he resigned from the Castorf
company after a decade and a half there and began
directing on his own. He met with almost immediate
and astonishing success, having the rare distinction
of two of his productions selected out of the ten
offered in the 2011 Theatertreffen, Hauptmann's The
Beaver Coat and Ibsen's A Doll House. His The
(S)panish Fly is, as I have said, one of the most
popular offerings in this year's festival, and his
Mumble Mumble, which opened this year in Berlin,
is in the opinion of most, his greatest work so far and
an almost certain choice for next year's festival.
The Spanish Fly was originally a 1912
boulevard farce by Franz Arnold and Ernst Bach. The
modern production has put parentheses around the S
to suggest the tone of panic that indeed pervades the
action. In popular memory, the hysterical and highly
physical sex farce with its misunderstandings,
confused identities and parentages, eccentric
foreigners, overly sentimental young lovers,
interfering maids, and so on, is closely associated
with the French stage of the early twentieth century,
but Germany at the same time possessed a highly
popular and very similar tradition, of which The
Spanish Fly is an excellent example. This ebullient
tradition has long been dormant on the major German
stage, where comedy, when it appeared at all,
tended to be dark and grotesque, heavily ironic, or
frankly, just heavy. It has become a popular concept,
especially among Anglo-Saxons, that the Germans
simply have no concept of comedy, especially the
kind of exuberant free-wheeling comedy of total
abandon that is associated with the best French farce.
Now comes Fritsch to blow away all such
generalizations. He is quite clearly the leading farce
director in Europe today, in many ways a throwback
not so much to the pre-war theatre farces but even
to the spirit of the even more extreme farces of
the silent flms. It is in this tradition that he is
best placed, although he clearly shows a debt to
Castorf in his irreverence, his extremely physically
demanding, even violent actions, and his constant
quotations of previous, often popular material. Some
critics, probably seeking to give his work a higher
academic tone, have focused on the often grotesque,
expressionistic, but highly controlled presentations
of his actors and compared him to Robert Wilson
played at a frenetic speed.
In a vague reference to the salon settings
typical of such dramas, the setting (designed by
Fritsch himself) consists entirely of a giant copy of the
kind of Oriental rugs found in such salons, spreading
from the audience back and partly up the rear wall.
It is far too big even for this enormous German stage
and has several folds in it near the back, each taller
than a human being, and up and down which actors
frequently slide, tumble, or frantically clamber.
Hidden between its frst and second folds is a large
trampoline, allowing actors to leap down upon it and
then bounce high into the air, performing multiple
contortions as they do so. The physical demands
upon all of the company are enormous. Most have
grotesque Monty-Python-esque walks and all move
at a frenetic space, punctuated by constant falls,
any of which seems to threaten permanent bodily
harm but none of which seems to have any effect
whatsoever. The active maid (Betty Freudenberg)
seems to be falling as much as she is walking, but
this never diminishes the speech or precision of her
movement. Two highly popular comic actors play
Ludwig and Emma Klinke, the married couple at the
center of the play. Brassy Sophie Rois commands
the stage in her Marie Antoinette gowns and wigs
(similar enormous wigs are worn by most of the
women) but particularly by her ear-piercing shrieks,
which literally stop all action on stage when they
Mumble Mumble, directed by Herbert Fritsch. Photo: Thomas Aurin.
occur. Wolfram Koch as her husband has rouged
his cheeks, parted his hair in the middle, and moves
with a swaggering campy authority similar to that of
Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the fact that Ludwig
has for years believed that he has fathered a child
with a notorious cabaret performer, the appropriately
named Spanish Fly (hysterically played in this
production by the diminutive Christine Urspruch,
who, with the highest wig in the productiona
monstrous gray mass some three feet highcomes
up to the general height of the other actors). In fact,
it could just have easily been the child of dozens of
other lovers, including, of course, most of the males
in this play. The endless confusions, cover-ups,
misdirections, embarrassments, and sexual puns
surrounding this imbroglio make up the bulk of the
action. Critics and public were united in hailing the
work as a comic triumph.
By far the most talked-about production
of the festival and the one where tickets were most
diffcult to obtain was the John Gabriel Borkman of
Vegard Vinge, Ida Mller, and Trond Reinholdtsen.
Giving a specifc review of this piece is impossible
since although it is composed of a number of
predetermined (though still to some extent fexible)
elements that in general follow a certain sequence,
these can be selected, arranged, and altered in
different ways, improvised on the spot, so that
different performances can radically differ. During
its earlier run in Berlin, the program was announced
to run approximately seven hours, though it is
reported to have run anywhere from three to twelve
hours at that time. Revived for the Theatertreffen, it
was announced to average eleven hours, but usually
ran a bit longer, up to sixteen hours in at least one
reported case. The night I attended, it was close
to twelve. Since the show begins at 4:30 in the
afternoon, this virtually guarantees an early morning
ending. Audience members are free to come and go,
and most do so, some never returning, so that most
nights the original full house (the production always
had a waiting list at the Theatertreffen) of around
300 had normally dwindled to thirty or less.
This is the fourth Ibsen experiment by Vinge
and Mller and their second in Berlin. Last year also
at the Prater, at the same time as the Theatertreffen but
not a part of it, they offered a "theatre installation" of
The Wild Duck, which had many features in common
with the current Borkman. The cartoon-like settings
and costumes, the grotesque masks worn by all the
characters, the obsessive repetition of sequences,
lines or words, the casual mixing of Ibsen with all
sorts of cultural, political, social, literary, and pop
culture references, and above all, the extended use
of time. The Wild Duck was performed only once,
and no one saw it all, as it ran continuously, twenty-
four hours a day, for a full week. It was actually
performed in the lobby of the Prater, the auditorium
then being remodeled, and audience members could
observe it through windows into the lobby while
standing out in the street, under the protection of a
temporary shed decorated with the pop-art cartoons
favored by this group. I do not know if a full week
allowed the company to perform their work with all
its variations, but I suspect not, and this certainly has
never happened with the Borkman.
Borkman is performed inside the Prater in
a more conventional theatre space. The audience
enters this space, however, after passing a smaller
enclosed stage-like area seen through peepholes
which represents the offce of Hinkel, Borkman's
successful rival. Inside, the audience faces a large
dark curtain in the middle of which is a screen.
Reportedly, the production always begins with a
long live video on this screen, taken in the offce
space we have just seen. There are apparently two
basic versions of this video. The night I saw it,
Hinkel, seated at his desk and later pacing about
the room, recited in alphabetical order words (but
no defnitions) out of a dictionary for an hour and
twenty minutes. On other nights, I am told, he simply
counted up to 2000 or 3000, again for a video lasting
an hour or so. One night, I am told, the counting
lasted more than four hours, inspiring a near riot in
the theatre, but not having been there, I do not have
many details. The entire performance that night, I
understand, lasted some sixteen hours.
This opening sequence is surely partly
designed to demonstrate to the audience the sense
of excess and breaking normal theatre expectations,
and partly, I suspect, to drive out those who are not
willing to accept the producers' demands. By the time
I went, though, almost all the audience knew about
the opening and many appeared to secure their seats
and then left for thirty to forty minutes for drinks and
returned when the video sequence was nearing its end.
After this, the production, with many digressions,
repetitions, and much interspersed material,
followed the basic temporal structure of events in
the Ibsen original. One familiar with the play could
usual tell about where we were in the action and,
of course, identifable lines and images would occur,
though often distorted in some all. All the characters
wore grotesque masks, wigs, and costumes, and the
scenery, though elaborate was built primarily of
cardboard and done in a crude cartoon-like style. An
elaborate and apparently essentially pre-recorded
set of sound tracks, combined and lengthened
or shortened by the director in the course of each
performance accompanied the action throughout,
consisting not only of often ironic background
musicWagner being a particular favoriteand
even more strikingly, certain creaks, squeaks, and
other odd noises which accompanied each step each
character took (unique to each character somewhat
in the style of the old melodrama motifs). Despite
the constant shifting and overlapping of these sound
elements, from which the actors took their cues for
which variation they were performing, there was
no sense of hesitation or improvisation but rather
an astonishingly fuid and precise series of events,
elaborate and excessive as many were. All genres
were combined from operatic arias to Star Wars
laser battles, with greater extremes of violence,
sexuality, and scatology than I have ever seen in the
theatre. Much of this is centered on director Vinge,
who served as a kind of conductor of the event and
also as a major actor, wearing a Wagner T-shirt and
often nothing elsedefecating on stage and building
small dough-like structures with the result, literally
tearing down walls of the auditorium as well as the
stage, driving spectators from benches which were
then destroyed and in one tour de force, offered most
nights, lying on his back and peeing into the ear so
as to hit his mouth and spray up the results. Some
nights (though luckily not the night I was there) a
dozen or so naked actors, just assassinated on stage
and covered with false blood and piss (ketchup and
mustard) literally crawled out through the audience,
driving spectators to retire to the washrooms to
clean their clothing. The night I attended, one of
the Borkmans (who unlike the other actors was
played in three personifcations) had a sequence
where he hurled cardboard boxes into the audience,
where some hurled them back and others cowered
in fear (one colleague actually had a bleeding cut
on his head from a bit of fying debris). Clearly an
important part of the aesthetics of this company,
like some of the body art of the 1970s, though much
more inner-directed in its dangers, is in testing the
limits of both the form and its spectators. Of course,
it is widely denounced as unacceptably anarchic,
but that is clearly too simple a reaction. There is no
question that amidst the astonishing vulgarity and
excess the company also creates unforgettable visual
moments and sequences of astonishing originality
and complexity. Troubling and even infuriating as
Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkmann, co-created by Vegard Vinge, Ida Mller, and Trond Reinholdtsen.
Photo: Courtesy of the Theatertreffen Berlin.
it can be, it unquestionably deserves its growing
reputation as one of Europe's most daring and
original performance groups.
Thanks to the chances of scheduling I saw
some eleven hours of John Gabriel Borkman on
12 May and was back in the theatre mid-afternoon
the next day for eight hours of Faust I +II from the
Thalia Theater in Hamburg. Even by the grueling
standards of the Theatertreffen, this was a marathon
weekend. Happily the Faust, in addition to being
a lively and gripping production, was much easier
on its audience. Not only were we not assaulted,
but we were given an hour break of dinner in the
new cafe just opened this year in theatre of the
Berliner Festspiele, along with two other twenty-
minute breaks and still managed to be fnished
before midnight. For a production of both parts of
Faust that is fairly modest. When presented at all,
it is usually given on two long evenings, and Peter
Stein's monumental production a decade ago ran a
solid twenty-two hours, not cutting a word. One can
be grateful for director Nicolas Stemann's discretion
this time.
Stemann is a leading member of the
generation of new German directors that emerged at
the opening of the new century. He frst was invited
to the Theatertreffen in 2002 with his Hamlet from
Hannover. Since then he has directed at a number
of leading German theatres, recently primarily with
the Thalia, and has become a regular feature of the
Theatertreffen with two productions by Elfriede
Jelenik (2007 and 2010) and with Schiller's The
Robbers in 2009.
The frst part of Faust is played in a three-
hour block without intermission, and it is a tribute to
the marvelous acting of Sebastian Rudolph that this
lengthy period is continually lively and engaging.
The interpretation is a tour de force of acting since
for the frst hour Rudolph holds the essentially empty
stage alonetreating the text as a reading from the
small paperback he carries with him. A table, a chair,
and a microphone he uses from time to time, but
essentially he simply presents the text, playing all
the characters, not only Faust but the various theatre
personages of the prologue on Earth, a rather dotty
God and snide Mephistopheles in the prologue in
Heaven, and on into the opening scenes of the play.
Mephistopheles at last brings a second
actor onto the stage, Philipp Hochmair, who is
presented in many ways as a double of Faust, and
even somewhat resembles him physically. Not
only do they move together and from time to time
embrace, they also exchange lines, so that Hochmair
becomes a second Faust. A similar process occurs
Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust, directed by Nico Stemann. Photo: Courtesy of the Theatertreffen Berlin.
with Patrycia Ziolkowska, the third actor in this
part of the play (there are six in all, plus a soloist,
a dancer, and chorus members). She frst appears as
Gretchen, but from the Walpurgisnacht onward joins
the continually shifting trio of Faust representers.
Although these same three actors dominate
the second part, although three other "Fausts" appear
who also assume other rolesBarbara Nsse, Birte
Schnink, and most notably, the corpulent Josef
Ostendorf, a frequent performer with Christoph
Marthaler, who plays a particularly decadent version
of Mephistopheles, a role he and others frequently
signal by placing little illuminated red horns on their
heads. Although there is still minimal scenerya bit
of scaffolding at the sides and back and a blank back
wall used for paintings, projections, and in the Helen
sequence hung with metallic sheets to represent the
palace facade, the second part is from beginning to
end much more visually rich and complex than the
minimalist frst part, more like the elaborate stagings
Stemann has done for his Jelenik productions, with
constant references to contemporary concerns,
especially economic and political. The Emperor
scene, of course, opens itself readily to contemporary
excesses of capitalism, as does much of Faust's land
speculation in the second part, and Stemann brings
in a variety of striking visual aides to emphasize
these parallels, including both projections of
fnancial charts and graphs, and cardboard cutouts of
burgeoning metropolises that overwhelm the stage
space near the end. Projections of still images and
videos both on the back wall and the two side walls
of the auditorium accompany almost every scene as
do musical passages from two onstage pianos.
As the evening progresses it becomes
increasingly self-conscious and self-referential.
A fgure resembling the aged Goethe settles
into an armchair with a lamp center stage and
announces his new discovery of the post-dramatic.
Competing scholars on video put forth their various
interpretations of Goethe's work. Grotesque puppet
fgures fll the stage. All of this reaches a climax
with the fnal battle over the soul of Faust, where an
army of grotesque puppet demons appear from stage
traps with much noise and smoke only to be routed
by equally grotesque angels, borne aloft on poles
and sweeping over stage and audience alike. At their
head is Ostendorf, his considerable girth increased by
heavenly robes and huge wings. Amid the chaos the
fnal lines of the play are projected above the stage
in neon lights while Ostendorf, at the end of a ramp
extending up and out into the center of the audience,
sings triumphantly: "The indescribable here is
achieved." I cannot help concluding with a comment
from the critic of the Hamburger Abendblatt which
I must rank among the most bizarre appraisals of
a production I have yet encountered: "Faust I + II
are together longer than a transatlantic fight to New
York and leave a more hauntingly beautiful and
lasting impression." One would certainly hope so.
Although the Theatertreffen John Gabriel
Borkman was unquestionably the most radical of
the works I saw in Berlin, its visual and dramatic
imagination also made it among the most interesting.
A production of An Enemy of the People from the
Theater Bonn, the other festival entry by Ibsen,
seemed to me far too self-indulgent with far too little
positive result. The most striking innovation here, at
least for the German public, was the casting of a black
actor, Falilou Seck, in the role of Dr. Stockmann.
Black actors are rarely seen on the German stage
(just as black faces are rarely seen on German
streets, even in international cities like Berlin), and
there has been much controversy in recent years
about the use of blackface in the German theatre. In
fact, racial matters fgure little in the specifc action
of the piece, although they contribute important
images and help solidify Stockmann as an outsider.
He opens the evening in a glittering frock coat, and
performs a sequence suggesting a stand-up comic
in a cabaret (among his references are some to the
popular German singer of the 1970s, Roberto Blanco,
similar in some ways to Harry Belafonte). In broken
German, he panders to the audience, discusses his
immigrant background, forgets his lines, and when
prompted, launches into a beautifully articulated
passage from Heiner Mller. This prologue ends
when he literally and fguratively "dries up" and
calls for a glass of water. He is handed a glass from
the wings, flls it at a convenient standing tap by the
proscenium, drinks the water, and falls comically to
the foor, apparently poisoned.
There is no important connection between
this prologue and what follows, especially in the
character of Stockmann, who now appears as the
rather simpleminded head of a household, treating
Hovstad (Konstantin Lindhorst), Billing (Nico Link),
and his surly brother Peter (Stefan Preiss) to a rather
expressionistic dinner where the guests struggle
over the single microphone to give lines from
Ibsen's opening scene while Stockmann runs back
and forth to the kitchen to get wine while his brother
seizes each absence to fondle Mrs. Stockmann (Jele
Brckner). During the meal the Stockmann's brassy,
politically engaged daughter Petra (Marleen Lohse)
appears, in cowboy dress and with guitar to sing a
Kurt Weill-type "worker's song," explaining at some
length and tautologically, how worker's songs are the
most beautiful because they are worker's songs. She
will appear to present other such songs in a raspy,
grating voice several times during the evening, once
accompanied by a small rock band made up of the
other two children (Luka Marie Schinkel and Joshua
Knauber), wearing fur jackets and Viking helmets.
In fact Petra, more than Stockmann, is the
political center of the play, which very much refects
both the artistic and social vision of its director,
Lukas Langhoff. Langhoff is the third generation of
theatre directors in his family, his father being the
well-known Thomas Langhoff. Lukas's style and
concerns much less refect the work of his father,
however, than that of Frank Castorf, with whom
Lukas trained in the early 1990s, when Castorf was
at the height of his infuence. From Castorf Lukas
seems to have gotten his willingness to take great
liberties with texts, even interpellating totally new
material into them, along with Castorf's strong
sympathies with East German socialistic ideals, both
of which are clearly to be seen in this Enemy of the
When the dinner scene is completed,
a large black wall rises in the middle of the stage
and most of the subsequent action is played upon
it or in front of it. During most of the evening,
water runs over this wall, suggesting that it might
be serving as a dam. At one point, Mrs. Stockmann
writes upon it in huge letters HARTZ IV, a term
that is now widely used in Germany, referring to a
piece of 2004 legislation concerning unemployment
compensation, but now generally used as a noun
or adjective referring to the non-working poor,
especially emigrants. Stockmann's famous speech in
the fourth act is delivered from atop this wall, but
not to an assembly, only to Stockmann's four family
members, who form a downstage line looking up at
him. This long speech, eloquently delivered, without
further stage effects except for a spotlight, is one of
the most effective sequences in the production and a
triumph for actor Seck.
It is soon followed, however, by a bizarre
and apparently gratuitous directorial intervention.
From the fies descends an enormous golden foot,
to rest beside Stockmann on the wall. Viewers of
Monty Python would see a close similarity to the
huge crushing foot at the end of the often repeated
animation sequence, though this foot does not crush
anyone but simply comes to rest, to be admired
apparently by the Doctor. I looked in vain among the
reviews for an explanation, but all were apparently
as puzzled as I was and few even mentioned this
major image.
Much more successful was the sequence
that followed, when the black wall disappeared into
the stage foor and reemerged with a large glass
window in its front revealing an aquarium-type
space inside, full of smoke and tropical plants, and
Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of the People, directed by Lukas Langhoff. Photo: Courtesy of the Theatertreffen Berlin.
containing Stockmann's enemies, all in gas masks,
who now communicate with him by written messages
held against the glass. I found this suggestion of the
end-product of environmental indifference striking
and memorable, but as usual, an effective device was
shortly followed by a seemingly quite gratuitous one.
Morton Kiil (Sascha Maurice Hchst) now made his
only appearance in the play, to threaten Stockmann
with fnancial ruin if he persists. Inexplicably, Kiil is
dressed in a huge red gummy-bear costume (at frst I
thought it might be a badger, but no such luck).
In the fnal sequence the Stockmann
family gathers for a picnic lunch in the still
uncontaminated air with the contaminated aquarium
in the background. Dr. Stockmann spreads out a
GDR fag to serve as the picnic cloth and Mrs.
Stockmann passes around picnic supplies. Petra, of
course, brings her guitar and closes the show with a
socialist camp song about the triumph of the workers
and the welcome disappearance of capitalism. Each
verse has the refrain "It's over, it's over. It's fnally
over." The audience, by no means pleased with all
the directorial innovations, not surprisingly heartily
joined in the refrain, giving rise to a fnal observation
by this reviewer. Obviously no intelligent director
who is offering a major reworking of a familiar play
will provide the audience with such an opportunity
to talk back without realizing it. Thus it is clear both
that the director expects resistance and even outrage
and the audience, at least in signifcant numbers,
expects to be outraged and sees that as part of the
experience. Many hearty boos were mixed with the
applause, but it all seemed ultimately part of the
ritual, and a very odd one indeed to an American
The Gob Squad's Before Your Very Eyes,
on the other hand, seemed like much more familiar
territory, although it took this seventeen-year old and
by now quite familiar experimental company in a
somewhat new direction. For the frst time company
members did not appear on stage, but the piece was
performed by seven Flemish children with which
the company has been working over the past several
years. In other respects, however, the production
clearly had much in common with previous Gob
Squad work in its mixture of live action, live video,
and video clips, as well as in its utilization of found
material including people from outside the theatre.
Gob Squad plays continuously upon the
tension between performance and reality, but usually
in a rather arch, self-conscious manner. The seven
children perform inside a mirrored room, the side
facing the audience being a one-way mirror, giving
the illusion that they are unaware of the audience. But
the frst line of the play says they can begin because
the audience is assembled. Later they are informed
that an audience is watching and they come forward
to darken their vision before the mirror and try to see
out. Since they have already performed this piece
widely in Europe, they are perfectly aware of what is
going on, however, so it is not clear what this faux-
illusionism is supposed to represent. On either side
of this box was a large video screen. For the most
part this showed clips of these same actors several
years younger, carrying on conversations with the
never-seen moderator, or with their contemporary
selves, who speak into a large TV monitor on stage
which projects their image onto the other screen.
An interesting linguistic layering is set up, since
the moderator speaks in English, and the children in
Flemish with their words translated (the evening I
saw it) into German supertitles.
The theme of the piece is the process of
aging, as seen from the perspective of the flmed
interviewees, a couple of years now in the past, and
their present adolescent selves, both guided by the
questioning of the rather smug and presumably adult
moderator. What results is a rather simpleminded and
somewhat condescending view of the life process
from an adolescent perspective, fltered through a
world-weary production apparatus. This is a saga
of youthful energies, unfulflled dreams, missed
opportunities, inevitable compromises, decline and
death. It is almost inevitable that the production
should arouse associations with the famous British
Up Series, directed by Michael Apted, which began
in 1964 with 7 Up and the most recent episode of
which, 56 Up was released in May of 2012. Here
too the project traces the life expectations and
fulfllments of a group of youths, beginning at
seven and continuing at seven-year intervals, to see
how their goals and self-vision change. Obviously
the Apted series is far more ambitious, indeed
monumental, but its reality, though still somewhat
manipulated, its nuance, and its consideration of such
concerns as class and economicsconcerns totally
absent from the Gob Squad projectemphasizes in
a striking manner the simplemindedness and nave
sentimentality of the Gob Squad experiment.
The last sequence in Before Your Very
Eyes that has a touch of authenticity is when the
children paint their faces in front of the television
set for an extended Gothic scene. After that they
begin jumping forward in time, to celebrate a banal
fortieth birthday party with the ever present voice
of the narrator directing their actions as in "Talk
about the wine," "Offer her a glass," or "Look
bored." False eyeglasses and pillows for growing
paunches represent aging. Then on to the seventies
and powdered hair and fright wigs indicating age,
and a rather desperate rendering (in French) of "Je ne
regrette rien" to indicate an unfailing spirit. Finally
an extended, still energetic dance, reminiscent of
the opening exuberance, from which one by one of
the now aged dancers drop dead to the foor. That
is not quite the conclusion, however. One by one
they rise, slowly walk backward out of the set, to
appear on video as the adolescent selves we saw at
the beginning, performing break-dance-like routines
in various public places, full of the joy of life and
Despite its arty self-consciousness, the
piece has real fashes of charm, but it remains a very
slight work indeed in terms of either the commentary
on the individual human life-experience, which
seems to be its concern, or on the social/political
implications of any of this, about which it suggests
almost nothing. It is certainly a superior piece to
the earlier Contes d'Amour, but it is the product of
a similar and now increasingly familiar dynamic:
the recycling of familiar contemporary avant-garde
techniques into a rather banal if trendy metatheatrical
and video-dominated production, created by a
network of experimental groups (in this case Gob
Squad, itself a German/American cooperative,
CAMPO in Ghent, and Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin),
then using this network as the basis for tours to
usual suspects in the European avant-garde scene
(the London LIFT Festival, Vienna, Prague, and so
on). The Theatertreffen, once outside this circuit, is
more and more allied to it, and thus losing some of
its distinctive features and becoming more like the
Vienna Festwochen or London LIFT.
One of Berlin's most innovative directors is
Ren Pollesch, who served from 2001 to 2007 as the
artistic leader of the Prater, the experimental stage of
the Volksbhne, where John Gabriel Borkman was
presented. His frst major offering at the Prater was
the Prater trilogy in 2002 whose invitation that year
to the Theatertreffen frst brought him to national
attention. Since then he has won a number of major
prizes for his works, written by himself and normally
designed by Bert Neumann, and has directed in most
of the major German theatre cities as well as in
Santiago, Chile, Tokyo, Stockholm, and Warsaw.
Although every piece by Pollesch has a
somewhat different form and structure, he has become
particularly interested in recent years in modern
Gob Squad's Before Your Very Eyes. Photo: Courtesy of the Berlin Theatertreffen.
work with the chorus and also with monologues. His
contribution to this year's Theatertreffen centrally
combines these two. It is essentially an hour and a
half monologue by the popular flm and TV actor
Fabian Hinrichs, who has starred in several recent
Pollesch productions, visually backed up by a
charming, if not brilliant, group of young German
Pollesch's work has always operated
on many levels, from slapstick and pop cultural
references to abstract discussions of political and
economic theory. Parody and quotation are central
to his productions, which have been characterized
as "vaudeville for the intellectual middle class."
Some of these proclivities are already clear in the
title of this new work: Kill Your Darlings! Streets of
Berladelphia. This complex title evokes the current
flm project of Daniel Radcliffe and the darkly
comic Swedish flm of 2006, both in turn inspired
by events in the early years of Allen Ginsberg, Jack
Kerouac, and William Burroughs, the equally dark
pop hit by Bruce Springsteen (which is heard in
the production), and the actual advice of William
Faulkner, common in literary circles, to cut out
those parts of your writing that you love the most.
The portmanteau "Berladelphia" of course converts
this primarily American cultural mix into a partly
German one.
It is the Faulkner advice that provides one
through line of the performance. Pollesch has long,
like his mentor Frank Castorf, used the theatre in
signifcant measure to condemn the many failures
of late capitalism, frequently through cruel and
grotesque (though still very funny) parody. In recent
productions, Pollesch has not changed his political
position, but softened its edge and taken a more
specifc interest in the dilemma of the individual
caught between competing systems of belief and
attempting to factor personal emotions into social
equations. These are, of course, concerns that much
occupied Brecht and add signifcant complexity
even to his most overtly political works, such as the
Lehrstcke. Indeed, I saw a Castorf production of
a combined Yea-Sayer and Nay-Sayer a few nights
before I saw Kill Your Darlings and found them
very similar in the complex relationship of their
emotional and rational, personal and political, and
tragic and farcical elements.
Unhappily, Hinrichs was stricken with an
illness during the festival and several productions of
Kill Your Darlings had to be cancelled. Fortunately,
however, the production was made available on
large video screens at the huge SONY Center near
Postdamer Platz, a feature which has now become
standard for several of the Theatertreffen offerings,
and so I was able to see it in this admittedly less
satisfactory form. I thus missed the much praised
entrance of Hinrichs through the audience on a
bicycle, then to be lifted in a kind of large bucket
up into the fies for the opening number, but I did
Ren Pollesch's Kill Your Darlings. Photo: Courtesy Berlin Theatertreffen.
get to see that spectacular number in which he, in
a brilliantly spangled costume, and his chorus of
acrobats came whirling down in a crowd from the
fies to begin their constantly moving routines.
Normally in Brecht and his followers,
the chorus represents workers or the proletariat,
but Hinrichs playfully introduces his gymnasts as
a chorus of capitalists: a sprightly, youthful, and
exuberant group of capitalists indeed, far removed
from the middle-aged and overweight traditional
capitalists of the Brecht tradition. There is indeed a
great deal of humor at the expense of this tradition,
more than I have ever seen before in Pollesch's work.
The empty stage is quite Brechtian and is made more
so by such devices as the single piece of scenery,
a wagon clearly imitating that of Mother Courage,
and a curtain that is pulled across from time to time
bearing the name Fatzer.
Brecht's Fatzer fragment, an unfnished
work discussing the common Brechtian theme of
the tension between individual self-realization and
submission to the collective, is clearly built into
the basic structure of Kill Your Darlings, but it can
hardly be taken as a "key" to the work. Like all,
Pollesch plays the production is a highly physical
exploration of a maze of overlapping political, social,
economic, and theatrical concerns. The evening is
a tour de force, both physically and linguistically,
for Hinrichs, Pollesch's Fatzer, but an essential
background for his performance is provided, both
literally and fguratively, by the constantly moving
chorus, who sometimes simply fll the stage with
acrobatic movements, and at others make of their
bodies living steps and platforms for the utilization
of the supple Hinrichs.
The fnal offering of this year's
Theatertreffen was also one of its most impressive.
This was Chekhov's sprawling Platonov, created
for the Vienna Burgtheater by Latvian director
Alvis Hermanis. Primarily associated with the New
Theatre in Riga, Hermanis has since 2005 begun to
make guest appearances in Germany and Austria,
though this is his frst invitation to the Theatertreffen.
In its richness of scenic detail, its careful
attention to the nuances of this complex and diffcult
text, and above all in its stunning ensemble work, the
Hermanis production hearkens back to the legendary
original productions of Chekhov at the Moscow
Art Theatre and, for Germans, the great Peter Stein
Chekhov revivals of the late twentieth century.
Since Stein, however, this style of production has
almost totally disappeared from the German stage.
In January of 2010, Peter Michalzik, the editor of
the arts section of the Frankfurter Rundschau, called
the Stein Chekhovs "from today's standpoint, both a
highpoint and an endpoint," the "fulfllment of what
Stanislavski had begun: historically authentic dcor,
precise sounding out of every emotional reaction,
exact sizing up of relationships, due attention to
every illusion." He might have also added rich
and detailed sound tracks made up of the famous
Stanislavskian crickets, birds, and distant trains as
well as the nuanced, painterly use of light, suggesting
the particular atmosphere as well as the time of day.
Hermanis' remarkable Platonov clearly
demonstrates that this tradition is by no means
exhausted, but in the hands of a strong director,
designers, and actors, can be just as powerful today
as it ever was. Hermanis has only made slight
cuts to Chekhov's sprawling text. His version still
runs almost fve hours, with a single intermission,
and its ffteen characters, all spending twenty-four
incident-packed hours together in Anna Petrovna's
(Drte Lyssewski) country estate, are at frst quite
overwhelming in their comings and goings and
their interlocking affairs, but such is the clarity of
Hermanis' direction and the skill of his company,
that all of these complex inter-relationships soon
become both clear and compelling.
The setting, by Monika Pormale, is a
triumph. The main area shows us two walls of a
grand salon, joining upstage center. The left wall
contains windows and a door opening out onto a
spacious veranda, with elegant fretwork and beyond
it the inevitable Russian birch forest. The left wall
contains a row of glass doors opening into an elegant
dining room with a huge table in the center. Action
takes place in all of these areas throughout the
evening, and characters move freely from one area
to another, often through the middle of other scenes
which they may acknowledge or not. The sense of
life and fuidity is remarkable and yet always clear.
The impact of this lavishly detailed setting is greatly
increased by the constantly shifting and sophisticated
lighting design created by Gleb Filshtinsky and the
elegant period costumes created by Eva Dessecker.
In his frst full-length play, Chekhov put
together the most scattered and ramshackle structure
he ever created, and at the same time, the work is not
only unmistakably his, but bits and pieces of all of his
later and more famous works can be detected here,
along with variations of all of his favorite themes
and famous charactersthe feckless aristocrats, the
lovesick maidens, the self-obsessed sufferers, the
misfts, the failures, the accepting, and the desperate.
Seeing them all again in this new confguration is
one of the many great delights of this evening.
As if all these delights were not suffcient,
Hermanis has assembled a company that includes
a number of Germany's greatest actors. At the
center is Martin Wuttke, considered by many to
be the outstanding actor in Germany today, as the
hapless Platonov, who somewhat inexplicably
arouses passionate interest in almost everyone else
in the play. Wuttke's balance of fecklessness and
manipulation, of comedy and pathos, is stunning,
and a long drunken scene in the third act with the
Jewish son Isaak Abramovic (Fabian Krger) shows
these two brilliant actors at the top of their form and
is simply the funniest (and one of the longest) drunk
scenes I have ever seen in the theatre. The rest of the
cast is uniformly strong, but particularly notable are
Peter Simonischek as the pompous Glagoljev and
Philipp Hau as Anna Petrovna's always famished
son Sergej. On the feminine side, Lyssewski is
admirably seconded by Johanna Wokalek as her
somewhat hysterical daughter-in-law Sofa, Sylvie
Rohrer as Platonov's long-suffering wife Sasha,
and Yohanna Schwertfeger as the landowner Marja
Following the production, despite the
lateness of the hour, the audience called back
the company for repeated curtain calls, the most
enthusiastic I had seen during the festival. Despite
some somewhat questionable choices, which happen
every year, it is a testimony to the wide-ranging
interests of the Theatertreffen and its jury that by far
the two most attractive offerings this season were this
Platonov, a remarkable contemporary reworking of
one of the most traditional production approaches in
the modern European theatre, and the John Gabriel
Borkman, clearly dedicated frst and foremost to
breaking as many conventional practices as possible.
It was in all a most invigorating two weeks and I
look forward already to the 2013 edition.
Anton Chekhov's Platonov, directed by Alvis Hermanis. Photo: Courtesy of the Berlin Theatertreffen.
2012 marks the centennial of the birth
of Jean Vilar, founder of the Avignon Festival in
1947, director of the Thtre National Populaire
(from 1951 to 1963) and famous theatre director
and actor who died in 1971. Tribute is being paid
throughout France in celebration of Vilar's many
accomplishments, especially in Avignon in July
where one could visit a major exhibit devoted to his
career at the Maison Jean Vilar, attend a production
of a play he wrote in 1941 performed by actors from
the Comdie Franaise, and watch Place Public on
14 July,

a sound, image, and light extravaganza
created by KompleXKapharnaM, an arts collective
from Villeurbanne, that wowed a crowd of over
8,000 gathered on the open plaza in front of the
Popes' Palace. Projections of scenes from Vilar's
famous productions, interviews with his actors,
other testimonials, and even cartoon characters,
danced across the walls of the palace as well as the
Banque de France. The object was not just to remind
spectators of Vilar's project of a people's theatre, a
theatre available to all, but also a theatre dedicated to
neglected classics and provocative new works. His
legacy clearly lives on in the sixty-sixth festival.
Franois Hollande, France's new Socialist
president, came to Avignon on 15 July, the frst
French president to attend the festival since Socialist
Franois Mitterand in 1981. Speaking at various
venues, he clearly aligned himself with Vilar's ideal
when he declared that "the goal of culture is to give
access to the arts to the widest possible audience."
[Libration, 15 July, 2012]. He also spoke of
his commitment to the ideal of forging a new
democratic culture that would take into account the
cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity of contemporary
France. Faced with France's budget crisis and high
unemployment, Hollande's main concerns are not
likely to be an increase in the cultural budget, but he
has already begun a program to make arts education
a priority.
In press conferences and other public
statements, festival directors Vincent Baudriller and
Hortense Archambault also acknowledged the debt
the festival owes Vilar. "Jean Vilar invented today's
Festival," they wrote in the festival program. It is a
"laboratory where the most diverse experiments are
carried out, not only in the realm of aesthetics but
also in terms of the relationship with the public"
An impressive line-up of "diverse experiments"
included twenty-eight premieres, six performed
Jean Vilar's Legacy: The Sixty-Sixth Avignon Festival, 7- 28 July, 2012
Philippa Wehle
KompleXKapharnaM 's Place Public. Photo: Courtesy Avignon Festival.
in France for the frst time, and sixteen in foreign
languages with French supertitles, ffty shows in all
that offered audiences a wide choice of trends and
practices in today's theater.
These ranged from Forced Entertainment's
The Coming Storm, the British group's new work that
tries to achieve a new narrative language through
a series of stories and sketches, to Le Vertige, an
interpretation by two women of Hitchcock's Vertigo
performed on a high wire, and Disabled Theater, a
fascinating performance by eleven mentally disabled
professional actors (from Theater HORA in Zurich)
working with experimental choreographer Jrme
Bel. An unusual number of festival shows included
startling scenes of bloodshed, rape, and incest, some
so horrifying and virulent that at times it seemed
almost unbearable to attend yet another unsettling
and painful scene of brutal atrocities no matter how
good the production.
Thank goodness for Simon McBurney's
adaptation of Bulgakov's The Master and
Margarita, three hours and twenty minutes of pure
entertainment with exciting visual effects and superb
acting. Which is not to say that the play does not
raise serious issues in keeping with Bulgakov's
textissues of artistic and personal freedom, of
good versus evil, and of charity versus tyranny, for
examplebut it is hard to take matters too seriously
when the production often seems closer to a variety
show than a drama. How can one take Berlioz's
decapitation too seriously when his head is clearly a
melon rolling across the stage?
Set in Moscow under Stalin and in Jerusalem
under Pontius Pilate, with multiple scenes in these
entirely different worlds, McBurney's Master and
Margarita benefts greatly from the stunning high
tech images created by designer Es Devlin's special
effects, Luke Halls's 3-D animation, and Finn Ross's
huge video projections and satellite photos that
transport us through the skies on a galloping horse
made out of chairs or through the streets of Moscow,
and most impressive, an extraordinary fnal image of
the walls of the Honor Court crashing down on us.
Sixteen Complicit actors perform the
play's many different roles: Berlioz, the chairman of
the literary society MASSOLIT, Ivan the young poet
whose long poem has been found suspect, Woland,
the Devil, an expert in black magic and his three
cronies, one a large talking black pussy cat. They are
all superb, especially Paul Rhys as both the Master
and the Devil Woland, Tim McMullan as Pontius
Pilate who moves from powerful but confused to
becoming a human being with doubts about his
decision to crucify Christ, and Sinad Matthews's
Simon McBurney's adaptation of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Photo: Gerard Julien.
devoted Margarita who sells her soul to the devil in
order to win the Master's redemption.
As the play opens, Ivan discusses atheism
with Berlioz, and Woland all in black with startling
metal teeth, joins them to set the record straight.
After all he was there, he says, when Pontius Pilate
sentenced Christ to the cross. Therefore there is
no question but that God exists. The scene shifts
to Jerusalem where in a ray of light, Pontius Pilate
(suffering from a terrible headache) discusses mercy
and compassion with a Christ who exhibits real
suffering, with his crown of thorns and emaciated
body. Before long the Police take Ivan away to an
insane asylum where he is incarcerated not because
he is insane, but because he has begun to question
the party line. There he is joined by the Master
whose novel about the meeting of Pilate and Christ
is deemed irrelevant in an atheist society. Margarita
appears, and she and the Master fall in love.
Despite the play's many themes,
McBurney's focus is on the triumph of good over evil
and the possibility of reconciliation and redemption
through love and compassion. In an interview
with the Telegraph's Sheila Johnston (1 March,
2012), McBurney spoke of the focus he wished to
underscore in his production: "Pilate is forgiven. So
the piece is partly, if not centrally, about compassion.
That seems to be a very urgent idea at the moment."
Hungarian director Kornl Mundrucz is
also interested in the possibility of reconciliation
in his adaptation of South African author J.M.
Coetzee's novel Disgrace, but his treatment of
the issues facing post-apartheid South Africa and
today's Hungary seems to conclude that differences
and opposing views are not likely to be reconciled
even if compromise is attempted.
The opening scene of his reimagining
of Disgrace was one of the most realistic and
frighteningly violent scenes that I have ever
experienced in the theatre. Lucy, the daughter of the
novel's protagonist Professor David Lurie, is quietly
sleeping on her sofa in a ramshackle farmhouse
somewhere in South Africa when the front door is
bashed in and three wild men, wearing what look
like crazy Halloween wigs made of kinky black hair
(to indicate that they are black even though they are
played by white actors), gangrape her. Mundrucz
spares us no details. Lucy is beaten and penetrated
by all three as the audience looks on in horror.
Played by Orsi Tth with her blond hair cropped like
a boy's and her pencil thin body more androgynous
than female, she is the image of victimization and
vulnerability. Smeared with blood, sperm and feces,
she stands before us naked, covering her eyes as
the rapists take off. As if it weren't enough that we
are subjected to this brutal scene, a flm version of
Kornl Mundrucz's adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
the same scene is played later in the show, to make
sure, perhaps, that we do not forget the ever-present
possibility that the white and black populations of
post-Apartheid South Africa have not yet come to
terms with their anger.
Lucy's father soon shows up. He has been
dismissed from his post as professor of literature for
having had sexual relations with one of his students,
and he now seeks refuge in his daughter's house.
Shortly after his daughter's rape scene, he calmly
reenacts his seduction of his student Melanie.
While their sex is not violent like the daughter's
rape and the girl is somewhat willing, it is clearly
a professor interested only in self-gratifcation who
takes advantage of his student and as such another
example of abuse of power and the reason for Lurie's
Mundrucz's set is overfowing with
objects and people. Lucy's cluttered living area is
center stage rear. Stage left a shabby living room
with a bath tub in the middle of the foor. Stage front
is a long "box" flled with dark rich earth. This is
the garden tended by Petrus, a black man who will
marry Lucy in order to protect her from further
violence. And on stage right we glimpse an animal
shelter where veterinarian Bev Shaw euthanizes the
dogs that are roaming freely around the countryside.
Dogs play a major role in this show. We constantly
hear them barking; we see them dead or in cages.
They even join in the songs that accompany some
of the action.
And in the fnal scene of the play the actors
put on dog skins and become dogs baying and barking
at the audience, pleading, perhaps with the audience,
to help them. There is even a strange scene in which
Bev breaks the fourth wall and tries to auction off
her dog Mishka to anyone in the audience who
might be interested. "Only four dollars," she pleads.
Mishka is a very real and adorable little dog, and the
chance to save just one of the many strays appealed
to more than one audience member. At least one of
these "beasts abandoned by the white population"
would be accepted by society.
In other gentler, kinder scenes, a garden of
roses is planted by Petrus, Lucy, Melanie, and others,
each one delicately placing his or her rose in the dark
earth and then watering them. Perhaps beauty will
win out over the atrocities we've witnessed. Even
David fnds a modicum of peace helping Bev with
the dogs yet even though he bonds with Mishka, he
Disgrace. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
agrees to euthanize her. Lucy who is pregnant as a
result of her rape, decides to keep the baby, marry
Petrus, and stay on their farm. Her baby will be
multi-racial and her marriage multi-racial as well.
This choice may indicate hope for the future of
South Africa, but in truth she will be forced to live
next to the very men who assaulted her. This cannot
be an easy compromise. "This is a generation that
wants retribution," in the words of Steven Cohen,
speaking at his press conference about the work of
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
From actors portraying dogs to no actors at
all, this was the kind of leap made often in the sixty-
sixth festival. With 33 tours et quelques secondes
("33 RPMS and a Few Seconds"), for example, a
semi-documentary piece created by Rabih Mrou
and Lina Saneh from Lebanon, audiences got the
chance to watch an entire play without a single
live fesh and blood presence on the stage. Instead,
there is a set composed of a desk, some chairs, a
telephone, an answering machine, and computer,
a TV set, and an old-fashioned record player. The
show begins with Jacques Brel singing Le dermier
repas on a 33 rpm record that started playing on its
own. Brel's song about his desire to spend his last
meal with his friends and his cats, and his need to
deny the existence of God and attack the middle
class one last time, introduces the ostensible subject
of the play, the suicide of a young Lebanese militant
who had fought for human rights during the Arab
The phone rings and we hear "Laissez un
message s'il vous plat. Please leave a message." A
woman's voice is heard. She's clearly anxious to see
her friend and says she will call back. A Facebook
page appears on a screen behind the desk. It is dated
1 October, 2011, and it belongs to Diyaa Yamout.
There is no photo. Messages from some of Diyaa's
3,543 friends begin to scroll down his wall at the
same time that text messages from a Palestinian
friend appear periodically on the screen. She is on
her way from London to see him and wants to keep
him abreast of the diffculties she's running into en
route to Beirut. Suddenly a posting announces that
Diyaa is dead. Another that he committed suicide.
Then we learn that the young man (28 years old)
took his life in a public place and that he flmed his
own death.
Thus begins a fascinating stream of moral,
political, and religious opinions about Diyaa's
suicide. Friends mourn his loss, others approve
of his choice, still others wish him well, but quite
a few are outraged. They condemn him for this
blasphemous act and question his right to take his
own life. Beyond his Facebook page, TV anchors
report still other reactions and musings on why Diyaa
ended his life. Even his parents are interviewed
along with a psychoanalyst. Still in shock, they say
that his mission in life was to defend human rights
and he devoted his life to non-violence. Perhaps
he committed suicide because he felt that his goals
could not be reached in contemporary Lebanese
Rabih Mrou 's 33 tours et quelques secondes. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
society. Finally a posthumous letter is uncovered.
In it, he writes that his decision was not politically
motivated and that because he wasn't able to fnd
any freedom in this world, he decided to look for it
in non-existence. Interestingly, it seems that Diyaa
Yamout never existed. There is no record of him
even though he is still on Facebook (even I am a
33 tours not only questions the shifting
borders between documentary and fction, it achieves
a fascinating dramatization of how social networking
can create discord and even lead to the possibility of
creating an uprising in a deeply intolerant society.
In contrast to this experiment of a theater
without actors, Christophe Honor's La Facult,
directed by ric Vigner and performed by the third-
year acting students from his International Acadmie
of the CDDB-Thtre in Lorient (Brittany), is
a rather conventional play with a clear plot and
recognizable characters, but its disturbing subject
matterthe brutal murder of a young Arab boy
and Honor's ability to capture the edgy life style
and raw language of a group of young people, some
from the housing projects, some of them students at
the university, make this play well worth a visit.
La Facult was written by Honor in 2010
for the acting students in Vigner's International
Acadmie. This year there were seven young French
actors from Mali, Morocco, and Israel, and foreign
actors from Korea, Germany, Rumania, and Belgium
who have learned to speak French. They are "the
world's youth" in the words of ric Vigner. The story
concerns Ahmed, a gay Moroccan schoolboy, who
like the other characters in the play is looking for love
and connection among the students and hangers-on
in and around a university campus. The cast includes
three brothers, Kevin, Yoann, and Jrmy who is
gay, and their friends, their single mother Madame
Lefamair, who is a powerful fgure determined to
protect her children at all costs, drug dealers, and a
gay professor who takes advantage of his position to
have sex with whomever he wants, mainly Jrmy.
They live in a world flled with abuse and cruelty.
The Avignon production of La Facult
was held in a new space, an open-air courtyard of
the Lyce Mistral where classroom buildings and
walkways provide an ideal background for a play
about the erotic encounters between students, drug
dealers, and a professor. Vigner covered the spacious
grounds with a fne white sand that transformed the
"set" into an impressive snow-covered terrain once
the lights were dimmed. You could almost feel the
bitter cold even though it was a hot Avignon evening.
The play which is more melodrama than
contemporary tragedy, centers on the tale of Ahmed,
a Moroccan schoolboy, who is bludgeoned to death
Christophe Honor's La Facult, directed by ric Vigner. Photo: ric Vigner.
with a motorcycle helmet by an older student, a
murder witnessed by others. It is a horrible scene.
Although we do not actually see the gruesome
murder in any detail, we are shown the lifeless body
lying in the snow. Jrmy who had had one sexual
encounter with Ahmed and was probably falling in
love with him, is heartbroken. Others, his brothers
especiallythey are the murderersare no doubt
relieved to have him out of the way. The police
decide that Ahmed's murder was a botched drug
deal. Others think that he was killed for homophobic
reasons. Others because of his race, and still others
because he lived his life freely and without shame.
Nobody knows for sure, but Jrmy's brothers are
suspected of committing the crime. A fnal scene,
played in a heightened expressionistic style, the
actress who plays Madame Lefamair could almost
become a heroine of Greek tragedy. Faced with the
possibility that her son Jrmy will denounce his
brothers to the police, she eloquently pleads with
him to remain loyal to his family. When he refuses,
she banishes him and threatens to kill him if he ever
comes near her again.
Steven Cohen's Title Withheld (For Legal
and Ethical Reasons), a one-man performance/
installation piece, was one of the hottest tickets in
the festival. Only forty-three ticket holders were
allowed into a cramped space underneath the
Popes' Palace twice daily to attend this fascinating
and unsettling show. Steven Cohen is a performer
originally from South African who now lives in
France. He frequently speaks of himself as a Jew,
a homosexual, and a white South African whose
grandparents escaped from the Holocaust and
settled in South Africa only to exchange one system
of discrimination for another. As a result, he grew
up with feeling guilty about being a racist, a Jew
who escaped from the Holocaust, and not being
heterosexual, and his performance work is always
about confronting these different parts of himself.
Title Withheld, his latest piece, was inspired
by Cohen's discovery of a diary in a fea market in
La Rochelle in 2004. The document, written by a
young French Jew between 1939 and 1942, contains
1,000 miniature drawings and 1,000 entries that
describe daily life in France as the massive arrests of
French Jews by the Nazis was approaching. Cohen
was fascinated by the diary. He had it translated and
spent several years trying to fnd traces of the young
man's family so that he could get permission to use
the material in a performance. He fnally achieved
his goal but only for part of the diary, and this only
Steven Cohen's Title Withheld. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
a short while before he began creating the piece for
Avignon. Hence the name of his show.
To reach Cohen's performance, one had to
climb up a steep incline at the back of the Popes'
Palace, and duck one's head to avoid the low stone
ceiling of the cave-like space under the stage where
The Master and Margarita had played. Moreover, the
only seating was a very narrow, very uncomfortable
stone ledge. Not knowing what to expect from such
an unusual theatre experience, the audience waited
in the dim light, fnally realizing that we were
surrounded by live rats running along in transparent
plastic tubing behind and later in front of us. This
was creepy but not really threatening.
More waiting and then the realization that
something was happening on a video screen far over
to the right of the long space. It looked like a fgure
lying on its back, enclosed in stone walls. There are
legs and a penis, and what looks like a head. The
fgure slowly begins to get up and stands before us.
He is tall and very thin, almost skeletal.
His head is bald and his face is pale
but for the sparkles, fake eyelashes,
and long whiskers coming out of
his mouth which is painted a deep
purple or maybe black. He is naked
except for a corset around his middle.
On his feet are a pair of remarkable
metal platform shoes, weighing about
ffteen pounds each. How will he
ever walk with them? He makes his
way slowly and what appears to be
painfully, using long poles to keep
his balance. Lifting one leg and then
another, he attempts a clumsy pli and
falls, gets up and moves on across the
uneven stones. When he reaches a
central structure, he manages to raise
his legs so that we can see the bottom
of his shoes. The drawings, writings
and dates of the young Jew's diary are
displayed there via images on an ipad.
We can barely see what is there but we
sense that these must be the "hidden
things" that Cohen spoke of in his
press conference. They are not for us
to see or read. In contrast, porn videos
on a large screen show a good looking
woman pleasuring herself with
"weird" creatures (Cohen's word),
a snake in one and a fsh in another.
These are quite funny whereas the
flms showing Marshal Ptain and
Hitler speaking or haranguing large
crowds are not. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand,
provides a sense of promise and hope as we watch
him speak to a crowd on his release from prison.
Cohen has said that Title Withheld is not fnished.
"I will start to make the work after it's opened," he
told the press. I can only imagine what he plans to do
to make this amazing piece any more extraordinary.
Arthur Nauzyciel's much anticipated
interpretation of Chekhov's Seagull, La Mouette,
in the Cour d'Honneur of the Popes' Palace, played
to mixed reviews. The entire four hours unfold in
a nocturnal landscape with the familiar characters
dressed in black tie and elegant long evening dresses,
and frequently wearing white seagull, full-head
masks. These masks created by Erhard Stiefel, with
their orange beaks and beady eyes, provided the only
bright note in this otherwise rather gloomy setting.
Even the ground was made of dark-colored gravel on
which the actors had to walk in their bare feet, and
Title Withheld. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
the set, composed of a large metallic mound and a
long, high metallic wall, as gorgeous as these pieces
were, enveloped a cast of phantom-like fgures who
dance rather than walk through Chekhov's tale of
unrequited love.
As the audience of 2,000 took their seats, a
short 1897 black and white flm by Louis Lumire,
entitled Arrive d'un train la Ciotat (Arrival of a
Train at La Ciotat) shows a train pulling into the
station and women in long dresses and men in straw
hats walking around the platform, was projected
repeatedly on the metallic wall, no doubt setting the
scene for the arrival of Chekhov's characters before
making their way to Arkadina's brother's country
estate. Strangely Nauzyciel's Seagull opens with
Treplev's suicide followed by his mother Arkadina's
appearance (with seagull mask) reciting the words
that Nina normally speaks in Chekhov's play "I am
a seagull. No that's not it. I am an actress." She is
joined by the other characters who are also wearing
seagull masks. They gather around Treplev's body,
kneel down, and lift him up, and begin carrying him
off. Before they reach their destination, however,
they put the body down and begin a sort of danced
funeral procession, slowly swaying back and forth as
they move forwardmourning the death of an artist
who believed he could make a change in the theatre
with his new experimental forms in art. By placing
this scene at the beginning of his Seagull, Nauzyciel
seems doubtful, that even today, experiments in
theatre will not prevail over more conventional,
popular entertainment.
Following this rather odd beginning,
Nauzyciel returns to Chekhov's play. It is time for
Nina's performance of Treplev's new experimental
play. There is a brief moment between Nina and
Treplev: He declares his love for her and she
responds with a friendly kiss. The contrast between
Treplev who seems weary and is bent over (he is
wearing a hunched-back jacket) and the lovely,
vibrant Nina is visually striking. The much-awaited
play is about to begin. Nina appears on top of the
metallic mound, a dazzling fgure of modernity with
her short cropped hair and modern see-through pants
outft (her black bra and panties are quite fetching).
She delivers Treplev's lines clearly not understanding
their meaning. Later she tells Treplev that his words
are unreadable and that she does not understand the
symbol of the seagull. Actually none of the guests
do except for Dr. Dorn, who later tells Konstantine
that he has talent and must be patient. But Treplev is
too depressed to believe in himself. Like Masha he
Anton Chekhov's The Segull, directed by Arthur Nauzyciel. Photo: Courtesy of the Avignon Festival.
is in mourning for his life as are so many of the other
characters. They are all seagulls sitting on top of the
metallic mound, cold and empty and unable to fy.
Nauzyciel's Seagull was a haunting dance that was
beautiful to watch but Chekhov's characters got lost
in the dark.
Jean Vilar took great risks in 1947 when he
decided to present three plays in Avignon that had
never before been seen in France (Shakespeare's
Richard II, Paul Claudel's Tobie et Sara, and La
Terrasse de Midi, a new work by an unknown
young playwright, Maurice Clavel). There was no
guarantee that there would be an audience or funding
for these plays or that there would be a second
festival. Sixty-six years later, his festival is a huge
success. With 135,800 tickets sold and an attendance
rate of ninety-three percent this year's festival, with
its program of new artistic forms and contemporary
subject matter, open to as many people as possible,
clearly paid tribute to Vilar's legacy.
This summer I had the good fortune of
attending an academic conference in Nicosia,
Cyprus at the very time that the Sixteenth
International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama
was getting underway. Sponsored by the Cypriot
National Theatre (Cyprus Theatre Organization), the
festival offered eight productions from fve different
countries, all of which were performed at classic
amphitheaters located throughout the small island
country. The balance of this review will focus on a
pair of productions that were textual compilations
pertaining to the myth of the House of Atreus: The
Cyprus Theatre Organization's (CTO) Electra and
Orestes, the Trial, and the Hessian State Theatre of
Wiesbaden's Agamemnon's Children.
Serving as the national theatre of Cyprus
since 1971, the CTO production of Electra and
Orestes, the Trial was adapted from Aeschylus' The
Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, the respective
Electras penned by Sophocles and Euripides, as well
as the latter's Orestes. This compilation of tragedies
was both written and directed by Hanan Snir, a
guest artist from the Israeli National Theatre, whose
production of Antigone was positively received
by CTO audiences in 2008. Snir's cast of twenty-
eight consisted of the principal actors and a chorus
of women who played roles ranging from libation
bearing peasants to Aeschylus' infamous furies,
which were presented as AK-47 toting terrorists
bedecked in black robes and hijabs. Snir's choice
to use the furies to locate the generational feud of
the House of Atreus in a contemporary context was
inspired by his own experience living in the war-torn
Middle East:
"From where I come from, there are three to
four generations of hostility between Israel and the
Palestinians. You can't end a confict with another
war. The only way to end it is by compromise, with
a great superpower like Athena, or the UN, saying,
'No More! Lay your weapons down! You must
compromise!'" (Hanan Snir, interview with author,
5 July 2012)
Snir sees Athena as a "moderate" who
counters the extremist positions of Apollo and the
furies. His production was therefore somewhat
sympathetic to Orestes and Electra, with the former
being acquitted of matricideyet banished from
Argosby a jury of twelve audience members
who were randomly selected at the outset of the
performance. The jury was invited to sit in the front
row, and after the trial scene's respective arguments,
they flled out their ballots and placed them in a
box to be counted in real time, thereby ostensibly
determining the drama's outcome. Snir admitted,
however, that the verdict was a contrivance to create
the appearance of a metatheatrical decision that
decided one of two possible outcomes; in fact, his
production followed the same plotline as Euripides'
Orestes, with the antihero being reprieved.
Nonetheless, the exoneration seemed justifed,
given the powerful appeals for forgiveness made
by Electra (Lea Maleni) and Orestes (Nektarios
Theodorou), both of whom aroused the audience's
empathy, as their lines were effectively underscored
by a chamber orchestra of stringed instruments
positioned stage left. The scene was as thrilling as
it was cathartic.
The performance took place in a refurbished
amphitheater located in Nicosia on a starlit July
evening. The minimalist set design consisted of a
few pieces and props (e.g., a small tent; a plurality
of oil barrels; a large wooden table; an assortment
of burlap sacks), all of which were used to suggest
location changes. The setting's signature feature was
a stunning stairway that sloped down the skene and
provided an offstage entrance for Athena and Apollo.
The costumes and lighting were understated, thereby
privileging the production's acoustic elements,
most especially its poetic language and musical
underscoring. The acting company was visible
throughout, with most of the cast seated in chairs
arranged along the semicircular stage to face the
playing area; the actors created entrances and exits
to and from their seats as needed, a convention that
worked rather well at fulflling Snir's self-described
attempt to add a "Brechtian" motif to his otherwise
empathic and emotionally charged production.
If the spoken word and musical underscoring
was the production's joint focus, the acting company
and musicians did their jobs bringing it to life. This
fact was apparent throughout the performance from
its two-character scenes, such as the chillingly
vindictive exchange between Electra and Orestes
after having murdered Clytemnestra, an act that was
The Sixteenth International Festival of
Ancient Greek Drama in Cyprus, July 2012
Peter Zazzali
Hanan Snir's The Trial. Photo: Courtesy of the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama.
committed offstage in accordance with the protocol
of the ancients, to the production's numerous choral
offerings. Snir's use of the chorus was particularly
effective in its undaunted theatricality and attention
to ritual. For example, he chose to enact the burial
of Agamemnon by having a tribe of suppliants
convey their homage by rhythmically pouring out
his ashes from buckets as they chanted their ode
while the musicians punctuated their speaking. His
staging of the event was a visually engaging blend
of processional lines and refned dance, an array of
highly choreographed movement that was very much
in support of the scene's elegiac tone. Scenes such as
this one consistently kept the ritualistic sounds and
storyline of this compilation of classic texts present
to the audience, a feat made all the more powerful
when considering the performance site was over two
thousand years old.
The following evening I travelled to the
city of Paphos to see another festival offering that
centered on the Atreus myth: the Hessian State
Theatre of Wiesbaden's Agamemnon's Children.
Performed on Paphos' ancient Odeon stage, the piece
was adapted from Euripides' Orestes and his pair of
Iphigenia tragedies, as well as Sophocles' Electra.
The synthesis of these texts was intended to provide
the audience with multiple points of view regarding
the Atreus narrative, most especially the perspectives
of Orestes, Electra, and Iphigenia regarding the
murderous events involving their family. While the
compilation of these ancient texts seemed like an
intriguing way to stage the myth, the production fell
fat on numerous levels.
The set and costumes were at best
unremarkable, and oftentimes an outright eyesore.
Agamemnon was attired in a sweat-stained khaki
shirt, for instance, with matching shorts and boots,
and he had a white towel constantly draped around
his neck, which, in addition to being an odd costume
choice for a mythic warrior, was never used. The
other male characters did not fare any better, with
Menelaus bedecked in a gray tee shirt, a trench coat,
khaki pants, and Converse sneakers; Pylades wore
a blue tee shirt, gray pants, and an oversized jacket;
Orestes was in gray pants and donned a tank top.
Their drab appearance matched their pedestrian
performancesthe actor portraying Agamemnon
performed half the show with his hands in his
pockets. Although the women's costumes were a
bit more colorful and interesting, the overall look
The Hessian State Theatre's Agamemnon's Children. Photo: Hessian State Theatre.
to the production was blas. The setting, such as
it was, consisted of oddities like a pommel horse,
bunk beds, and various illustrations inscribed on
the wooden skene, all of which had no thematic
connection in support of an identifable vision.
Indeed, Agamemnon's Children was a confusing
mess. The most glaring visual faux pas was the
choice to trap Orestes in a web of orange colored
hoses and tubing at the outset of the adaptation's
fnal installment, otherwise known as Euripides'
Orestes. The title character spent at least ten minutes
largely hidden from view as he attempted to speak
his text from beneath this industrial heap. Obviously,
the play's language was of little importance to the
production's director, Konstanze Lauterbach. To add
to this reductive affair, Michael von Bennigsen's
(Orestes) fellow actors were forced to play the entire
scene on their knees, as he occasionally popped his
head from out of what can best be described as scenic
junk. Even after Bennigsen freed himself from the
hoses and tubing, the clump remained downstage
center for the remainder of the performance,
thereby challenging the audience with yet another
disconcerted distraction.
It is unfortunate that a compilation of three
timeless masterpieces should be reduced to a level of
such visionless direction and pedestrian playing. The
fact that the Paphos Odeonan amphitheater built in
the second century A.D.was the site for this debacle
only added to the audience's disappointment. The
spectators were clearly bored, confused, and appeared
to be generally tired after enduring Agamemnon's
Children, a work that aimlessly lumbered on for two
and a half hours without an intermission. Whereas
the Cyprus Theatre Organization's treatment of the
Atreus myth was performed with ritualistic beauty
and imagination, the German offering was its artistic
opposite, a reduction of the grandeur of myth to a
dull and oftentimes confusing mess.
Odeon Theatre with Paphos Lighthouse. Photo: Joe Fox.
Space Opera Solaris and Revolutionary
Andrea Chnier in Bregenz
Watching the fascinating stage opticals of
Detlev Glanert's Solarisbased on Stanislaw Lem's
space fantasy of 1961, written when Poland was
under the seemingly unending domination of the
Soviet Union, I thought that American audiences
might well be intrigued by the visuals, as well as by
the oddly developed narrative. But would his unusual
musical formulations appeal to opera elitists, more
accustomed to the lilting melodies of Puccini or the
thunder blasts of Wagner? Years ago, Christa Ludwig
and Walter Berry worried about learning the diffcult
music and librettos of new operas for the Salzburg
Festival, only to discover that the costly productions
would not move to the Wiener Staatsoper.
Solaris is not, as yet, on its way to Vienna,
but it will soon be seen in Berlin, at the late Walther
Felsenstein's always innovative Komische Oper!
Perhaps the embattled New York City Operanow
properly ensconced in the historic Opera House of
the Brooklyn Academy of Musicwill be able to
bring Solaris to America?
Lem's Solaris has earned a worldwide
audience, not only of sci-f buffs. It has been flmed
at least twice: frst, in the then Soviet Union, in 1968,
for TV. Later, in 1972, Andrei Tarkovsky's version
won the Special Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival.
Then, in 2002, Steven Soderbergh flmed Solaris
with George Clooney. The plot of Solaris involves
the space fight of Kris Kelvin (the baffed Dietrich
Henschel) to investigate what may be going wrong
on a space station, originally intended to observe the
curious planet Solaris. A plasma ocean covers this
distant planet and this orb not only emits sounds,
but even words. It can also read the minds of those
aboard the space station, eventually absorbing them
into its mysterious mass. The station's chief doctor
(Martin Winkler) is conducting bizarre experiments
that have already resulted in alien forms, such as an
overstuffed black woman (Bonita Hyman in a fat
suit), a malevolent old lady (Christiane Oertel), and
a much abused dwarf (Mirka Wagner). Kirk's mentor
has committed suicide, his body being kept in a deep
freeze, and his beloved wife, Harey (Marie Arnet),
who committed suicide some fourteen years ago, is
The Bregenz, Munich, and Bayreuth Festivals
Glenn Loney
Detlev Glanert's opera of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Photo: Courtesy of Bregenz Festival.
recreated by Solaris in two versions, both made of
Luftstoff. Kirk falls in love, all over again, with both
entities. But he feels he fnally has to destroy the
Harey apparitions. In his transformative agonies, he
calls out for a Spiegel (a mirror) because he fnally
has come to understand that we do not need to be
rocketing around in space to study other planets; we
really need to take a closer look at ourselves!
We do not actually get to see the sea of
plasma on Solaris, but we do see its effects, refected
on the pristine white, post-modernist chambers of
the space station, designed by Christian Fenouillat.
Solaris can also be heard moaning, singing, and
chanting, thanks to the Prague Philharmonic Choir.
Reinhard Palm provided the libretto text, with short,
even choppy dialogue exchanges. Glanert's score
effectually musicalizes the conversations, without
creating any sweeping symphonic texture. The
staging was devised by Moshe Leiser and Patrice
Caurier, with Markus Stenz valiantly conducting the
Wiener Symphoniker.
Later in the festival season, Detlev Glanert
premiered another relatively new work: Nijinsky's
Tagebuchbased on actual diary entries. This was
premiered in 2008 in Aachen. Both staged and
choreographed by Rosamund Gilmorewith a
setting of white suitcases and trunks, shuffed around
among six players, against a black background
Vaslav Nijinsky's often mad ravings while on tour
with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes achieved a
mad life of their own.
What dazzled Stefan Ender, the music
critic for Vienna's leading newspaper, Der Standard,
was the way in which all the performerswhether
primarily actors, dancers, or singerswere able to
dance, act, and sing in permutations and variations of
such Nijinsky ragings as: "Ich bin Gott!"(I'm God!)
Or "Ich mach Kack" (I make shit). This Chamber
Opera and this Bregenz Production should be seen
in New York and beyond. Detlev Glanert, born in
1960, has been givenwith some fourteen works
of Musiktheatermore productions than any other
contemporary German Composer!
Andrea Chnier Returns to the
Lake Stage on the Bodensee!
Once again, the great head of the murdered
Marat was swarming with platoons of revolting
French revolutionaries: singers, chorus, aerialists,
dancers, and supers on the Bregenz Festival's lake
Detlev Glanert's Nijinskij's Tagebuch. Photo: Courtesy of the Bregenz Festival.
stage. This was the second year of Keith Warner's
astonishing staging of Umberto Giordano's opera
about one of the victims of the French revolution,
Andr Chnier. Revolutions almost always eat their
children, with the American Revolution, perhaps,
a fortunate exception. Designer David Fielding's
decision to make the head of Maratstabbed in
his bath by Charlotte Cordaythe centerpiece of
this spread-out staging was scenically dazzling, but
almost counter-intuitive, as Marat has no role in the
Considering the varied beauties of and
emotional crises in Giordano's solos, duets, and
choruses, Chnier is a work that would be much
more powerful on a small stage, whether proscenium
or thrust. On the wide, wide, wide Bregenz lake
stagewith spotlights on major charactersone
often doesn't know where to look to see who is
actually singing. Next summer's Magic Flute will
have to be amazing to top this production! Admirable
were the Chnier of Hctor Sandoval, the Grard of
John Lundgren, the Maddalena of Tatiana Serjan,
and the other important roles played and sung by
Rosalind Plowright, Krysty Swann, Tobias Hchler,
and David Stout. Ulf Schirmer conducted the Vienna
Symphony deep in the bowels of the lake stage,
visible from time to time on video monitors on both
sides of the 7,000 seat bleachers.
Post-Post-Modern Wagner in Munich
The Ring: Das Rheingold
There once was a time when every Opera
House and City Theatre in West Germany had to have
its very own productions of Richard Wagner's Ring
Cycle in its repertory. Even then, back in the 1950s,
there weren't enough Wagnerian Heldentenre to
go around, not to mention memorable Brnnhildes.
Today, the casting problems are even worse, as opera
houses around the world have to have their own
Rings. In 2012unlike at Manhattan's Met, with
its disastrously clanking Robert Lepage Ringthe
Bavarian State Opera is fortunate to have assembled
an outstanding cast for its new Ring.
Unlike Bayreuthwhere each new Ring has
to premiere four operas in sequence in the opening
weekin Munich, it has been possible to unveil
them one at a time, beginning back in February,
with Das Rheingold. What that meant, however, was
that Siegfried and Die Gtterdmmerung did not
complete the new cycle until this past summer. Thus I
was only able to see the frst two operas in the Cycle,
so great was the demandnot only from major
music critics, but also from perfect Wagnerites
to see the entire Ring. Even with some memorable
scenic moments in the unusual staging of Andreas
Kriegenburg, there were some peculiar decisions
that worked against both the text and the score.
Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chnier. Photo: Courtesy of Bregenz Festival.
Finally, these do not really matter so very
much, for the splendid Staatsoper orchestraunder
the magisterial baton of maestro and general music
director Kent Naganomakes Wagner's score
truly soar. The brilliant voices and mimetic talents
of the outstanding cast are even more effective in
bringing this ancient Nordic myth to a kind of super
human life. What was, for me, even more rivetingly
effective was watching and listening to the actors-
singers, while also reading Wagner's German texts,
projected above the stage picture. Yes, of course,
we know what happens; we know, more or less,
what Wotan, Loge, and Fafner are singing. But few
in the audienceincluding the criticshave the
libretto completely memorized. So, to see the actual
German words of Wagner's poetic texts projected
above the action gives new meaning and immediacy
to the humanity of the mythic. Projected English
or French supertitles do not work quite the same
way as Wagner's own unique germanisms, with his
fondness for alliterations of consonants in short,
sharp, single-syllable words: often with a string of
G G G Gs. These have a peculiar power, especially
when barked out in ecstasy or agony.
Although Wotanthe excellent Johan
Reuteris still the Valhalla-building God-Father,
it is the wickedly seductive red-suited fre god,
Loge, (Stefan Margita) who is the real star of this
new Rheingold. He knowingly helps bring the
gods forward to their doom: Wotan is not at all a
golden-parachute-deserving CEO! Also admirable
in character and performance are the Fricka of
Sophie Koch, the Alberich of Wolfgang Koch, and
the Fafner of Phillip Ens.
Decades ago at Bayreuth, the late Gtz
Friedrich was the frst Regisseur to stage a Wagner
overture. Traditionally, the great gray curtain
remained closed, as the audience gradually drifted
into the leitmotived world of Tristan or Tannhuser.
Friedrich changed all that, although his actors-
singers didn't have any text to act or to sing during
the overtures. Andreas Kriegenburg has exceeded
Gtz: He even stages imaginary no-music, no-text
action before the overture even begins. Wagner
might not have been amused. When the audience
enters the lavishly neo-Baroque auditorium of the
National Theater, a gaggle of white-clad young
people seem to be having a picnic outing on stage.
Then they shed their gym clothes and smear blue
paint all over their effectively naked bodies. I
thought at frst of old Saxon warriors, covering their
bodies with Wode, but no: When all these supers or
extras lay down on the stage and began to ripple and
surge, it was clear that they were the waves of the
Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold. Photo: Courtesy of the Bavarian State Opera.
river Rhine. In the midst of which the three Rhein
maidens suddenly appeared to tease and taunt the
sex-starved Niebelung, Alberich. Silly girls! That's
just the way to lose your precious Rheingold!
Unwise Wotan, meanwhile, has contracted the
giants, Fafner and Fasolt, to construct Valhalla not
only as an impregnable home for the gods, but also
as a kind of army reserve armory for dead heroes
who will defend the gods when push comes to shove.
Kriegenburg's Valhalla visual is a simple projection
of a dentellated line, such as a child might draw in
a Montessori school. Actually, Kriegenburg's stage
space is, in effect, Peter Brook's fabled empty space.
It is a giant white box, whose foor can slant upward,
with its ceiling sloping downward. He and his scenic
designer, Harald B. Thorwho sounds like a worthy
inmate of Valhallaeven favor projected texts on
the slanted foor, to help the narrative along.
Understandably demanding payment for
their construction work, the giants appear before
the gods, sitting atop great cubes of what appear to
be compressed Rhine ripple people. At frst, Fafner
and Fasolt seem just ordinary men, but soon great
cloaks on poleslike Japanese Bunraku puppets
cover their ordinary bodies, making them seem
immense. Then, immense legs and feet are added:
an overwhelming effect! Wotan, of course, cannot
pay, so the giants demand Fricka's sister, Freia, as
a hostage, until Wotan produces the cash! Lacking
Freia's golden appleswhich keep the gods ever
youngthey rapidly age, resulting in some rather
tiresome acting on the vast, empty stage. Loge leads
Wotan down into the fame-enriched environs of
Niebelheim, where an upstage panorama of dwarf
slave drudges drags along at upper-middle height.
When one of them falters, he is unceremoniously
dumped into a rectangular slotone on each side
of the stagewhere a burst of real fames indicates
instant cremation. Open fames on stage can be very
tricky to manage, but Kriegenburg even has Alberich
use the Tarnhelm to transform himself into a very
long, faming snake, born aloft by real fames! (In
Die Walkre, the burning serpent even becomes the
Ring of Magic Fire which in Wotan imprisons the
disobedient Brnnhilde.)
The Tarnhelm transformations are achieved
by having supersequipped with banks of blinding
headlightsturn them full force on the audience.
The laughingly malicious Loge and the cash-hungry
Wotan could give lessons to US Army interrogators
in Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib! They run Wotan's
spear up Alberich's right sleeve, inside the back
of his coat, and out the left sleeve. He is virtually
crucifed, as they brutally push and pull him about.
Das Rheingold. Photo: Courtesy of the Bavarian State Opera.
Later, the insidious fre god gives Fafner a small
knife, with which he kills his bumbling brother
Fasolt. The forfeited Rheingold rises from the center
of the white box stage like a metal-framed palette of
Fort Knoxian gold ingots. But, as in so many post-
modernist Ring productions, there is no rainbow
Die Walkre
When Wotan meets with Brnnhilde (the
excellent Irne Theorin) for a briefng about his wife
problems with Frickagoddess of heterosexual
non-incestuous marriagehe understandably favors
his earthly son, Siegmund, who is doomed. In what
may be his sparsely furnished offce, upstage is a
long, long genre painting that looks at frst like one
of those Wagnerian landscapes, but the trees in this
strange forest have feet and even fantastic faces.
When it is time for Siegmund (Klaus Florian Vogt)
to take shelter in the tree-flled home of his mortal
enemy, Hunding (Ain Anger), an immense tree rises
out of the foor, virtually engulfng the stage. In its
webby branches are spiked some ten desiccated dead
At either side of the wide, wide stage are
modern kitchen counters that look like Sieglinde
(the affecting Anja Kampe) is operating a vegan
snack bar. In the background, behind the great tree,
are two teams of corpse washers. Possibly, they are
preparing Hunding's recent kills for spiking up in the
tree branches? A big feature of any Hunding's Htte
(hut) setting must be the hilt of Wotan's invincible
sword, Nothung, impaled by Siegmund's father
into the heart of the tree. In this production, it calls
attention to itself, looking like a huge electric switch,
in a blue illuminated slot. (As part of a number of
accompanying Ring art installations and art actions,
there is a replica of Nothung on a great white
catafalque in one of the elegant Ludwigian chambers
of the grand foyer. But the name engraved on the
front of the catafalque is NOTHING.)
Although Siegmund is an outcast and his
long-lost sister, Sieglinde, has been abducted and
forced into a cruel, slavish marriage to Hunding, they
soon recognize each other. Butinstead of rushing
across the stage into each other's armsKriegenburg
keeps them far apart, virtually at opposite sides of
the stage. This is surely intended to increase the
sexual tension, before the incestuous lovers come
resoundingly together. Nonetheless, the visual effect
is immensely annoying: When Sieglinde offers
Siegmund a drinkinstead of her simply bringing it
directly to hima corps of white-clad young women
is enlisted to pass it across the stage, the glass of
Richard Wagner's Die Walkre. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
water being lit from below by tiny fashlights,
concealed in their palms! As for the fabled Ride of
the Valkyries, in the most recent Bayreuth version,
Wagnerian rock-climbers rappelled down a cliff
face. In Francesca Zambello's San Francisco Ring,
they dropped down with parachutes! Some years
ago in Munich, when Valhalla was a space ship, the
Valkyries zoomed aboard on rocket scooters!
For this new Kriegenburgian Ring,
however, the horsey ladies pulled and tugged on long
reins that were tethered to metal posts, supporting
defnitely dead warriors, folded over the posts like
so many department store dummies. No use at all
to Wotan in defending Valhalla. In the background,
a bevy of sexy young women kept swishing their
unbound hair around and around. The projected text
mentioned the Wunschmdchen that the dead heroes
would enjoy in Valhalla, so I thought they must be
these promised lust maidens, rather like the seventy
virgins awarded to devout dead Muslim jihadis. But
no: The frantic hair swishing apparently represented
the manes of the Valkyries' valiant steeds, about
which they sing at length in Wagner's projected
supertitles. Apparently, in these desperate economic
timeswhen so many are unemployedstage
director Kriegenburg is providing meaningful work
for platoons of supers. When Wotan encircles his
favorite daughter with magic fre, it is ceremonially
placed around her, in the form of Alberich's faming
snake, by another corps of white-clad young women.
Nordic vestal virgins? Or vegan vestal virgins?
La Cenerentola
Looking at the handsome production of Rossini's
La Cenerentolaor Cinderellain the National
Theater, I remembered what my old friend, Jean-
Pierre Ponnelle, once told me about this comic opera
for kids of all ages: "Glenn, this is a perfect Rossini
machine!" What I had forgotten was that Ponnelle
had himself designed and directed this production!
So I must have seen this delightful show years and
years ago on this very stage! Initially, Ponnelle began
working in opera as a set and costume designer.
Butfrustrated by stage directors who didn't know
how to use his artistic visions effectivelyhe
decided he needed to do the stagings himself.
What Ponnelle soon discovered, however,
was that his sets and costumes were too fussy,
too busy. They actually detracted from the effect
he wished to produce on stage. "They distracted
the audience's attention from the performers and
from the development of the narrative. As a stage
Die Walkre. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
designer, I had been attempting to call attention to
myself, rather than to serve the total production."
Soon after that epiphany, Ponnelle had the ingenious
Pet Halmen begin designing his new productions.
But in mid-June, at the Bavarian State
Opera, I had forgotten how I once loved this staging,
thinking instead that it was far too complicated.
In fact, when some of the mugging and romping
overkill of Ponnelle's replicated staging became too
obvious and juvenile, I even welcomed the Baroque
complications of Ponnelle's ruined palazzo setting as
a distraction from the hi-jinx flling the stage. Now,
at this remove from the performance aesthetics of
yesteryearcrowd pleasing that apparently still
works in MunichI'd rather have Jean-Pierre's
settings as a Toy Theatre, than as a framework for
monumental mugging. Unfortunately, that excellent
soprano, Joyce DiDonato, was not feeling well and
so begged the audience's indulgence, soldiering
on as Cinderella. As often happens, she saved her
voice for the big moments, improving as the libretto
progressed. But Rossini's genius was not in creating
through composed musical narratives. Instead,
La Cenerentola is a series of charmingeven
virtuosicset-pieces: solos, duets, trios, sextets, and
choruses, all lustily rendered by the able Staatsoper
ensemble. Outstanding was the Dandini of Nikolay
Borchevthe Kammerdiener of the Prince,
pretending to be the Prince himself, to expose and
shame the ugly stepsisters: Eri Nakamura and Paola
Gardina. The award-winning young American tenor,
Lawrence Brownlee, was the Prince. Antonello
Allemandi briskly conducted the frisky Staatsoper
La Bohme
When Jean-Pierre Ponnelle designed and
directed his stunningly innovative La Bohme for
the Kleines Haus of the Salzburg Festival many
years ago, its central scenic prop was a giant stove.
Ponnelle's idea was to visually dramatize how very
cold the quartet of Bohemian Parisian artists were
feeling in their miserable garret. This really worked.
For the Metropolitan Opera production, Franco
Zeffrelli designed equally cramped quarters, but,
as the Met's stage is enormous, Franco showed this
attic surrounded by the roofs of Paris, seemingly
stretching for kilometers. But both director and
designers made the quartet's quarters look somehow
interesting, which is not the case with Munich's now
ancient production. (I regret to have to say this, as the
faded and shabby settings were long ago designed
by the late Rudolf Heinrich, who was a longtime
mentor to me in matters of opera design and stage
One of the most recent Bohemian garrets
La Cenerentola. Photo: Courtesy of the Bavarian State Opera.
of worthy memory was that of the New York City
Operanow struggling to survivein which
Marcello, the painter, was warming the space by
splashing vibrant color all over the walls, as he
depicted the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, with
Pharaoh and his armies being engulfed. Even worse
in Munich was the potentially dynamic scene at
Caf Momus, where the four friendswith the
tubercular Mimi, now deeply in love with Rodolfo,
the poetgo to celebrate. As originally staged by
Otto Schenk and unfortunately replicated even now,
it is all on one level, with a variety of street parades
and activities all crowded together, in what seems to
be the most cramped intersection of all nineteenth-
century Paris. Franco Zeffrelli's magnifcent Met
staging is bustling with life on several levels: A
fascinating, colorful Parisian slice of life. What
absolutely saved the Munich Festival presentation
of this tired, old staging was the heartbreaking
performance of Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi, strongly
supported by the passionate Rodolfo of Joseph
Calleja. Laura Tatulescu's fighty Musetta was also
a plus, supported by Levente Molnr's Marcello.
Israel's multi-talented Dan Ettinger conducted. He is
also no stranger to the orchestra pits of the Met and
Covent Garden!
Unfortunately for the ghost of Giacomo
Pucciniwere it hovering over the stages of
both the Met and MunichVerismo is not much
honored in Luc Bondy's deliberately sterile vision
of Tosca. At the turn of the centurynineteenth
into the twentieth, that isnaturalism and realism
were replacing romanticism and historicism. David
Belasco's "realism"in both Madame Butterfy
and Girl of the Golden Westfascinated Puccini,
yielding both Madame Butterfy and La Fanciulla
del West. In setting the doomed love of Floria Tosca
with Mario Cavaradossi to music, Puccini was intent
on visually evoking showy scenes, notably the great
Church of Santa Maria dell' Valle, an elegant salon
in Rome's Palazzo Farnese, and the summit of the
Castel San Angelo, with its great looming angel.
Bondy's designerwho also designed Patrice
Chreau's 1976 Bayreuth Ringis the minimalist
Richard/Riccardo Peduzzi. Forget about great papal
pomp in a grand procession up the central aisle of the
mural infested nave of Santa Maria. This bare brick-
walled space looks either unfnished or abandoned.
The villainous Baron Scarpia conducts
his military interrogations in a post-post-modernist
void that would shame the enhancements of
Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. There are no signs of
waterboarding, but Dick Cheney was not an advisor
on this production, seen frst at the Met, before
Munich. As for the execution of Cavaradossiin the
desolate nothingness of the current stagingeven in
Puccini's original libretto it seems unlikely that Tosca
and Mario would have so much time to themselves
Giacomo Puccini's La Bohme. Photo: Courtesy of the Munich Festival.
before the actual fring squad goes to work. Franco
Zeffrelli's magnifcent Met productionnow
replaced with this onegot all this verismo lavishly
right. What certainly saves Munich's festival
Tosca is the passionately effective Floria Tosca of
the magnifcent Catherine Naglestad. The evilly
conniving Bryn Terfel makes a frightening foil for
her desperate attempts to save the Mario of Massimo
Giordano. Marco Armiliato conducted as though he
meant it.
Mitridate, R di Ponto
Admirers of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus are
well aware of young Wolfgang Mozart's efforts
to please his demanding father, the Salzburg
Archbishop's Court Composer and Music Master,
Leopold Mozart. Stage director David Bsch has
constructed his fascinating Prinzregententheater
production of Mitridate around this tortured father-
son relationship. Butalthough the nominal historic
era of this Italianate Musikdrama is verging on
the Christian erathe visualization is rather like a
children's horror story. This is thanks to the genius
of the stage design and to the ingenious projections
of Patrick Bannwart. The stage at frst seems like
a black inverted bowl, on which a frustrated child
is trying to fnd ways to sketch out his troubling
visions. Comical white outline characters march
across the black upstage. Even roughly drafted white
slogans appear. The Mitridate program repeats such
images and devices, notably with roughly drafted
white words from Leopold's cautionary letters to
young Amadeus.
Based on a tragedy by Jean Racine,
Mitridate's libretto juxtaposes two sonsSifare and
Farnacerivals for the approval and (non-existent)
affection of their war lusty father, Mitridate. Imperial
Rome threatens his Pontian Kingdom, even as his
countertenor son, Farnace, is making a deal with a
sneaky Roman intermediary. A false report arrives
of the King's death: Who will seize his throne? Who
will get to marry Aspasia, his designated second wife,
now seemingly available to either Sifare or Farnace?
Can you imagine a dad who would pretend to be
dead, just to test the loyalty of his sons? Well, that's
the way royal dads used to be in neoclassical French
tragedies, based on historic lore and legend. But
with the soaring celestial music of the fourteen-year-
old Wolfgang Amadeusthis tragic tale takes on a
new dimension of coloratura hi-jinx entirely. Nixing
the idea of a neoclassical performance milieu,
however, Bsch and Bannwart have set the story on
Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. Photo: Courtesy of the Munich Festival.
the beach, where soaring seagulls are dropping rich
guano all over the stage, including the musicians in
the Staatsoper Orchestra! There are even two stuffed
seagulls standing watch in the auditorium!
But the real glory of this visually arresting
production is the magnifcent singing of the equally
magnifcent cast: notably countertenor Lawrence
Zazzo, whose muscular acting as Farnace also
amazes. Outstanding also is the noble Sifare of Tara
Erraught, dressed as a schoolboy, but ardent for the
hand, heart, and body of the woman who should
be his stepmother, Aspasiapassionately sung and
acted by Anja-Nina Bahrmann. As a somewhat
rejected bride for Farnace, the Ismene of Lisette
Oropesa was both vocally and visually impressive,
considering the rough handling she has to endure.
Barry Banks was the aging and imperious father,
Mitridate. Although Conductor Mark Wiggelsworth
and his consummate cast gave Amadeus his due,
this partitur goes on for much too long. People were
leaving well before it was fnally clear that Ponto
was doomed.
Oberammergau and The Passionsspieltheater:
Antonius und Cleopatra
Like the Bayreuth Festivalwhich was
resumed after World War II, only in 1951the
internationally famed Oberammergau passion play
was not shown again post-war until 1950. But this
was not really a break in the tradition, for the citizens
of Oberammergau only stage this epic music drama
every decade. Spared from the disastrous spread
of the black plague through the Bavarian alps, the
villagers vowed to perform the Passion of the Christ
every ten years.
I was teaching in Oberammergauat the
US Army Intelligence Schoolin the late 1950s,
so my frst experience of the Passionsspiele was in
1960, when it was still eight hours long. I have since
returneddecadallyin 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000,
and 2010. But, in the years between performances
of Christ's Passion, the only thing for tourists to
see is the vast empty stage and the dressing rooms,
with the elaborate costumes displayed on hangars
and wardrobe racks. This seemed a great loss: not
using the great stage for some kind of performance
that might be in tune with the semi-sacred character
of this unusual venue. Now, Christian Stckla
native son, as no outsider can be in or work on
the Passionspielehas staged there this summer
William Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra.
Stckl staged the Passion Play in 2000 and 2010
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Mitriade, R di Ponto. Photo: Courtesy of the Prinzregententheater.
with such success that he was soon invited to restage
Max Reinhardt's famed Jedermann at the Salzburg
Festival. The Passion Play stage is, of course, no
stranger to death. But Jesus was crucifed, while
Antonius and Cleopatra both committed suicide!
Nonetheless, both these historic narratives share an
Augustan time frame with Caesarian-Palestinian-
Egyptian locales.
Considering how complicated and
massively peopled the production was, it was
surprising that it had only seven performances in July
and August of 2012. The Passionspiele stageas
devised and modernized over the decadesis very,
very wide, with a central proscenium stage, used for
presenting tableux vivants of famous scenes from the
Old and the New Testaments. Major biblical events
like Adam and Eve driven from Paradise, or Joshua
fghting the battle of Jericho: Good Book narratives
that can be reduced to a single image, although posed
in 3-D. On either side are arcades and fights of steps
that permit various triumphal entriesJesus's fatal
entry into Jerusalem, riding on an ass, for instance
as well as crowd scenes and choral ecstasies.
For Anthony and Cleopatra, stage director
Christian Stckl and his Oberammergauer designer,
Stefan Hageneier, painted the whole faade brick-red,
suggesting the military and territorial passions which
have caused the then rulers of the world to meet for an
ultimately disastrous shipboard get-together, which
will destroy Pompey, Lepidus, and Anthony, along
with his inamorata, Cleopatra. To consolidate his
Roman power, Julius Caesar's nephew, Octavius
one of the three ruling triumvirsgives his beloved
sister Octavia to be wife to Antony. This is really
not going to workas the man who would later
call himself Caesar Augustus well knowsbecause
Antony already has a wife, the rebellious Fulvia,
as well as a full-time love in Egypt. Even Antony
realizes his Nile infatuation is a fatal infection:
"These strong Egyptian fetters I must break/Or lose
myself in dotage."
For the current production, the central stage
doesn't offer tableaux. Instead, it houses a black
pyramid, fanked by black palm trees. Cascading
down a fight of stairs in front of it is a mass of
black matter, with a black fountain in its center. At
either side are two more black palm trees, which
tend to shake uneasily when Cleopatra leans on
them. Because there are so many Roman soldiers
trooping around the stage, this could be a remake of
the Passion Play, only without Jesus, Pontius Pilate,
and all those rabbis in funny hats!
The Kleopatra (German spelling) of
Barbara Dobner was indeed sexy, imperious,
Markus Zwink's Anthony and Cleopatra. Photo: Courtesy of the Oberammergau Festival.
sinuous, willful, and passionate. Her Antonius,
Andreas Richter, was a hunk! The cold blooded and
calculating Octavius/Octavian of Frederik Mayet
was a dangerous foe, but Antony did not seem to
realize what was at stake until it was too late. Several
directorial choices in Stckl's staging seemed odd:
Why should the supposedly powerful commander
the triumvir Lepidusbe played like some kind of
arm-fapping, garment-swishing old crazy? Why, if
Octavius loved his sister so much, did he strike her
to the ground, in front of the troops, when Antony
had effectively rejected her? Why did Stckl have a
chorus of Egyptian maidens parade across the stage
in profle, putting their arms and hands out in one
of those old vaudeville routines? There were no
supertitleseither in German or in Englishbut
this was not much of a problem, as all the speeches
and choruses were clearly and often passionately
Oberammergauer Markus Zwink provided
the score, as he has done for the Passion Play and
the Salzburg Jedermann. Mardian, Cleopatra's
eunuch, was played with extreme effeminacy by
Martin Schuster.
The Flying Dutchman, in Bayreuth
The big news in Bayreuthpossibly also
worldwide, especially for those who are always on
the lookout for Hackenkreuzerwas that the Russian
basso who should have sung the role of the doomed
Flying Dutchman had a swastika tattooed on his
chest! In the new staging of Richard Wagner's Der
fiegende Hollnder, the Dutchman does not have to
have his shirt off, so who would have known that
the unfortunate Evgeny Nikitin had a Hackenkreuz
inked onto his chest as the German newspapers so
feverishly reported. What no one seemed to have
taken into account was that Nikitin is a Russian, not
some German Neo-Nazi. In fact, as a young Russian
rebelin a hard-rock punk bandthe more bizarre
tattoos the better! Today, some say, he has so many
tangled tattoos that it's hard to see where that old
American Indian and Asian good luck symbol really
is, underneath all that ink. Nikitin has already sung
successfully at the Met and at Covent Garden, so
Bayreuth's loss was also the loss of everyone who
had one of the very scarce tickets for Jan Philipp
Gloger's new production.
But the even bigger news in Bayreuth
this summer was the stunning confrontation of the
Wagner Festival with its anti-Semitic past. Ranged
along the upper terraces where Arno Breker's bronze
head of the master holds sway were more than a
score of gray panels with the photos and often fatal
histories of Jewish artists who had either worked
at Bayreuth or been banished from the semi-sacred
Festpielhaus. These indictments of infamy were
continued in the Bayreuth Rathaus, in the center
of the city. It is well known that Richard Wagner
nourished a deep resentment of such successful
Jewish composers as Giacomo Meyerbeer, who, he
believed, had slighted him when he frst came to
Paris. In his infamous essay, "The Jews in Music,"
he even accused Jewish composers, librettists, and
musicians of being copycats, incapable of creating
anything worthwhile on their own.
Nonetheless, both on the Grner Hgel
the Green Hill, where the Festspielhaus is sitedas
well as at table in Haus Wahnfried, the Wagners were
surrounded and supported by adoring Jewish talents
such as conductor Hermann Levi, who did all they
could to advance the cause of Wagner's revolutionary
Musiktheater. From information on the gray panels,
it is clear that Wagner's muse and wife, Cosima
Wagner, once the master was gone, was passionately
infamed against Jews performing in any capacity in
the festival. Cosima was the illegitimate daughter
of Hungary's brilliant pianist and composer Franz
Liszt, so she should hardly have been the frst to cast
stones at others.
What is also distressing from the panel
information is to learn that the great Richard Strauss
was also a rabid anti-Semite. What Strauss said of
the much beloved Lilli Lehmann was unbelievably
vicious. Cosima Wagner was not the last of the
Bayreuth Wagners to be a frmly committed anti-
Semite. Her English daughter-in-law, Winifred
Wagnerwho took over the festival when both
Cosima and her son Siegfried died in 1930, on the
eve of the festival seasoncontinued this offensive
tradition. When the Bayreuth Festival was fnally
revived, post-World War II, in 1951 by Wagner's
grandsons, Wieland and Wolfgang neither was
interested in confronting the festival's past Nazi
patronage nor its residual anti-Semitism. Winifred's
greatest complaint about the post-war usage of the
Festspielhaus was that American occupation offcers
had used it as a cabaret.
The frst furry of interest in confronting
anti-Semitism in the festival past came from
Wolfgang Wagner's own son, Gottfried Wagner, and
this was not well received by Wolfgang. Still, forcing
the festival to recognize its anti-Semitic past soon
became Gottfried's consuming passion. Apparently
the tension still remains. When I attempted to
interview Gottfried's sister, Eva Wagner-Pasquier,
two summers ago, she told me that talking about
Gottfried was off-limits.
Once upon a time, the vast Bayreuth stage
was flled with the multi-masted, full-sailed ship
of Daland, a Norwegian captain, out for fsh and
whatever the nets might bring up. When the cursed
ship of the Flying Dutchman hove into sight, the
stage was crowded with sails and song. Not so in
the new Bayreuth Fliegende Hollnder: Daland and
his Steuermann are discovered down right in a small
row boat. Behind them looms an immense grid of
zooming beams, endlessly running long numbers,
and fashing matrixes. This is a Silicon Valley sci-
f fantasy on speed. Forget about that doomed red-
sailed ship.
The damned and doomed Dutchman gives
himself a huge injection in his left arm, after which,
he can enjoy the services of a black-clad lady, who
is about to go down on him when he strips off her
long black coat, revealing Victoria's Secret-style
undies. The treasure he shows Dalandhoping to
interest him in encouraging his daughter, Senta, to
marry him to end the curseis enclosed in one of
those carry-on cases with retractable handles. When
the Dutchman opened the case to spill out some of
the treasure, it looked to mefrom way up in row
twenty-twovery much like glowing cell phones.
As things soon developed, however, Daland's crew
was not engaged in Norwegian fshing expeditions.
The smartly attired work force was eagerly involved
in the production, packing, and marketing of smart
sleek white electric table fans. This is what has
become of Senta's traditional Spinnstube: The girls
are all factory workers, busily packing scores of fans
into corrugated-cardboard cartons. Senta, however,
isn't paying good attention to the tasks at hand: She
has made a kind of orange-and-brown Dutchman
image out of a carton. A cardboard dream lover? She
has also fashioned some rows of fowers and tongues
of fame from the cartons.
At one point, I thought that all of the crew
were equipped with iPads or Airbooks, but no: they
were fourishing what must have been either fan
plans or marketing goals. In fact, the Steuermann
was leading the pack, waving a ledger in the air.
Then a huge outline of the model of the fan dropped
down from above, only to go up in fames. It would
have been more topically amusing, however, had
Richard Wagner's Der fiegende Hollnder. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
designers Christof Hetzer and Karin Jud opted for
a Google-infected/Microsofted futurist vision. In
the end, Sentato be united with the long suffering
Dutchmanstabs herself: The Dutchman instantly
bleeds as well. At the fnal curtain, the auditorium
was resounding with boos, not for the gifted
performers, but for the bizarre production.
Although having no swastika tattoo,
Samuel Youn valiantly assumed the role of the
Dutchman. Daland (Franz-Josef Selig) looked and
acted a lot like Nathan Lane which might give Peter
Gelb over at the Met a good idea for future casting.
As Senta, that wonderful singing actress Adrianne
Pieczonka performed all the nonsense that stage
director Gloger had devised for her: brave trouper!
The handsome and charismatic and much admired
Christian Thielemann conducted the best opera
orchestra and the best opera chorus in the world on
the world's frst really modern stage, inspirationally
devised by the master, Richard Wagner, with its
famous covered orchestra pit. You don't see them
playing. You don't see Thielemann conducting. But
the swell of orchestral sound surging up over the
stage, to mingle with the voices of the singers is still
Wagner for Children: Die Meistersinger
as a Chalk Talk
Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger
is his only comic opera, unless, of course, you
want to include some of the more bizarre Wagner
productions both at the Met and at Bayreuth. Fun-
crammed and jolly melody-packed as Meistersinger
is, however, it does run on and on. Wagnerat least
in terms of modern attention spansneeds an editor,
especially if you are trying to get kids interested
in opera! You do not have to suffer from attention
defciency syndrome to fnd the love troubles of
David and Lena and Walther and Eva a bit ho-hum
now and then. Fortunately, Hartmut Keil and Eva-
Maria Weiss have found the solution. Their edited
version runs only an hour and ffteen minutes. But
all the good stuff is there. All the big scenes. All the
memorable moments musicaux. Deft excisions from
the score have been made by Marko Zdralek, with no
perceptible loss of the greatest hits, such as Walther's
prize song. The work is performed mornings in
a rehearsal hall, with kids, parents, teachers, and
even the occasional critic packed into bleachers,
with the orchestra and playing area in front of them.
As the overture bubbles up, small kids with large
chalks cover blackboards all over the place with
Montessori-style cartoons of historic Nuremberg
houses and even hotels.
Walther von Stolzing, the knight who
wants to become a Meistersingerbecause that's
the only way he'll get to marry Eva, the beautiful
daughter of the Meistersinger in Chiefarrives on
a bicycle with a horse's head on the handlebars. All
the colorful costumes, especially the distinctive wigs
and hats: How about scallions growing out of the top
of one's head? Immediately identify and typify each
character. During the fnal trial for best prize song
this year in Nurembergthe winner gets Eva as frst
prizethe most important Meistersinger sit among
the kids in the audience. The kids went crazy!
Hartmut Keil conducted the Brandenburg
State Orchestra with a great sense of fun but also
with musical excellence. The lively staging was
the inspiration of Eva-Maria Weiss. Heiko Brner
was a lusty Walther, with Christiane Kohl a lovely
Eva. The fatherly poet-shoemaker, Hans Sachs,
was sweetly embodied by Jukka Rasilainen. Even
the miserable Grinch, Sixtus Beckmesser, was
amusing in the interpretation of Ralf Lukas. Two
summers ago, the same team offered a really off-beat
Tannhuser, which turned out to be a search for the
pink famingo. Forget about the Holy Grail. Venus
was Lady Gaga on a skateboard!
Art Installation Setting for Tannhuser!
When I was being very distressed at
the throw-in-the-kitchen-sink staging of the
2011 Bayreuth production of Richard Wagner's
Tannhuser, a German critic asked me not to blame
Katharina Wagner for what we were seeing up
there on that historic stage. She pointed out what I
already should have remembered: That opera stars,
star stage directors, and famed star conductors have
to be contracted years in advance. So the extremely
cluttered stage picture of the new Tannhuser was
really the fault of her late father, Wolfgang Wagner?
Well, not exactly: Wagner had contracted the stage
directoror Regisseurnot the designer the
director later selected.
Despite the magisterial conducting of
Christian Thielemannonce considered as a
possible Intendant for the Bayreuth Festivalthe
real star of Sebastian Baumgarten's strange staging
of Tannhuser is the giant shit-powered machine of
Joep van Lieshout. This monstrosity began life as
an art installation and perhaps that's what it should
have remained. As such, it would always have been
welcome in Manhattan at either MoMA or the New-
Torsten Kerl impersonates Tannhuser
in the current Bayreuth vision of the singers battle
on the Wartburg. Among the luminaries in this cast
are Michelle Breedt as the sexy Venus and Camilla
Nylund as the good girl, Elizabeth. Actually, Venus
isn't supposed to be such a bad sort, after allat least
in this production, where she is said to be reborn
as a kind of pre-Christian Earth Goddess, bringing
fertility to the land and to the people: Tannhuser
not really included. Unfortunately for the substance
of those press reports, what one actually saw on the
Festspielhaus stage was a Venusberg that rose out of
the stage foor like a round cage, with Tannhuser
inside, being pleasured by what looked like left-over
hippies. In fact, from their anthropoid crouchings,
they looked more like lesser apes, picking feas
off Tannhuser's chest and groin. Everyone was
drinking from orange-red steinsthe color seems to
be the visual theme of this stagingbut they were
not really having a good time.
As for Tannhuser as a Wagnerian
Heldentenor, Kerl is anything but heroic: In fact,
he is lumpy, bulky, and pudgy. If Elizabeth really,
really loves him, she'd get him off the beer and
bratwurst, beginning a regimen of yoga and yoghurt.
Elizabeth's Uncle Hermannthe chief honcho in
medieval Thuringiais embodied and envoiced by
Gnther Groissbck, with Michael Nagy as Wolfram
von Eschenbach, more worthy of Elizabeth's hand
than his friend Tannhuser. When Tannhuser
fresh from the Venusbergencounters the Landgraf
and his merry men out on a hunt, they look like
blanket-covered asylum-seekers from the former
DDR, in fact, where Thuringen was located.
Curiously, when Wolfram begins his big
song, he's using notes, which he discards one by one.
This recalls Sixtus Beckmesser's stolen Lied in Die
Meistersinger. Lothar Odinius relives Minnesinger
history as Walther von der Vogelweide. No matter
how wonderfully the Bayreuth chorus and orchestra
performed, the appearance of the chorus on stage was
somewhat compromised by their roles as orange-
red-clad factory workers, stoking that giant bio-gas
machine. I failed to bring my camera, but everyone
around mecritics includedwas photographing
that monstrous setting, which was exposed to the
public when they entered the theatre and when they
left. The curtain never closed: except when it was
fnally time to go home. Thus, at the close of act 2,
the chorus was singing "Deutschland, Deutschland"
as we fled out for drinks and refreshments.
The stage frame was made of huge squared
wooden beams, three levels high. The ground level
Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
seemed three stories high itself. Upstage was a
long orange-red gas cylinder, with seven stainless
steel hatches on top, one for every day of the week.
This was clearly labeled: ALKOHALATOR. It may
well have been powered by human excrement
as advertisedbut it seemed fed by bags full of
cabbages and rutabagas. Behind the main frame
was a video screen, so thateven as the audience
entered the auditoriuman endless loop of grainy,
grade C flm school footage was showing what
seemed to be badly diseased lungs, alternating with
hand bones, aborted fetuses, and bifurcating rice
grainsor were they plague bacilli? This video was
followed by an endless video plume of what may
have been intended to be methane. The video screen
was never at rest: Elizabeth appeared recumbent, in
a kind of kitschy nimbus. In fact, nothing, nowhere,
ever seemed to be at rest. The stage picture was a
constant clutter: Too much of essentially no interest,
happening everywhere. Downstage right and left
were what seemed to be paying audience members,
in more or less fancy dress. Above, on the second
level, was what looked like the factory cafeteria. On
the third level, there were bunks where exhausted
workers could restor possibly abuse themselves,
when they had tired of abusing the audience.
As for that famed Sngerkrieg on the
Wartburg, this staging made it seem more like an
afternoon break time entertainment. but not anything
as serious as auditions for American Idol. When
Wagner's famed Pilgrims Chorus frst appeared,
going to Rome on their knees, the gray-clad wretches
looked like left-over rats from the Lohengrin
production of the previous evening. But when they
came back from the Eternal City, they were no longer
gray pilgrims, but factory workers, who looked as
though they'd just returned from the company sauna.
Both stage director Sebastian Baumgarten and art
installation magus Joep van Lieshout seem infatuated
with the concept of projecting sententious arty-
politico mottoes on various segments of the giant
That's not been true for a very long time: Volkslieder
have long been eclipsed by popular songs, many of
whichat least in the USAoriginated on Tin Pan
Alley. As for such folk arts as woodcarving, the best
work in Oberammergau could have been turned out
by computer programmed carving machines. One
"Virgin and Child" looks very much like another.
When it was fnally time for Elizabeth to give up
on Tannhuser, Wolfram shut her up in a big blue
bio-gas cylinder. One of the projections announced
Richard Wagner's Tannhuser. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
that the art installation production design was a
metaphor. But for what?
Lohengrin: Don't Get Bitten
by the Rats!
At the closing curtain of the great Bayreuther
Festpiel on the 2 August 2012 performance of
Lohengrin, the audience went wild. As each
performer came out from the slit in the curtain, feet
began to stamp in unison on the resonant fooring,
like the thunder of drums. Nowhere more so than for
each appearance of the handsome and remarkable
Klaus Florian Vogt, whose Lohengrin had almost
literally blown them away. The brilliant Annette
Dasch was almost equally applauded for her much
abused Elsa von Brabant, who is frst seen with
arrows piercing her breast and back. The torrents
of applause brought the spectators to their feet en
masse, programs dropping thunderously to the foor.
Then began what used to be called the iron clapa
rhythmic slapping of hands that echoed out into the
corridors and even out into the night beyond. The
enraptured audience simply would not leave!
But then, stage director Hans Neuenfels had
previously decreed that there would be no applause
after either act 1 or act 2, when the audience was
already bursting with pent up cheers. Andris Nelsons,
who conducted with both subtlety and pomp where
needed, was roundly applauded as well. In this odd
rat-ridden Neuenfels staging, King Henrywho has
come with his army, to borrow Brabant's own army
for one of those Medieval warsseems to be badly
stricken with the falling sickness. He staggers about
a great deal, often herded around by giant black rats
who seem to be fugitives from a badly failed lab
experiment. When Lohengrin is next newly staged at
Bayreuth, would it be possible for Katharina Wagner
to have the enchanted swanoften seen as a swan
boat, bearing Parsifal's son, Lohengrin, from the
magical realms of Mont Salvat or whereverbe a
real Gottfried? In Wagner's libretto, of course, the
Swan/Gottfried is really Elsa's enchanted brother.
But there is also a real Bayreuth Wagner Gottfried:
He is, in fact, the brother of Eva Wagner-Pasquier
and the half-brother of Katharina Wagner. But he
doesn't seem welcome on the Green Hill. Please,
Wagner sisters: end this evil enchantment.
As recycling is now such a social virtue, I'd
like to replay some of what I wrote two summers
ago, on frst seeing Hans Neunenfels's rat-infested
staging of Lohengrin. The creature most often
associated with Lohengrin is, of course, a swan,
but this production is infested with a plague of
rats. The powerless and hapless Elsa von Brabant
Tannhuser. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
seemed surrounded by them. Even her nameless
savior Lohengrin is buffeted about by ranks of
black rats and even some giant white rats. There are
also some red rats, and even a few small pink rats
scampering about. Some opera critics suggested that
these costumes and the entire production concept
of director Hans Neuenfels might have been more
appropriate to a show about the Pied Piper of
Hamlen. I didn't get to see the premiere, so I missed
the boos that Neuenfels reportedly harvested. Still
the director may have missed them also, since at
Bayreuth, director-designers usually leave town as
soon as possible after the work is completedunless
they were or are Wagners.
Nonetheless, once I visually acclimated
myself to the idea of rats on the borders of the river
Scheldt, I found myself carried along with the fow.
Especially now at Bayreuthbut also in many
European opera housesaudiences have become so
used to historicism in opera productions that they are
often eager for something entirely different. From
the boos, you might not think so, but thoseif you
look round youseem to come largely from the
tuxedoed and gowned old conservatives. Younger
audiences are often delighted with new visions of
old masterworks. It is interesting that few have tried
to write new librettosor even craft new scores
for such war horses as Lohengrin, Aida, or Tristan.
Especially at Bayreuth, no one is yet going to tamper
with the master's scores or his words, though the
new visual librettos often have little to do with their
original narrative and emotional content.
In the new Bayreuth productiononce
you have accepted the lab rat conceptthe major
events of Wagner's libretto remain all in place. The
obviously ingenious Reinhard von der Thannen
he sounds almost like a Wagner characterhas
set them in a pristine white lab, with large white
portholes in its wall. These design elements change
to suggest different locales, notably the bridal bed
scene. When Elsa needs to be backed up by the ladies
of her courtespecially for the famed "Wedding
March"some of the rats slip out of their costumes
to become charming young women, dressed in wide
fringed hats and shiny pastel colored, perky dresses.
Male rats don tuxedos, but their rat feet still show.
The lady rats, however, have smart shoes. These
split second costume changes are remarkable, but
then they were worked out by the ingenious costume
designeralso Reinhard von der Thannen.
Although rats are visually more in evidence
than swans, these elegant birds have not been
Richard Wagner's Lohengrin. Photo: Courtesy of Bayreuth Festival.
removed to some other genetic lab. At one point, a
plucked swan, with a neon halo, appears suspended
over the stagethis could be a visual metaphor
for what has happened to Wagner's libretto? There
is also a sculpted white swan upstage, whose long
neck can be moved back and forth, rather like one
of those old fashioned waterpumps. Although Elsa is
frst seen in a white quasi-uniform, later, when she is
confronted by Ortrudwho is wearing a very wide
long skirt of black swan feathersElsa is garbed
in an almost mirror-image skirt, but of white swan
feathers. Finally, at one point, a swan rises from the
middle of the marriage bed.
Almost every stage picture is striking,
but none more so than when the banned, disgraced
Telramund is discovered downstage in a broken
black buggy, the front wheels missing and a dead
black horse stretched out in front of him. My frst
thought was of Murnau's Nosferatuthe undead
racing against time, against the rising of the sun,
with its fooding light.
Considering that Katharina and Eva Wagner
had never spoken to each other until they were
confrmed as co-producers of the Bayreuth Festival,
I continue to hope for a new Lohengrin, in which,
at the close, instead of the swan, the disenchanted
Gottfried at last appears. In the new Lohengrin,
we don't get a living, breathing Gottfried at all.
Instead, a huge swan's egg is revealed. It revolves,
revealing a fetus-like creature inside, fouled with
strands of umbilical cord. This newly born thing
advances downstage, tearing off pieces of its cord-
like sections of Bratwurst (sausage), throwing them
into the troops.
We regret two publishing errors in Professor
Loney's last festival report which appeared in WES
23:3. The pictures of the Don Giovanni productions
in Munich (page 58) and Salzburg (page 64) were
inadvertently reversed. Also the fnal few lines of
the essay were omitted. The correct version was "
with Karl Rove as Mephisto! But this might not play
so well across the Atlantic: Rove is not a generic
Satan over there. How about Silvio Berlusconi as
the devil?"
The second Ingmar Bergman International
Theatre Festival took place in late May and early June
at Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten),
and I am happy to report that it was a defnitive
improvement over the frst outing, three years ago
in 2009. As readers may recall when I wrote about it
here in these same pages, the main problem with the
festival's frst installment had to do with a decision
by the organizers to feature performances that were
somehow intrinsically linked to the work of Bergman.
This decision translated into a preponderance of stage
versions of Bergman's flmsa dubious aesthetic
project for sure. At best, the results were perplexing
but not uninteresting (Andreas Kriegenburg's From
the Life of Marionettes) and at worst, disastrous (Ivo
van Hove's Cries and Whispers). Curiously, the frst
festival's standouts came late in the proceedings
Patrice Chreau's La Douleur (based on Marguerite
Duras) and Heiner Goebbel's Eraritjaritjakaand
tellingly, they each had absolutely nothing to do with
the late Swedish master.
Now, in 2012, the festival seems to have
learned from its mistakes. Except for one specifc
instance (and more on that later), the programming
featured virtually no connection with Bergman and
his work, and for long stretches, one could easily
forget the name attached to the festival, except for
the fact that theatre-goers were spending consecutive
nights within the fairly gorgeous Art Deco confnes
of Dramaten, together with the fact that well-known
Bergman actors could be seen off and on, hanging
out or taking part in the discussionswhich was
as fun as it was understandable. Here are a few
highlights of the ten days.
Opening night kicked off with another
famous Swedish nameLars Nornwithout
question, Sweden's most important contemporary
playwright, no stranger to controversy, and translated
and performed throughout Europe (although virtually
unknown in America). The play in question was an
earlier work, Demons (Demoner) dating to 1983,
now performed in German translation by Berlin's
celebrated Schaubhne and directed by famed
director Thomas Ostermeier, the Schaubhne's
The Ingmar Bergman International Theatre Festival
Stan Schwartz
Lars Norn's Demoner, directed by Thomas Ostermeier. Photo: Arno Declair.
Artistic Director since 1999 [see interview in
this issue]. Ostermeier and his four superb actors
(Cathlen Gawlich, Lars Eidinger, Eva Meckbach,
and Tilman Strau) performed the minor miracle of
turning a clearly lesser, second-tier Norn effort into
an utterly riveting evening of theatre. The play itself
falls neatly on the line connecting Strindberg and
Albee (specifcally, Virginia Woolf) and concerns the
freworks set off when a young dysfunctional and
childless couple, Katerina and Frank, play host to
another couple Jenna and Tomas, who live downstairs
from them and who do have children. For two hours,
all manner of sexual provocation, humiliations, and
psychic violence ensue amidst a gorgeous glass
and chrome and beige-colored apartment, i.e., the
standard visual embodiment of the realm that was
then called yuppiedom. Remember yuppiedom? That
strange and mysterious place where comfortable
characters with seemingly nothing to complain about
still manage to expose their bleeding wounds and go
at it with an unrelenting viciousness that borders
on sociopathy. Mind you, there is no question that
Demons must have had the impact of a bomb blast
when it frst hit the stage in 1983. But in 2012, it
simply doesn't do it anymore. In our jaded times,
it fails to shock (which is not a great comment on
our times, by the way). Simply reading the text, one
would imagine a few hours of non-stop yelling in
a structurally arbitrary way, whereby one fve-page
passage could be transposed to a spot thirty pages
later, and a later fve-page passage could be moved
up, say, twenty pages, and there wouldn't be much
difference to the play.
It is a compliment of the highest order to
Ostermeier and his team to say that Norn's text was
here given remarkable (and quiet) nuance, structure,
a great deal of humor, and a degree of psychological
acuity that was simply fascinating to behold. One
was not bored for an instant. A great deal of credit
must also go to set designer Nina Wetzel (who also
did the costumes) who placed the proceedings on
a revolve which fuidly rotated for a good deal of
the evening. Of course, a revolving set is one of
the biggest clichs in the book, but the idea here
was far different from a simple case of changing
the scene. Through a meticulously planned and
executed choreography, the actors moved around
the multi-room environment as the revolve turned,
constantly being caught in new angles, perspectives,
and confgurations which always impacted at
every moment exactly how they were playing
the particular text at hand, and consequently, how
they were interrelating to the other characters. This
was sometimes accompanied by haunting music
and a very judicious use of video projections, the
total effect of which was a kind of deeply moving,
melancholic poetry which is not at all obvious in
the play itself. Amazingly, Ostermeier achieved the
seemingly contradictory quality of being up-close
and intimate at the same time as being distanced. One
truly felt one was watching an intricately detailed
sociological examination of human behavior as if it
was being played out in some sort of laboratory. It
was hypnoticyou couldn't look away.
Next came the festival's one bow to
Bergmanand it was huge, with a capital B. That
was Dramaten's own production of Fanny and
Alexander, adapted and directed by Stefan Larsson,
based on Bergman's famous and much beloved
1984 fve-hour TV miniseries. As Bergman fans
will recall, Fanny and Alexander focuses on the
semi-autobiographical experiences of the young,
precocious Alexander and his sister Fanny, who
hail from a large, well-to-do, and boisterous theatre
family. Their happy childhood is suddenly turned
into a nightmare when their father dies and their
mother remarries a stern and abusive Bishop. All
is ultimately put right, however, thanks to Isak, the
Jewish antiques dealer and old family friend, who,
with the help of some Jewish mysticism in the flm's
extraordinary fnal section, saves the children from
their prison-like life with the Bishop. Oh, I wish I
could say that the stage production measured up to
the original masterpiece, but it did not. And really,
how could it? As far as I can tell, this Fanny and
Alexander represents an effort on Dramaten's part
to cast aside any kind of elitist, crusty connotation
the institution might have as a bastion of "classical"
(i.e., serious and boring) theatre, and present instead
fun, populist theatre which everyone can love
and relate to. Certainly, this production has given
Swedes a chance to witness, among other things, a
large group of extremely famous (to them, at least)
Dramaten actors live, all together on the same stage
at one time, whom they rarely get to see live at all,
and what's more, in a piece they already love and
by this point know by heart. The concept seems to
have worked: The production has already proven
itself to be somewhat of a cash-cow for Dramaten,
with extremely healthy box offce sales and various
Swedish theatre groups being bused in from all over
to see it. It is indeed theatre for the masses, and the
masses seem to love it, given the standing ovations
the production receives. Alas, some aesthetic price
must be paid, and here, it is the somewhat shocking
fact that much of Bergman's edge in the original is
nowhere to be found in this stage version.
To put it bluntly, this is the Disney version
of Fanny and Alexander. The actors play at a very
broad, over-the-top level, bordering on boulevard
comedy style. (For the record, Livia Millhagen is the
mother, Reine Brynolfsson is the Bishop, and Marie
Granzon is the grandmother who presides over
the entire household). No doubt, they are probably
enjoying this, as it is a style they don't get to play
very often, given that it is the very opposite of the
standard Dramaten (and Swedish in general) style
of internalized and sharp, psychologically nuanced
playing. The set design by Rufus Didwiszus is
embarrassingly ugly and nearly minimalist, and is
dominated byyou guessed ita revolve that is
used in the most clunky and clichd way imaginable.
(One wonders if the poor guy saw Ostermeier's
Demons on the same stage just the night before?) Far
more important than the set design (and to be fair,
Mr. Didwiszus could not be expected to reproduce
the flm's opulent household of Visconti-esque
proportions) is the question of tone. The tone of this
Fanny and Alexander is decidedly and unbearably
sentimental and feel-good. Bergman made a
point of keeping the joyous and deeply disturbing
elements in the original in a perpetual and perfect
balance, reminding us all that it was quite simply
the point of the human condition to be constantly
navigating between the two ever-present extremes.
But in director Larsson's take, the moments of
life's pointed nastiness are barely there to begin
with (notwithstanding the famous scene where the
Bishop whips Alexander, here staged in such a fat
way as to barely register). One stunning example of
this missing edge (but hardly the only one) is in the
piece's fnal moments. Despite an ostensibly happy
ending whereby the abusive stepfather is killed in a
fre, in the flm's fnal moments, the stepfather's ghost
suddenly appears and knocks little Alexander to the
ground, an incredibly important detail showing how
the boy will never be entirely over his childhood
trauma. That moment is nowhere in this stage
version. And as you would expect, the stage version
cannot even begin to properly depict the flm's
fnal mystical section which features Isak (Erland
Josephson in the original flm, giving a legendary
and heartbreaking performance, and here played
by Hans Klinga), and his mysterious androgynous
nephew Ismael (Ellen Jelinek) who magically helps
Alexander will into being his stepfather's death.
Isak's extraordinary six-minute monologue which
basically sums up the entire Bergman philosophy on
life and art, is also nowhere present, but then again,
that remarkable speech (done by Josephson in the
flm in a single take) also did not fnd its way into
the truncated and vastly inferior three-hour theatrical
release version of the flm. (I might add that the very
sad passing of Erland Josephson just three months
Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, adapted and directed by Stefan Larsson. Photo: Sren Vilks.
before in February lingered heavily in the Dramaten
air.) Come to think of it, you could say that this
production is rather like the short version of the flm
(which Bergman categorically disliked, and with
very good reason); utterly conventional and for the
most part devoid of the Bergman edge.
Lithuanian director Oskaros Korunovas's
Miranda was a fascinating affair. A co-production
of the director's own theatre, Oskaro Korunovo
Teatras OKT and the Vilnius City Theatre, the
piece comprises a vivid and unsettling take on
Shakespeare's The Tempest. Dainius Likeviius's
ingenious and darkly claustrophobic set features
a cramped and cluttered apartment somewhere
in the Eastern Bloc world. The time setting is
sometime perhaps in the 1950s or 1960s, but it is
hard to tell. There is an older man (Povilas Budrys)
who carefully and lovingly cares for his severely
disabled daughter (Airida Gintautaite) who insists
that her father read for her The Tempest. Over the
course of an intermissionless 100 minutes, the
father takes on various parts of the play while the
daughter plays Miranda (a bit of Macbeth surfaces
near the end). The actors are stunning, both in
their pronounced physicality and their razor-sharp
psychological impact. It is particularly harrowing
to watch Gintautaite act out the extreme physical
obstacles both in movement and in speech of what
seems to be autism, all the while reciting Miranda's
lines. We eventually get the impression that this is
somewhat of a ritualfather and daughter have
done this before, and this particular play functions
as some sort of cathartic release for the daughter.
Somewhat elaborate lighting effects and details of
the apartment's clutter are put to terrifc and magical
use in evoking the world of Shakespeare's play, but
never does it come off as gimmicky.
The performance is not without its
shortcomings, however. The frst half is absolutely
the stronger of the twomesmerizing reallyfor
the simple reason that the focus is on a visceral
and detailed portrait of a father caring for a
severely disabled child and all that that entails,
who just happen to be, at the same time, reading a
Shakespeare play. But gradually over the course of
the evening, this framework fades to the background
and the piece becomes simply a production of The
Tempest (albeit a highly unorthodox one). One can
practically feel the richness and complexities lose
their edge as we lose the framework. In retrospect,
Miranda, Oskaros Korsunova's take on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Photo: D. Matvejevas.
it becomes clear that this evening should not be a
production of Shakespeare's play. Rather, it should
be about a father and daughter in a specifc and
supremely diffcult circumstance who together read
Shakespeare's play. The larger picture is what makes
it so moving, and when that larger framework,
thankfully, re-emerges in the play's fnal moments,
we are left with a shivering sensation that makes for
great theatre.
I have always been suspicious of post-
modern theatre's ongoing attempts to fuse theatre
and flm (or more precisely, video). Call me old
fashioned, but I frmly believe that each medium
comprises a specifc and distinct language, and the
kind of thrill each can illicit when done well is,
likewise, experientially different. So when I heard
that we were in store for a highly anticipated, highly
hyped multi-media version of Strindberg's Miss Julie
from the Schaubhne, I got worried. I am delighted
to report that I have been convertedfor the time
being. The theatre-video fusion can be done, as
proven by the Schaubhne's poetic, evocative, and
radiant Miss Julie, co-directed by Katie Mitchell and
Leo Warner.
In this case, the environment was
everything. Dramaten itself wouldn't even suffce,
so we all trekked out to the Globe Annex, a large
industrial space used mainly for concerts, twenty
minutes on the subway from central Stockholm.
Upon entering, it was clear this would be a high-
tech affair. Behind the audience was a long table,
fairly overfowing with a prodigious amount of
computer gadgetry and wires. In front of us, the set
consisted of a main playing area, a hallway, a wall,
and lots of cables. A large screen was visible at the
top. Off to one side, another area was set up with
tables flled with assembled odds and ends, where
crew members would function as foley operators,
creating live sound effects as the evening played
out. On stage, as Strindberg's classic play unfolded
recounting the tragedy of the aristocratic Julie, the
servant Jean, and the maid Kristin, several company
members with small digital cameras captured the
performance, projecting it live on the large screen.
The important point here is that the resulting video
was not some MTV-ish, trendily low-tech piece, all
jitters and bad lighting in the name of cutting edge
art. Quite the contrary: The video we saw was utterly
thought out in advance and polished, every shot
perfectly framed and lit, every cut deliberate and
precise. In order to fuidly capture the three actors
to optimal effect from multiple angleslong shots,
August Strindberg's Miss Julie, directed by Katie Mitchell and Leo Warner. Photo: Stephan Cummiskey.
evocative close ups, the whole gamutwithout
colliding into each other, the camera operators
(in dark clothes) and actors (in period costume)
engaged in an incredibly complicated and precise
choreography, moving in and out of playing areas,
repositioning cameras, etc., without missing a beat.
(Even Jean doubled as a camera man from time to
time.) The resulting video was so polished, precise,
and gorgeous, in fact, as to almost function (and I
stress almost) as a stand-alone, fnished flm in its
own right. Its style was quite particularquiet,
somber, melancholic, sparse, and poetic: Miss Julie
fltered through Bergman or Tarkovsky. But that's
hardly an inappropriate flter for Strindberg's play.
I'll take a quiet, melancholic Miss Julie over a loud,
histrionic one any day. But the true achievement was
that none of these pristine images nor elegant editing
patterns was accomplished in post-production with
Final Cut Pro, but rather, achieved live before our
eyes as it played out over the course of eighty-fve
As for the actors, they were sublime.
The dramatic conceit of this Miss Julie was to tell
the story from Kristin's point of view. Jule Bwe
was utterly heartbreaking as we watched her
eavesdropping on hushed conversations between
Julie and Jean, all the while realizing her dream
of a future with Jean was evaporating before her
eyes. Tilman Strau's Jean was appropriately sexy
and underplayed, and Luise Wolfram's Julie was
likewise appropriately dysfunctional, but in a very
quiet and intense way. All in all, this Miss Julie
could be viewed as a kind of performance piece
in which three superb actors and several camera
operators danced an intricate, interrelated dance of
death of consummate choreography, simultaneously
creating both a live performance and video overlay
which coalesced into a poetic vision of Strindberg's
play that left you all tingly for days to come. I think
both Ingmar Bergman the flm director and Ingmar
Bergman the theatre director would have been quite
A research project recently led me frst to
Amsterdam and then to Paris in January, and in both
places I yielded to a strong tropism toward familiar
names on the marquees. Stravinsky's The Nightingale
and Other Fables in a staging by the ubiquitous and
innovative Robert Lepage at The Netherlands Opera
was one of the only theatrical offerings in the dead
season of this theatrical capital, but as offerings go,
that's not, as they say, too dusty. And among the far
more plentiful options in Paris, I was drawn to see
what the French would do with two of my favorite
international playwrights, Norway's Lars Norn and
Israel's Hanoch Levin.
While the building of Het Muziektheater
van Amsterdam is grand and welcoming, as befts
a performing arts institution of a major city, the
stage is rather awkward and seems more suited to
oratorios and concerts rather than to a fully mounted
opera. The instrumental ensemble, which is too large
to occupy the pit, takes up most of the stage space,
leaving only the pit itself and two wings surrounding
it for stage action. But as is typical of one gifted with
his advanced ingenuity, Lepage has made a virtue of
the obstacles which would seem to limit him. The
oriental setting of the operas encourage simplicity
paired with virtuosity, and Lepage has opted for
exquisite execution of set pieces on display in the
open, generally unadorned space, which presents
a contrast with the opulence which has marked his
spectacles at the Metropolitan Opera such as The
Ring Cycle and La Damnation de Faust, and thus
made the most of the limited infrastructure. This
performance is Lepage in miniature.
The Other Fables part of the Stravinsky
evening, which, like tantalizing hors d'oeuvres
preceded the main course, consisted chiefy of the
mini-opera, The Fox. For the Other Fables the
conductor stands on an island placed amid the pit
surrounded by the orchestra, while all dramatic
action is limited to the small downstage wings. A
detailed, realistic bonsai tree stands on one wing.
A chorus of peasant girls hovers around the tree,
while on the other side the operators of shadow
puppets, male and female, create images which are
Following Favorites Around Europe
David Willinger
Igor Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Fables, staged by Robert Lepage. Photo: Courtesy of the Netherland Opera.
thrown onto a central screen. The puppeteers warm
up with modest characters, small animalsbirds
and rabbitsbut eventually the puppet master goes
behind the screen and these are followed by shadow
images of large-scale horses. The entire display is
conducted with mastery of the classical technique,
and these simple images work their delight with
child-like charm.
Following an intermission, the orchestra
and conductor are displaced upstage and the entire
pit is now occupied by water for The Nightingale,
the main course. The large chorus of singers is
gloriously dressed in gorgeous classical Asian
style, and the puppets are all resplendent and both
fashioned and manipulated with consummate skill. A
small junk sails across the water, and another returns
in the contrary direction. They are propelled by the
puppet masters/singers who stand over them in the
water. The puppeteers sing on behalf of the puppet
characters in the boats. Meanwhile, the lead female
singer appears by the bonsai tree, which remains
from the earlier portion of the evening, and seems to
release a nightingale into the sky. It's a puppet on a
stick, but has great mobility and is quite convincing
in its verisimilitude to an actual bird. Her voice
soars and twitters in perfect sync with the movement
of the futtering animal. Then, the other principal
characters of the fable appear in an elaborate state
vessel, as the puppeteers lumber through the water in
the other direction to sing for them. Three little other
characters appear perched on the gnarled bough of
the tree to sing. The royal characters in the barge
trick the nightingale, which would prefer to stay out
in nature, into going back with them to the palace,
ostensibly to sing for the Emperor, but actually to
serve it as a delectable meal. (This nefarious plan
goes nowhere later in the action.) As the royal party
with the nightingale in tow goes off, the great tree
splits in parts, now serving as background for the
following scene. A school of ducks scoots by on the
water, as a witty surprise coda to this segment.
The next segment begins with the crossing
of a giant water dragon, followed by a swan, and then
the Emperor himself on his throne. He is joined by
envoys from Japan who ritualistically arrive on their
boat. The nightingale, now a trophy fxture of the
palace, regales the envoys with her song. Next a vast
silver curtain is lifted from the water; the Emperor
slumbers in his four-poster bed set in the water and is
beset by large nightmarish creatures. The drapes of
the four-poster fall away to reveal the bed as a gaunt
skeleton embracing the monarch. Spirits arrive to
remind him of his past misdeeds and torment him.
The nightingale sings to the spirits urging them to
spare the Emperor's life. The nightingale's eloquence
on his behalf draws tears from the Emperor's eyes.
The Nightingale and Other Fables. Photo: Courtesy of the Netherland Opera.
(Real) heads of people emerge from the water and
foat around amid candles, also foating, as day
breaks, leaving the audience with an uncanny dream
image as the opera ends.
This work is seldom performed. It
could easily be billed as one primarily targeting
a children's audience. Still, there were very few
children in the audience, but the full house of adults
and a few children expressed unbounded enthusiasm
regardless. Nightingale has modest charms, notably
a score that is more melodic than one would associate
with Stravinsky, but all its charms are enhanced by
the inventive production values and fully realized by
Lepage and the skilled performers.
The Thtre de la Colline in Paris specializes
in an intellectually challenging and international
repertoire that makes no concession to popular taste,
yet their productions tend to the cerebral or repellant.
I've had a schizophrenic relationship to Lars Norn,
almost worshiping certain of his texts, particularly
his family dramas, such as Night is Mother to the
Day, brilliantly performed at Yale in 1984, and his
Nachtwake (And Grant Us the Shadows) about
Eugene O'Neill and his family which had been
undertaken in a breathtaking rendition by the Belgian
avant-garde company Blauwe Maandag in 1988
with Luk Perceval directing. These plays present
corrosive to-the-death family relationships that
break stylistic molds. I've also been disappointed
by others, such as Froid (Cold in English, originally
Kyla) a relentlessly banal one about disaffected
juvenile delinquents that was performed at the
Thtre National in Brussels. I was therefore quite
let down when it became clear that Salle d'Attente
(Waiting Room), the Norn piece I'd run to see at the
Colline, was to be yet another naturalistic rendering
of a group of homeless marginals bemoaning their
pasts and lower-depths environment with desultory
self-pitying whining. Norn, it seems, is drawn to
this subject, but sadly incapable of fnding originality
within it. What might succeed in lifting his subject
out of the clich quagmire in which it wallows would
be charismatic actors with sharp individuality and
unpredictable innate life. The Colline production
fails in this respect; none of the young actors bring
any distinction or particular interest to bear on their
Lars Norn's Salle d'Attente. Photo: Courtesy of the Thtre de la Colline.
characters; one can't help but imagine that an inter-
racial group of young American actors would have
had much more grit to bring to the table of this
naturalistic work. Too bad!
L'quipe du Menteur, a theatre company
from Villefranche-sur-Sane in the provinces brought
their production of Hanoch Levin's Souffrances de
Job (generally translated from Hebrew into English
as Job's Passion) to the Ateliers Berthier of Odon-
Thtre de l'Europe in Paris. I'm a great admirer of
the prolifc Israeli, Levin, whose works, since his
death in 1994, have been seeing a steady popularity
and interest both in Europe and America. So,
eschewing the myriad renditions of Sacha Guitry,
Molire, and Goldoni in the limited weekend time
allotted to me, I hastened to have a look at how the
French approached Levin's towering text (For full
disclosure, I had myself directed this play in New
York in 2009.).
Job's Passion reworks the Old Testament
allegory of Job, retaining the decimating, unremitting
pain of the biblical hero's tale, and retaining also its
allegorical nature. Without exactly modernizing or
localizing the tale, Levin's stage version unwraps
its enormous dramatic power through a series of
unembarrassedly passionate scenes. In a sense
Levin has reconfgured Job as an eternal tragic
hero matching a Lear or Phaedre in stature and
interest. The stripping away of worldly goods has a
resonance for our international society, still reeling
from the recent "economic downturn" that saw so
many homes foreclosed, pensions dried up, and
stocks plummet. The newly minted "classic" calls
for brio acting to justify and compensate for the
searing agony of Job.
The play starts at a party of wealthy people
Job has invited and before whom he desires to
parade his success. L'quipe du Menteur production,
directed by Laurent Brethome, intriguingly suggests
the party, rather than depicting it, by having Job on
the near empty stage which is ringed by a series of
long white hangings. The party guests are out of
sight behind the drapes, and the party is essentially
an auditory experience of fawning sounds redolent
of hollow sociability. A solitary servant passes
through carrying a tray, illuminated from beneath
it, containing a solitary wine glass. A drunken guest
offstage trips and falls. Everyone guffaws. Job is
alone on stage, addressing his invisible guests with
a hand-held mic.
Then a long banquet table appears
upstage, spanning the space horizontally. In the
script, beggars arrive, one poorer than the next, to
pick at the leavings from the rich party. Here they
Hanoch Levin's Job's Passion, directed by Laurent Brethome. Photo: Courtesy of Equipe du Menteur.
appear through holes cut in the table top. The stage
space in front of the plank table is revealed to be
a landscape of colored bottles littering it. The next
scene brings on a series of messengers who give
Job the increasingly bad news that all his factories
and businesses have failed and that he is now
penniless. These messengers are here depicted as
faceless entities covered head to toe with something
resembling body-socks. And then follows a scene
of a ritual stripping of all of Job's worldly goods.
Since there are no particular goods in view, all that is
material on stage is disassembled and wafted away
in record time. The bottles are overturned, and swept
into the orchestra pit; the table is taken apart and
removed; the great white hangings drop down and
are carted off; Job is beaten and humiliated. What
we don't know, but what becomes clear by and by is
that now, about a third into the play, the directorial
ingenuity, which has been pretty strong thus far, is
just about exhausted.
Job, played by Philippe Sire, who had been
wearing a wig up to this point, and has had rather
the demeanor of a clown, loses the wig, revealing
a clean bald pate. His teeth (or rather the gold from
them) are extracted offstage; again, this potentially
powerful and grotesque moment is rendered
auditorily through the sounds of pullings and shrieks
in place of the onstage brutality suggested by the text.
Then Job is returned and literally body-painted with
flth and slime. White, red, and blue paint is poured
all over the stage and Job wallows in it, turning it
grey-brown as the colors combine. The other actors
then rub it in and turn it to mush on his body. Job
learns of the deaths of his various children through
female messengers. In the text, cadavers are brought
in, but here, as each messenger gives her report, Job
then cradles that messenger's body as though it was
that of his dead children.
All of these ideas, which in and of
themselves are not bad, wind up distancing the
audience from the horror of the experience. They
become semiotic representations of experience
standing for the thing itself and putting the actor at
a remove both from the experience of loss and from
any potential for empathic response by the audience.
While Brecht undoubtedly had an impact on Levin's
dramaturgy, handling the distantiation in this way
undermines the play's power and leaves us to admire
or reject the cleverness. The acting is Voltairean and
cerebral in its loftiness, Racinian in its rhetorical
fourish. While the play is written in free verse, the
hyper-clear delivery and pleasure the performers
take in the well enunciated phonemes again sets
the play at a removewrapping the play in all the
trappings of French neo-classicism. Trappings and
a trap, one which Levin set, but surely didn't expect
his interpreters to fall for. It's just a lot of stentorian
tones ringing with false fabricated "feeling," none
of which rings true or is capable of evoking tragic
disaster. In this sense, the acting recalls that of
the young artists in the Lars Norn play, lathering
"feelings" onto their lines in a totally unconvincing
way. So, in the cerebral modernity of its mise-en-
scne paired with the old fashioned approach to
the acting, the production betrays the play, which
is written in a way that is open to both, but sadly
undermined by them.
As with the Norn production at the
Colline, the enterprise could have been redeemed by
distinguished acting, and the role of Job as well as
those of his old friends who come to give him solace
are certainly opportunities for inspired comedian-
tragedians. But the actor playing Job, Philippe Sire,
has no personality to speak of; neither does he play
any. The same holds for the others. In fact, all the
actors are interchangeable in a play which relies on
strong personalities for its interest.
The crisis of the play comes when Roman
soldiers arrive and, discerning that Job is an
apostate to the Emperor, that he won't deny his own
(presumably Jewish) god, impale him through his
posterior. This climax of physical agony is clearly
meant to be the apogee of horror and discomfort,
an Artaudian immersion in cruelty rather than a
Brechtian disquisition. In this production, it takes
place behind a curtain. Job's body remains behind
that curtain as his face appears in a hole cut into
it, high above. His face hangs in the air pretending
to moan over an injury that is patently fake. Once
again, the director, as though uncomfortable with
the mandate for extreme human suffering which is
the very stuff of the play and the story of Job, opts
for distancing. It's most unfortunate. While Levin
plays with artifce and circus imagery throughout,
if taken literally as they are in this production, the
underlying raison d'etrethe agony and passion of
Jobare gutted.
Lars Norn's Demoner, directed by Thomas Ostermeier. Photo: Arno Declair.
The 2012 Ingmar Bergman International
Theatre Festival opened with Lars Norn's 1983 play
Demons (Demoner), in an elegant and beautifully
acted production from the famed Schaubhne
am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, directed by Thomas
Ostermeier. Ostermeier has been Artistic Director
of the Schaubhne since 1999, and it was in fact
for his premiere production there in 2000 that he
chose to stage Norn's classic Personkrets 3:1. His
extraordinary production of this lesser Norn effort
accomplished the minor miracle of making the play
seem far better than it actually is. I had a chance
to chat with Ostermeier the morning after opening
night. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
SCHWARTZ: What is your history with the work of
OSTERMEIER: We did Personkrets in 2000. But I
knew his writing already before. I was looking for a
contemporary big play which you hardly fnd
nowadays because usually they are doing two
to four character plays, so I was very happy
to fnd Personkrets. I think we had eighty
costumes, maybe a hundred, because it is set
outside a big square in the middle of any big
city in the Western world. It was written for
Stockholm but you can imagine it anywhere.
So, we had a lot of these characters just passing
by. We had more people on stage than in the
script. And also the contentI was pretty
happy about the content of the play because I
wanted to talk about this society of excluded
[disenfranchised] people. Years later, three
years ago, I came back to this writerto an
earlier period of his writing. I always wanted to
do this play. I was also considering [Bergman's]
Scenes from a Marriage, but I told myself that
this is stronger.
SCHWARTZ: What specifcally about
Demoner spoke to you?
OSTERMEIER: It's this [idea of] demons
inside the characters haunting them. Often in
my plays it's about this faade of civilization
which is pretty thin and what lies underneath.
You have to be very careful not to from the
very beginning stress too much this confict by
[having] the actors shout or letting them be mean.
You have to fnd a way of very precise observation
how people can be mean without showing it. I
like this exploration of human behavior. It is a big
concern of mine, especially in Germany, where
directors are not working on it any more. [There's
a lot of] conceptual work where the actor is not that
important anymore. I work a lot in rehearsal with
the actors: how to express in subtle ways the way
people behave, and this is a perfect play [for that].
When you succeed in drawing the audience into the
world of this couple, then you can really take them
on a journey and go very far. It may look easy but it
is actually very diffcult.
SCHWARTZ: I agree. When one frst reads the text
by itself, one can easily get the impression of simply
non-stop yelling. But in your production, there is
a palpable fuidity with very distinct rhythms that
are poetic, even musical. I feel like this particular
A Conversation with Thomas Ostermeier
Stan Schwartz
Thomas Ostermeier. Photo: Courtesy of Ouest France.
production is a kind of elegant string quartet of
psychic violence. How did you fnd those rhythms
that seem so beautiful and right?
OSTERMEIER: This is a real passion of mine
working with actors. I'm obsessed with actors not
taking the easy way. As you say, it would be easy to
imagine them yelling at each other the whole time
but then the show would be boring after fve minutes
and people would leave probably. Everything that
Norn has writtenand this is one of the biggest
qualities of this writeris not so much inventing
dialogue, but listening to people in reality and just
writing down what he hears.
SCHWARTZ: He told me that too
OSTERMEIER: It's very complicated because you
have to listen very precisely. And this is something
I immediately saw in his writing and this is also
something I am obsessed with. I can spend hours
watching other people. I would even say it's a kind
of addiction. When I go out with someone to a
restaurant, I can hardly follow the real conversation
[I should be following] because most of the time
I'm listen to other people around me and I can't stop
doing this! I think you can read this in Demoner also.
The next step is: How do people communicate when
they have these very mean ways of talking to each
other? Most of the time, when they are mean, they
are not saying it in a mean way. It's very playful and
playing on different level of communication. Irony,
sarcasm. There's different ways of jumping in the
level of communication. He [the character of Frank]
especially is behaving like a little child a lot of the
time in order not to respond to what she [Katarina]
wants to talk about. So you jump on two levels:
the true communication and [the level where you]
avoid the communication. And this is very precisely
written down in Lars Norn.
SCHWARTZ: In your production, it's equally
important what they are doing while they are
OSTERMEIER: Yes. In my production, there are
only a few moments when they sit down and talk
to each other. Most of the time, one [of them] is in
another room. I asked the actors if they share a fat
with their partner, how many times did they really
sit down and talk to each other? It's very rare with
people we share our lives with, there are only a
few moments where you really sit down and talk
to each other. Most communication is while you do
something else.
SCHWARTZ: How do actors respond to this kind of
OSTERMEIER: It's very diffcult for actors to do
this. Some of them see this as a challenge, which is
beautiful, but most of the actors think "He's driving
me crazy, this director!" And talking about the poetic
side of the production you were describingI added
a third dimensionthe revolving stage and the
music. Another challenge for the actors, because at
every moment they have to be in a precise spot in
the room, because otherwise it won't work, there are
moments when the stage is revolving for ten minutes,
but you still follow the actors going from one room
to another. We invented things they have to do and
these things must be meaningful and obvious but not
seen as constructed.
SCHWARTZ: I imagine that the idea of sculpting the
space with the revolving stage came early on.
OSTERMEIER: Yes, we had it from the very
beginning. And I knew that I was going to use it
a lot. Also because I [used] it already in two other
showsA Dollhouse and Hedda Gabler. There are
a lot of advantages to the revolving stageif you
don't use it as a way of bringing in a new setthat's
pretty boring. But if you use it as a permanent way of
moving the stage, you have a lot of advantages. The
actors cannot be concerned anymore about "where is
the audience." You [avoid] this narcissistic thought
by the actors "I'm performing for them."
SCHWARTZ: I had this idea that the concept and
the movement together help create for the actors a
totally private 360-degree world that they are simply
behaving in and we are watching them, almost from
outer spacesurveying life on the planet Earth.
OSTERMEIER: Yes, I like this description because
what I am really trying to [get at] is a view of
human behavior where you, on one hand, look at it
as something very violent, but on the [other] hand
with a smile. I know everything that is happening
on stage, I have experienced a lot of this behavior
myself, but at the same time, you have to laugh
about it and have a wiser, thoughtful look on it. Not
to take it too seriously.
SCHWARTZ: Your use of video seems to underline
even further this idea of aliens observing human
behavior from far away. You have not only close-ups
of the actors projected, but also shots of inanimate
objects. Again, it's almost like a laboratory for the
aliens up there who are watchingbut not judging,
just watching.
OSTERMEIER: This is actually where we fnd
ourselves now. It's so diffcult for us to say what is
right and wrong, to judge as you say. The only thing
which remains is to be very precise in the observation,
to work, as you call it, in a kind of a laboratory, and
to make the spectators be part of the observance, and
then it is up to them to draw conclusions and judge.
It's true; I would consider myself more of a scientist
than someone who knows the "Truth." It's really a
sociological laboratory.
SCHWARTZ: Let's go back to something you said
earlier which really intrigued me about the current
state of German theatre being far less interested in
this kind of work with actors and more concerned
with work that was far more conceptual.
OSTERMEIER: Yes, don't take this show as a
[representative] example of German theatre! It is not
at all!
SCHWARTZ: What is the other German theatre like
and why is it so different and why are they not so
interested in this kind of theatre?
OSTERMEIER: I can only make a theory and I'm not
sure it's true, but there was a time in the 1970s, late
sixties, when Regietheater was inventedDirector's
Theatre. It started with Stein and others. But at that
time, it did not mean that you were not working with
actors. You made the actors part of it. Nowadays,
after thirty years of Regietheater, young directors
tend to believe that to be part of this business, you
have to be incredibly sophisticated, conceptual,
radical; so they are more concerned about the right
conception for the evening, than working with the
actors. But this is also because a big part of German
theatre forgot that what I would call the main
interest of someone working in the artswriting
books, making movies, making theatreis my
question: What is the human being? Which I don't
understand. So I sit down to write or to put on stage,
to understand. And I will never understand it, but I
am trying to get closer. And because I have also been
teaching directing for some years now in Berlin, I
hardly see this concern [in students]. Their concern
is politics, which is good, but it is not the only thing
when you do theatre. They are concerned a lot about
Demoner. Photo: Arno Declair.
installation art, performance art, which is also good.
But I hardly see young directors saying: OK, I have
experienced in my life a lot of tragedy and I want to
understand how this can happen.
SCHWARTZ: What makes a human being tick?
OSTERMEIER: Yes. Like Georg Bchner put it [in
Danton's Death]: Was ist das, was in uns lgt, hurt,
stiehlt und mordet? (What is it inside of ourselves
which makes us lie, rape, steal, and kill?)
SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Thomas.
There are many ways of playing Edmond
Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. Oriol Broggi opts
for the playful and the melancholy, using Xavier Bru
de Sala's lively Alexandrine verse version. This is a
theatrical world of red and white curtains where two
headless mannequins boast period costumes. Actors
move the costumes offstage and greet the audience.
There is no fourth wall here. Rather the spacious long
space of the Biblioteca de Catalunya is reconfgured
as a bustling outdoor fair, a carnivalesque space,
with a constructed stage and performers animating
the space. Empty chairs are acknowledged as if
they were an audience, actors are criticized from the
backstage. Swords are positioned against the back
wallprops ready to be picked up when needed.
Oriol Broggi's production portrays a
company at work, an ensemble where actors take on
the roles demanded of them across the boundaries of
gender and age. Lights twinkle in the distance like
magical stars, drums, and violins offer an atmospheric
soundtrack that suggests something of the military
world that shapes Cyrano. Rosaura (Marta Betriu)
looks down at Bernat Quintana's Christian from her
balcony. The latter has a broad smile and boyish good
looks but can only declaim clichs. Pere Arquillu's
Cyrano is a weary, hardened soldierhe watches
from the audience position as the bland Christian
attempts to seduce Rosaura. Christian may be able to
climb up the balcony like a deft lizard, but he cannot
offer the intelligent comraderie Rosaura craves.
"You'll never work alone" is heard in the distancea
hymn to the camaraderie that shapes both Cyrano's
ethos as well as that of Broggi's company.
This production wears its theatrical
trappings on its sleeve. A hotel and a bakery are
constructed through the most minimal of means and
a shift in lightGuillem Gelabert's lighting is a tour
de force of pools of light across the breadth of the
Barcelona and Madrid 2012: Making Theatre in a Time of Austerity
Maria M. Delgado
Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Oriol Broggi. Photo: Bito Cels.
expansive nave space. The red curtain opens as Cyrano
confesses that he loves Rosaura. A paper lantern in
the distance looks like a giant moon. At the camp,
as the soldiers gather, fast furious action is followed
by exquisite slow motion. The soldiers all hum as a
fute plays summoning them to action. Cyrano sits
on the picturesque golden hued windowsill reading
as his troops boast of feats. A fort is constructed
from tables and chairs. Thrilling sword fghts have
something of melodrama's Count of Monte Christo.
In the play's fnal act, stage managers scatter fallen
leaves on the foora symbol of the passing of time
as Rosaura meets the dying Cyrano fourteen years
after Christian's death. A nun at the convent where
the widowed Rosaura is visited by Cyrano, plays a
violina lyrical sound that heralds the sadness that
hovers over this reclusive spot. Lighting captures the
different moods: the crepuscular night, the breadth
of the convent garden,
Arquillu moves from the clownishness
in act 1 to a heartbreaking sadness in act 4. He
moves almost across the seven ages of man. There's
a swagger to his walk, an adroit joviality and
bravura that gradually slows down as the production
progresses. Soldiers and citizens gather at his feet
as he tells a story. This Cyrano is a compelling
raconteur. His rich voice has a broken quality, rough,
raw and rasping. His bulkish build contrasts with
Quintana's wispier physique. It is not surprising to
the audience that Christian perishes in battle while
the heartier Cyrano survives. Arquillu's worn,
wind-battered face and graying hair points to a man
who has been around. Arquillu's Cyrano has an
answer for everything but knows that his distended
nose won't win him favors in a society that values
the good looking and the attractive. His glances to
Rosaura are open and admiring. He revels in the
sparring, in the banter and smart conversation. And
when Christian secures Rosaura, a slight quivering is
balanced by a realization that it is a situation of his
own making.
The production is marked by Broggi's
habitual attention to detail. Dogs bark in the distance
as Christian and Cyrano move through the night
to charm Rosaura. He appears dressed in black
and white, yet is anything but a black-and-white
cardboard cut out. There is certainly a nod to Josep
Maria Flotats's celebrated 1985 Cyrano but this is
a less clownish characterization. Arquillu's Cyrano
has no false expectations. He never thinks he can
win Rosaura and this is part of the reason we root
for him.
Two home-grown playwrights have had
extended hits this season. At the Villarroel, Jordi
Galceran's farce Burundanga features a terrifc
central performance from Carles Canut. Pau Mir's
Els jugadors ("The Players") is an altogether more
sombre play, although it has a fair dose of black
comedy running through it. There is something of
Patrick Marber's Dealer's Choice in this four-act
tale of four gamblersall damaged personalities
whose rumblings and ruminations pre- and post-
games we are privy to. The four meet at the home
of the professora math teacher who has lost
his job through a violent assault on a pupil who
questioned his formula. This bear of a man is
morose and unable to move forward. Trapped by
the requests and mementoes of his dead father, he
moves around the kitchen with the weary resignation
of a half-comatose zombie. His late 1970s kitchen
(an impressive design by Enric Planas) is a notable
vision of himself: shabby cupboards, a once stylish
but now grimy retro fridge, worn worktops, and a
cooker that has seen better days. The clock is stuck
at 9:15an image of the professor's inability to
move on. This is a world that has failed to reinvent
itself, and it looks tired and unft for purpose.
The professor's three partners in crime are
similarly damaged personalities. The actor Jordi
Boixaderas has something of worn Al Pacino of Dog
Day Afternoon. He sports a similar 1970s leather
jacket, and while he may ostensibly appear the
calmest of the three, he has demons aplenty. He may
be a seductive performeras his rendition of Dean
Martin's "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves
You," microphone in hand shows, but he is also a
man who has touched rock bottom. He is a habitual
thief, a kleptomaniac who steals compulsively from
supermarkets. Only his targets are not iPhones or
electricals but the most mundane of items: a bag
of fairy cakes, a bottle of dodgy gin. He is excited
by the thrill of getting caught, and he resents the
younger generation who he argues have stolen his
Jordi Bosch is the most explosive of the
group, a nervy undertaker with a nasty temper and
sour temperament. Not only a gambling addict, he
is also addicted to sex with a Ukrainian prostitute
whom he can't stop seeing, and his explosions are
genuinely menacing. He sees violence as the only
thing that worksthe answer to all his problems and
The wily Boris Ruiz is a barber whose
business is on the point of closingone of many
references to the Spanish recession. He dare not tell
his wife what is going on. He's smart but cynical and
refutes agency, preferring to see himself as a victim
of a world that has left him behind. It's hard not to see
a critique here of the generation that allowed itself to
be swept away by promises of easy credit and quick
bucks. This generation never takes responsibility for
what the mess the country is in.
The four gamblers exist on a diet of coffee,
gin, and beerwith a stash of gin hidden for an
emergency. This is the place where they all feel at
home: a kitchen that's seen better times. If Mark
Ravenhill's Shopping & Fucking gave us a culture
where the youth of today are nurtured on ready-
made microwavable meals, Mir too doesn't see so
much of a difference with their elders. These men
also appear nurtured by a battered microwavethe
most dominant item in the kitchen. Only while Lulu
and Mark appear to relish the supermarket culture of
the present, these four gamblers feel that the world
has changed. Fuelled with anger and resentment
they lash out at the women in their lives. This is
evidently a generation tarnished by antiquated views
of women as unreliable whores and swindlers. Life
hasn't delivered what it promised and so they rant
indiscriminately at the injustice of it all.
All four are aggrieved gamblers who
have lost considerable amounts of money at the
roulette table. Now they meet to play poker, and
their tawdry reunions provide a festering climate
for their frustration, desperation, and resentment.
The blues guitar gives the piece a melancholy air;
while the constant fxes of coffee and gin fuel the
men's anxieties creating a charged atmosphere. Mir
directs with an escalating sense of tension, and while
he never romanticizes these deluded, ageing losers he
also avoids demonizing them. Their vulnerabilities
give them a particular humanity. Their pottering
in the kitchenwashing crockery, making coffee,
opening the fridge in the hope of seeing something
else they can consume, discovering a hidden bottle
of ginlends their daily rituals a morose sadness.
The story has something of the energy of Reservoir
Dogs refracted through the game play of David
Mamet's House of Cardsand Bosch more than a
passing likeness to Joe Mantegnabut the context
of a Spanish nation falling apart at the seams also
lends the play a poignant contemporary relevance
and immediacy.
It's been almost a decade since the last
new show by La Cubana. Campanades de boda
("Wedding Bells") offers a blisteringly funny
treatment of the wedding as onstage and offstage
drama. Crafted as a frenetic satire, it negotiates a
series of clichs about weddings that are innovatively
exposed and interrogated. Nuptials are exposed as
Pau Mir's Els jugadors, directed by Jordi Galceran. Photo: Ros Ribas.
a fusion of panic, neurosis, vanity, and narcissism.
Cross-cultural misunderstandings are the least of the
couple's worries.
The Rius family are forists, owners
of the Floriteria Ruis (open 24/7), and daughter
Violeta (Montse Amat) is getting married. Only this
paragon of Catalan enterprise and respectability is
marrying a famous Bollywood actor, Vickram Sodhi
(performed on screen by Ajay Jethi), who Violeta
met at the Caf de la Radio while he was working
in Barcelona. While she would rather just have a
small ceremony, her mother has other plans. Act 1
takes place in the chic apartment of Violeta's mother,
Hortensia (Annabel Totusaus), who is leading on
the lavish wedding preparations with her sister
Margarita (a return to the company for one of its
earliest collaborators, Mont Plans). The action is
structured as a run up to the wedding using a series
of fashbacksfrom six months before to a mere six
hours before the big eventwith a sense of count
down indicated through the projections on a screen.
The action offers a fusion of Ray Cooney, French
farce, and the escalating chaos of Robert Altman's A
Wedding (1978). As with Altman's flm, there is an
expansive cast, the use of a tiered wedding cake as
a prominent publicity element, and confict through
an unconventional pairing: for Altman the confict
comes through a class schism; here it is distance (as
well as race and ethnicity) that separates the two
Violeta's family are also beset by their own
internal squabbling. Hortensia's ex, Paco Zamora
(Xavi Tena), a former policeman who evidently
models himself on a fusion of Tom Selleck's Magnum
and James Garner's Rockford, arrives with his
alcoholic French girlfriend Margot (Mara Garrido)
in tow. And Margot can always be relied on to arrive
drunk, desperate for a drink, or inappropriately
attired to any event. Violeta's siblings have their own
concerns to grapple with. Narcs (Toni Torres) is a
hen-pecked husband in awe of his voluptuous, fery
wife Regina (Babeth Ripoll), a volatile Brazilian
who uses their small daughter as a bartering tool
in her wars with Narcs's imposing familywho
evidently resent her. Brother Jacint (Bernat Cot) has
a gay partner, Juan Carlos (Oriol Burs), and longs
for the large-scale social nuptials being lavished
on Violeta. But the family wants to keep Jacint
in the closet as they fear the conservative streak
embodied by Paco's aging ta Consuelo (Meritxell
La Cubana's Campanades de boda. Photo: Josep Aznar.
Dur). Aunt Consuelo is draconian in her beliefs,
arriving at the house sporting fercely traditional
Roman Catholic beliefs and a dramatic mantilla, an
imposing walking stick, and a mysterious package
that she refuses to part with. The package is revealed
in act 2 to be a portable altar that she opens during
the civil ceremony as her way of ensuring that there
is a religious presence at a wedding that she sees as
dominated by pagan interests.
Consuelo is clearly no fan of Hortensia
and Margarita. Her rabidly anti-Catalan sentiments
manifest themselves on numerous occasions. Paco
cowers to her, refusing to acknowledge his own
separation from Hortensia in an attempt to keep up
appearances within his highly conservative family.
Manolita is the compassionate and loyal Andalusian
family servant who has served the Riuses through
thick and thin. Like Consuelo she is "other" to the
Catalan family, but her fuency in Catalan suggests
a level of assimilation that Consueloconsistently
clad in black and fapping around the stage like
a deranged ravenfercely rejects. Manolita is
a chorus of sorts, commenting on the action as
someone who stands on the periphery of the family.
She doles out advice to Violeta and leads the audience
through the tussles, tantrums, and intrigues besetting
the family. Like Lorca's aging Doa Rosita, she also
refects on her own lost love. Her predicament is
further echoed in that of Modesto (Jaume Baucis),
who supervises deliveries for the family business
and pines adoringly for the single Margarita.
The structure of act 1 is very much that of a
French farce with the forthcoming event threatened
by a range of unforeseen calamities. The wedding
planners, from the company Campanades de boda,
don't quite have control of the eventone of a
number of references to poor organization at the
institutional level that allude to Spain's economic
woes. The concejal who was due to offciate
the ceremony is now indisposed, so an actor is
contracted to take his place. Recruited from street
theatre on la Rambla, however, he isn't too confdent
with the text he's been given to perform, and panic
ensues as he fuffs his lines and suffers a bout of
rampant diarrhea. Wedding preparations are further
interrupted by a range of visitorsboth foreseen and
unforeseenand this allows for the narrative to be
consistently halted. The restaurant is changing the
menu at the last minute. Unwanted gifts arrive
including a hideous porcelain statue. The Romanian
cleaner has to be shown the ropes by Manolita. The
hairdresser turns up with dynamic ideas for styling
Violeta. Regina stomps in to confront Narcsand
pushes Paco into the food prepared for the family.
A tuna (a Spanish university band made up of
singers and instrumentalists dressed in seventeenth-
century cloak, doublet, and stockings) made up of
four singer-musicians, including a bushy-haired
animated tamborine player who performs with great
gusto, serenade the bride to be with "Me gusta mi
novio" (I like my groom). Violeta is unhappy with
the meringue-style dress that her mother has chosen
for her and the campy dress designer, Anselmo de la
Croix (Jordi Miln) faces the challenge of designing
a dress in the six hours remaining before the
wedding's that will simultaneously please the bride
and not alienate her mother.
Momentum escalates as the act progresses
with the drama over the dress and venue providing
the move from act 1's boulevard comedy to act 2's
participatory experience. With 1000 plus invited
guests and an escalating list of potential additions,
the decision is taken to move the event to a larger
venue, and this is where the Tvoli is revealed as
the chosen location. As Manolita bursts into song
music is linked with love as in the classic Broadway
musicals and is used to signal moments of heightened
emotion throughout act 2Violeta disappears
under the layers of white cloth that Anselmo de
la Croix and his team will fashion into a wedding
dress. Manolita's song "Al da" guides the audience
through this transition from the apartment to the
wedding venue. Flower petals are scattered across
the space; guests cascade down the aisle towards the
stage; and the audience are given brightly coloured
pamelas to wear and greeted as friends in a fevered
rush of activity that opens the opulent ceremony. The
ceremony, however, is soon shown to be bereft of
one key element: the groom. Vickram cannot leave
Mumbai, and so the wedding will have to take place
via video link with a family standin, Ana Porrn,
who works as a secretary at the Instituto Cervantes
in Bombay, to orchestrate proceedings from there
and Kandarp Raturn representing the groom's family
in Barcelona. This is a wedding for the digital age
where geographical distance is no impediment to
nuptials, a virtual ceremony where the two families
effectively communicate via a Skype connection.
Act 2 functions as a variation on the
backstage musical. Weddings, of course, often
feature in screen narratives as a mode of showing
a restoration of order and narrative closure. Here
the couple have to overcome a range of obstacles
including the physical absence of the groomto
achieve this symbolic union. Margot trips over the
train as she scuttles in impossibly high shoes and
then vomits before being carried off stage; Regina
wants Narcs to leave his mother's apron strings and
follow her; the video link between Barcelona and
Mumbai threatens to break down; a petrifed actor
performs the ceremony as if explaining a story to
childrenbut the show must, as in Una nit d'pera,
nevertheless, go on. The Indian guests sing Joan
Manuel Serrat's Paraules d'amor. Jacint and Narcs
embark on a performanceplaying the cello and
reciting verses in honor of their sister's nuptials
(before the temperamental Renata fnally succeeds
in dragging the confused Narcs off home) and the
screen and stage worlds unite in a rendition of the
Punjabi wedding song from Brides and Prejudice
(2004). Not even Consuelo's brutal rendition of
a variation on Ave Mara "Salve Rociera" as the
Punjabi Wedding Song is underway can tarnish the
celebratory mood.
The wedding party thus effectively becomes
La Cubana's celebration of its relationship with its
loyal audience. The show's fnal number, "Como
nos gusta hacer teatro/Com ens agrada fer teatre"
by Joan Vives, one of the company's most regular
collaborators, summarizes the pleasures of making
theatre with an audience. Theatre here becomes
about the creation of a community brought together
through stage, screen, and the auditorium.
The audience are made to feel a part
of the team-effort in a series of ways. In act 1,
members of the audience are named in Hortensia
and Margarita's discussion of seating plans. In act
2, the wedding party talks to audience members as
they make their way to the stage. Audience members
are invited to act as bridesmaids and witnesses to
the ceremony and a photographer moves across the
auditorium taking photographs of the audience in
their wedding pamelas. These photos are available
post-performance on a website run by the newspaper
El Peridico: http://album.elperiodico.com/galerias/
lacubana/. As such the guests take a primary role
in the family album realised for each show on this
website. The photo offers an after-effect, a way of
ensuring that the affect of the performance remains
after the performance.
At Madrid's Espaol Theatre, Mario Gas
closes his fnal season as artistic director with his own
production of a musical for lean times. Sondheim's
Follies is a celebration of the need to emerge from
the knocks life throws at you. The reunion that brings
the different members of "Weismann's Follies"
together sees two unhappily married couples meet
again after over two decades. Buddy and Ben were
once best friends. Only Ben married Phyllis leaving
a heartbroken Sally who settled for Buddy as the
second best option. An encounter with Ben convinces
Sally she's still in love with Ben. Only Ben appears
only in love with himself. While the couples bicker,
barter and reminisce, other "follies" appear to share
moments of their past and revive past numbers. The
characters are constantly reminded of a better past
when they were ftter, livelier, happier, and full of
illusions about the future. The ghosts of the follies
walk across the stage in the opening moments of the
piece; the younger selves of Buddy, Ben, Sally, and
Phyllis follow them, playing out the key moments
of a shared history that has indelibly marked their
present; the hold of the past proves hard to let go of.
Gas is a master craftsman and the smoky
gray set is evocative of a 1940s noir movie with a
balcony and iron stairs that allows for the younger
selves of the two couples to play out their scenes. The
bright lights of the citya fuorescent "Jesus Saves"
sign, a tall tower, theatre names and nightclubs shine
in the distance. The bluish-gray hues hark back to
both black and white cinema and a time muddied
with mist and memories. There is an attention to
movement and mannerisms that allow for parallels
to be established between the jaded middle-aged
couples and their younger embodiments. Diego
Rodrguez suggests the vanity of Ben; ngel Ruiz
presents Buddy's impulsive manner. Marta Capel
points to Phyllis's clinical pragmatism; Julia Mller
points to the character that sees Sally lose out to the
wilier Phyllis. It's with the four adult counterparts
that the show really takes off. Vicky Pea's Phyllis
is a fgure in glacial baby blue with platinum hair
harshly pulled back and a dismissive manner.
She's an effective contrast to Muntsa Rius's sunny
girl-next-door Sally in a plainer green dress. Pep
Molina's Buddy is down to earth and sings "The
Right Girl" as an Archie Rice-like fgure. The days
on the road as a travelling salesman have taken their
toll on him. He looks worn and battered; someone
who fnds solace on the roadin wine, women, and
song. Carlos Hiplito is excellent as the arrogant
and isolated Ben for whom the grass always looks
greener on the other side of the wall. There is an
effortlessness to his performance of affuence that is
beautifully understated.
Asuncin Balaguer steals the show as the
elderly Hattie Walker who has buried fve husbands,
all younger than her. Her "Broadway Baby" number
is a delight of wit and the most delicate of dance
steps. Carmen Conesa presents a glam femme fatale
as the vampish Solange LaFitte. Mario Gas plays
Weismann in a knowing manneran appropriate
piece of self-referential casting. 1968 Eurovision
Song Contest winner Massiel is larger than life
singing the showstopping "I'm still here" as the grand
Carlotta Campiona picture in pastel pink. The cast
of thirty-eight appears a luxury in a municipal theatre
at such a time of austerity but it's a decision that pays
off. The staging is able to accommodate the intimate
and the epic, the private moments and revelations
and the bigger show tunes. The production is able
to function as a homage to the piece's Broadway
heritage but also gives packed houses in Madrid a
positive message of surviving loss and making it
through to face another day.
At a time when Spain is struggling to come
to terms with the human rights atrocities of the Franco
era, Osvaldo Golijov's opera Ainadamar (closing the
season at Madrid's Teatro Real) offers an elegy to
the poet Federico Garca Lorca presented through
the eyes of one of his most regular collaborators, the
actress Margarita Xirgu. Xirgu, in exile in Uruguay,
shares stories of her collaborations with Lorca with a
young actress, Nuria, training with her. The chorus of
women in black recalls those of Lorca's The House
of Bernarda Alba, their lament is a further nod to
the grieving women who close Blood Wedding.
The cantaor (male famenco singer) Jess Montoya
who takes the role of Ruiz Alonso (shared with the
dancer Marco Berriel) sings his orders as he orders
Lorca's execution. His loud lament echoes across the
auditorium, a nod also to the duende of famenco that
so infuenced Lorca's work.
The role of Xirgu is split between Jessica
Rivera and Nuria Espert. The former sings a soprano
role, the latter recites poems from Lorca's Moorish-
infuenced late collection, El Divn del Tamarit.
Nuria Espert's fgure in white offers a visual point
of contrast with Jessica Rivera's black clad Xirgu.
Espert is Xirgu's host, her shadow, her pulse
both a revenant and a manifestation of the past in
the present. She cannot escape her status as Spain's
most acclaimed living actress; a fgure who has
acknowledged her lineage to Xirgu. She is at once
Xirgu and Espert; one dialoguing with the other.
She embraces Kelley O'Connor's
shimmering mezzo Lorca: a fgure in a white suit
who illuminates the stage. This Lorca is at once
Stephen Sondheim's Follies, directed by Mario Gas. Photo: Courtesy of Espaol Theatre.
fragile and luminous, ghostly and radiant. He is
protected by both Rivera and Espert's Xirgu. They
hover over him like a child. He rises; he falls; he is
pushed; he lingers. The parallels with Christ on the
way to the Mount of Olives are evident; a bullfghter
(ngel Rodrguez) and teacher (David Rubiera) are
the two companions on the fnal journey. The chorus
of women lament his death with Espert and Rivera
as the Mary and Mary Magdalene fgures.
A complex soundscape of radio broadcasts,
the sound of running water, and gunshots interact
with the music, vocals and Espert's recital. Peter
Sellars' production has a formal austerity that echoes
that of Lorca's Divn. Gronk's set creates a busy,
angry collage where Picasso's "Guernica" interacts
with Latin-American conceptual art. Past and present
are in constant dialogue. When the back wall rises to
show the world outside the theatre, we are reminded
of a Spanish state that put Baltasar Garzn on trial
for investigating the disappearances, including
that of Lorca, of the Civil War and Franco era. In
a Spanish nation struggling to come to terms with
the implications of the pact of silence introduced
in the immediate aftermath of Franco's death, the
Argentine Golijov and librettist Asian-American
David Henry Hwang fashion an elegy to a dead poet
whose legacy was promoted across the Americas by
the actress who had premiered so many of his works.
Take the bored and possibly clueless
daughter of a count and a handsome servant with
social ambitions. Add a maid who represents law,
order, and common sense. Surround them by the
Swedish midsummer night with its atmosphere of
sexuality and magic. Voil! You have got Miss Julie
by August Strindberg, a classic that has never ceased
to fascinate directors, actors, and audiences since it
frst appeared over a century ago.
Five years ago it was claimed that A
Doll's House was the world's most performed play.
Today it seems that Miss Julie is about to edge
Henrik Ibsen from the top spot. European theatre
audiences have recently seen Miss Julie in all
kinds of interpretations: a British update by Patrick
Marber directed by Natalie Abrahami at Young Vic
in London, a multimedia version by Katie Mitchell
and Leo Warner at the Schaubhne in Berlin, and a
French mise-en-scne by Frdric Fisbach in which
Juliette Binoche makes one of her rare appearances on
stage. The Schaubhne's director and CEO, Thomas
Ostermeier, has set his Miss Julie in contemporary
Moscow. Like his earlier interpretations of Nora and
Hedda, Julie is trapped in a claustrophobic middle-
class setting where she is unable to break free of her
own social patterns. The Russian Julie is the spoiled
daughter of a former KGB offcer, now a nouveau-
riche businessman living in luxury and opulence. We
have seen Ostermeier's Nora and Hedda go under,
and now it is Julie's turn to die.
Sweden is celebrating the centennial of
August Strindberg's death this year, and a few of us
greeted the up-coming celebration with skepticism
and a mild yawn. This is because there has been
such an intense debate about women playwrights
whose work had been performed in the 1880s, was
later forgotten and overshadowed by the canonized
Strindberg, and today is being rediscovered and
performed again. What could possibly be new about
Strindberg and his plays? Mounting Strindberg in
Sweden has mainly come to mean two things: frst,
performing that canonized repertoire, and second,
impersonating Strindberg himself. No other Swedish
playwright or author has been so identifed with his
characters as Strindberg. For a long time, it was
axiomatic that male protagonists in stage productions
of Strindberg's plays wore the Strindberg mask: the
mustache, a neat goatee, and a suspicious gaze.
In foreign productions, audiences are typically
given a wider breadth of interpretation as directors
and actors move more freely outside the Swedish
national tradition of how one performs Strindberg.
But the centennial has not been quite as predictable
as one might have imagined. Three exciting feminist
From Here to Eternity: Miss Julie Strikes Back and Refuses To Die
Tiina Rosenberg
Anna Petterson's Miss Julie. Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.
multimedia productions of Miss Julie, a play that has
been one of the year's darlings, bear a closer look.
In Strindberg's own performance space,
Intima Teatern (The Intimate Theatre) in Stockholm,
Anna Pettersson offers a virtuoso solo number
playing an actress-director and the three roles of
Julie, Jean, and Kristin. The audience arrives to
face a classic Miss Julie setting: a kitchen table,
an open window with a summer breeze stirring the
curtains, and Swedish midsummer music. But as
soon as Pettersson enters the stage, the atmosphere
changes drastically: she clears all the props from the
stage. A sharp razor is projected on a large screen
and Pettersson opens the play wondering aloud how
in the world she will ever make it through the play.
She waves the symbolic Strindberg about in the
form of a book, questioning passages of the drama,
performing scenes and testing characters, all in a
lively exchange with the audience.
In a theatre talk after the show, Pettersson
described how she originally intended to stage Miss
Julie with three actors, then decided to perform all
three roles herself. She later added Anna, an actress,
director, and contemporary woman, who raises her
voice in protest but still remains in dialogue with
the Strindberg legacy. Pettersson's production of
Miss Julie is a part of the artistic research program
at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts,
and she examines the convention of Miss Julie
and her compulsory suicide. On stage, Pettersson
asks angrily: Why should Julie always have to
kill herself? Why does Jean not commit suicide,
Pettersson ponders? He has also had sex with her,
and his shame and guilt ought to be as heavy as hers.
It is a question the audience carries home
with them. Does Julie really have to die in the end?
It seems to depend on one's point of view. The end
is only half-explicit in the play: both Julie and Jean
are hesitant, but when Jean admonishes Julie that
although it is terrifying, she has to do it; off she
goes. There is a power and dramaturgic seduction
in Strindberg's play that reminds one of the way
Wagner's music "persuades the nerves," in breaking
down the resistance of an audience, and so the
audience breathes in unison with Strindberg's text,
whether it likes to or not. In order to oppose this
force, Pettersson uses Brechtian type of breaks in
performing the actress-director and all three roles,
creating distance through the parallel adaptation of
these positions in the production. It is an innovative,
simultaneous approach that does not undermine the
power of the play. Pettersson performs Miss Julie as
a chain of segments in which she both acts out and
reacts to today's challenges.
Another feminist project built on the theme
of Miss Julie is Fia-Stina Sandlund's art flm trilogy,
Save Miss Julie: She's Blonde Like Me (2011),
She's Staging It (2012), and a third flm in progress
focusing on a contemporary couple, Julie and Jean,
living in New York. Sandlund is a feminist art activist
who became known to a wider public in Sweden
through the Slimy Old Men action (Gubbslem) in
2001, in which she and fellow artist Joanna Rytel
attacked the Miss Sweden beauty contest. Sandlund
has been involved in performance and direct action
since then. Her choice to play Julie in the Save Miss
Julie project is Alexandra Dahlstrm, known from
the flm Show Me Love (1998), a groundbreaking
examination of lesbian teenage love in a small
Swedish town.
In Save Miss Julie: She's Blonde Like Me,
Sandlund meets Dahlstrm at Arlanda airport in
Stockholm for an audition. Three days later, they
put on a performance at the Venice Art Biennale in
the form of an interview. Sandlund and Dahlstrm
discuss Miss Julie, and their own experiences as
younger women, and it turns out that they have a
lot in common with the characters they are trying to
create on flm. In the second part of the trilogy, She's
Staging It, Dahlstrm arrives in New York where
rehearsals of Sandlund's version of Miss Julie, called
She's Wild Again Tonight, are taking place. A white
American actor, Elizabeth Whitney, plays Kristin,
and Lea Robinson, an African-American trans-
butch, plays Jean. Bringing in female masculinity
via Robinson turns the play into a lesbian plot, an
approach more popular in contemporary productions
of Ibsen (where Hedda Gabler has become a favorite
lesbian character) than in performing Strindberg.
The race-related dramaturgy has also been done
before in South Africa with a white Julie and a black
Jean, and in Canada in a production that set the
story in a Native Canadian context. The third part of
Sandlund's trilogy will have a screenplay by Josefne
Adolfsson, who wrote Lisa Aschan's award-winning
flm She Monkeys (2011). Sandlund's planned flm is
a chamber play with two actors who will portray a
contemporary Julie and Jean.
Sandlund's Miss Julie is a story about
power, but also about shame and sexuality. While
Save Miss Julie: She's Blonde Like Me, and She's
Staging It cannot be called traditional documentaries,
they are art flms made by the action-documentation-
analysis method Sandlund prefers. Her feminist
conception shares its point of departure with that
of Anna Pettersson. By rescuing Miss Julie from a
compulsory suicide, they both oppose the tradition
of dead women's theatre. "Going to the theatre is
like going to one's own funeral," as Hlne Cixous
once put it, summarizing the frustration of feminists
with a tradition as old as the Greek dramatists in
which women are sacrifced or killed [Le Monde,
28 April, 1977]. When asked why a feminist activist
like herself would bother to work with Strindberg's
play, Sandlund responds:
"Yes, people have questioned the fact that I
am dealing with Strindberg, instead of dealing with
one of his female colleagues. But it is not Strindberg
himself who is interesting; it is our interpretations
of his work that are exciting, because I think he has
great plays and stories. Strindberg was ahead of his
time and saw these structures and these problems,
although he had a different attitude towards them.
So it is easy to identify with him. He felt that the
personal was political: he was upset and questioned
the existing power structures." [Dagens Nyheter,
Kultur, 16 October, 2011]
Sandlund's mission is to rescue Miss Julie,
and she characterizes her project with three key
words: gender, comedy, and S&M. The inspiration
for Sandlund's interpretation comes from feminism
and the psychoanalytic work of Jessica Benjamin
who also appears in the flm She's Staging It.
Sandlund considers that class and gender are the
main themes of Miss Julie, but also sexuality and
shame. She places the story in a contemporary setting
and wants to show that things are still like this for
women. Strindberg calls Julie "half woman," that is,
a woman brought up to believe that she has the same
rights and freedoms as a man, and it is for this she
is punished with death. Sandlund, born in the 1970s,
reminds us that although "we now live in a feminist-
conscious society that claims to accept "half women,"
there still remains tremendous resistance." She fnds
Miss Julie still relevant today, because it deals with
both class and gender. She identifes herself with the
character of Julie and wants all the "half women" to
unite in a world where women are taught to believe
that they can become anything they want. "A hard
awakening," Sandlund notes dryly [Dagens Nyheter,
Kultur, 16 October, 2011].
The award-winning British director Katie
Mitchell and video artist Leo Warner have come up
with one of the most radical new interpretations of
Miss Julie ever made. The Schaubhne originally
mounted Mitchell and Warner's production in 2010.
It was one of the main attractions of the Avignon
Theatre Festival in 2011, and fnally reached
Stockholm and the Bergman Festival in May 2012.
A young German ensemble performs Miss Julie,
and it is an impressive example of Mitchell's work
at the intersection of flm and theatre. The action on
stage is simultaneous, but not identical, with the flm
projected on a screen above the stage. Jean (Tilman
Fia-Stina Sandlund's Save Miss Julie. Photo: Marius Dybwad Brandrud.
Strauss), Julia (Luise Wolfram), and Kristin (Jule
Bwe) make their stage entrances and exits in an
atmospheric mansion kitchen while a flm technician
selects certain sequences and projects them on the
screen. Combining live performance, video, and live
music on stage is an approach Mitchell and Warner
have previously applied in productions of Virginia
Woolf's Waves and Dostoyevsky's The Idiot at the
National Theatre in London. They transform the
stage into a movie studio, with the actors appearing
in close-ups on the screen.
The lovely projected flm is full of Nordic
nostalgia and reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman. Seeing
Mitchell's and Warner's production of Miss Julie at
the Bergman Festival is altogether different from
the Schaubhne experience. Bergman's infuence
over Mitchell's visual compositions becomes clearer
when Miss Julie is played in Sweden. Mitchell said in
an interview that she grew up with Bergman's flms
[Svenska Dagbladet, 27 May, 2012]. The possibility
of working with Bergman's actors brought Mitchell
to Sweden a few years ago to direct Easter, her frst
Strindberg production at the Royal Dramatic Theatre
in Stockholm.
Mitchell and Warner's exquisite cinematic
compositions open new perspectives on Strindberg.
Julie thrusts herself into the picture like a knife
sliding between Kristin and Jean. Another scene
shows Kristin alone in the foreground, looking out
of a window, while Jean and Julie are busy with
each other in the background. While Kristin sleeps
the ensemble creates suggestive cinematic dream
sequences on stage with water and lighting effects.
The music composed by Gareth Fry and the live
cello played by Chloe Miller are integral to the show
and have a dynamically unifying effect on the mise-
Mitchell's interpretation of Miss Julie is
fltered through Kristin. This working class woman,
a character absent from much art and theatre history,
changes the focus of traditional productions of the
play. Kristin longingly picks midsummer fowers and
looks on as the increasingly frivolous game between
her fanc and Miss Julie intensifes. From her lonely
room she hears them quarrel in the kitchen. In her
world of duty and self-sacrifce, Kristin is stunned
with grief. This contrasts with the usual depiction of
Kristin as a woman of limited emotional range, as if
her imagination could not soar beyond the mundane
or be flled with any sense of romance.
Technology may tend to keep an audience
at a certain distance, but the frequent use of tight
Anna Pettersson's Miss Julie. Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.
camera shots brings Kristin close to the audience:
they see the reddened hands of a working woman,
her drawn skin, tired eyes, and hurt feelings when
she realizes that Jean has been unfaithful. The
audience is drawn into her consciousness, viewing
the drama through her eyes with muted intensity as
the production deepens perspectives into Kristin's
life. Three actors perform Kristin. One is sometimes
at a separate microphone, where she reads poems by
Inger Christensen as Kristin's internal monologue.
The production does not say much about who these
people are. It is rather a midsummer night's rhapsody
of emptiness where the cameras register inner and
outer action on stage. Traces of a human tragedy are
caught by modern technology.
The three productions cited involve
multimedia, and none are based on traditional
character conceptions. The cinematic technique
contributes to this approach. Film sequences have
become a common feature in modern theatrical
productions. The Swedish theatre critic Leif Zern
fnds that this has to some extent slighted the work
of actors: the constant presence of technology is
stressful for performers, and there are sometimes
more screens than actors on stage. Nevertheless in
each of the productions, the use of technology has
been creative and has facilitated new interpretations.
Mitchell says she wanted to make the stage
production as technically sophisticated as a feature
flm. In this way, she feels, the story comes closer to
the audience and reveals new aspects that make us a
little curious about Strindberg again. We sense there
is more to be discovered than we remember. But
fresh perspectives on the play are required to extract
them. Innovation may just be what the performing
arts need in a high-tech era where live theatre is no
longer a priority for contemporary audiences. The
generation born in the 1990s lives in a transnational,
mobile world paired via the Internet, while the
performing arts are both linguistically and spatially
bound to local environments. Mitchell hopes that the
younger audiences will respond with surprise and
delight when they see her productions: "Good God,
it's live!" and realize that they would like to work in
theatre, or at least think, "My God, I want to go the
Anna Pettersson, Fia-Stina Sandlund,
and Katie Mitchell have succeeded in combining
a contemporary take on Strindberg with a creative
application of technology. Mitchell has also
responded to the concern that technology may
overwhelm actors: "I am attempting to keep the
integrity of the live experience and also enhance the
complexity and nuances." All three have envisioned
the characters in Miss Julie in their particular ways.
When Mitchell heard about Pettersson's one woman
Save Miss Julie. Photo:Marius Dybwad Brandrud.
Miss Julie (now on tour in Europe and US), she
exclaimed: "It's wonderful that the two of us from
two different countries, independently of each
other, challenge Strindberg. He should not end up
in a museum!" [Svenska Dagbladet, Kultur, 27 May,
(Translations of quotations in this article are by the
Sophocles' Antigone, directed by Polly Findlay. Photo: Courtesy of The Royal National Theatre.
The Royal National Theatre's production of
Antigone played in London alongside two spectacles
and celebrations of nation states, the Diamond
Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the 2012 Olympic
Games. Sophocles' Antigone, well known for its
refections on the individual, the state, kinship,
justice, gender, and violence, has captured the
philosophical and theoretical imaginations of Hegel,
Lacan, and Butler among many others. Staging
Antigone in London during a summer of celebrations
of royalty and competing nations provided the play
with a contemporary context overflled with the
presence of the state, and Don Taylor's translation
certainly brings the question of the state to the fore
through near-constant reference. In the translation
and the production, Antigone's claims to kinship
and blood relations are largely placed in the
background to Creon's embodiment of the state;
indeed, Antigone is largely absent from the stage for
most of the production. Of course, this is primarily
Sophocles' doing, but except for a few glimpses of
the world outside, provided by a rotating stage, the
production does not leave the bunker that serves as
Creon's military headquarters and this production's
representation of the state.
The National Theatre production of
Antigone, as directed by Polly Findlay, had a
decidedly contemporary feel to it. Set in the
command center of a lived-in bunker left over from
the 1970s, the Brutalist architecture of the National
Theatre blended into the stage, which was flled
with reel-to-reel recorders, dot-matrix printers, and
glass-walled offces full of maps, illuminated by
harsh forescent lighting. Some of the light fxtures
were broken and covered in dust, presumably stirred
up by the steady barrage of explosions heard as a
bass-heavy soundtrack of noise that played as the
audience entered the theatre. The play began when
the sound of a violent explosion rumbled through
the theatre, and the audience and stage were plunged
into darkness. When the lights were brought up, men
in military uniforms were scurrying about the stage.
They read long printouts and pointed excitedly at a
video monitor. At one point, all of the military men
assembled around the screen in a tableau that was
reminiscent of the now famous image from inside
the White House of President Barak Obama and
his Cabinet watching the assault on Osama Bin
Laden's housean image that occupies a place in
the program next to a picture of Peter Sellers in Dr.
The opening sequence quickly established
the battle at the gates of Thebes that sets the play
in motion from the perspective of the military
commanders. After the excitement died down in
the bunker, the stage rotated to the sound of loud
military percussion to reveal Antigone (Jodie
Whittaker) and Ismene (Annabel Scholey) outside
the poured concrete walls of the bunker. Costumed
in a casual blue dress, Whittaker's Antigone stands
in immediate contrast to the starched military men
inside the bunker. In the frst scene of dialogue, we
learn that the civil war between Antigone's brothers
Polynices and Eteocles has recently come to a close
and that both brothers are dead. Eteocles has been
buried with full honors provided by the state for his
role in defending Thebes against the onslaught of
Polynices' army. Polynices' body, however, remains
unburied. As a declared enemy of the state, Polynices
will not be granted a proper burial. A minute later we
return to the world of Creon (Christopher Eccleston),
the stage rotating to bring us back inside the bunker.
Considering the amount of stage time he is
given, Sophocles' play might be called Creon. And
in this adaptation, the tragedy does appear to be
Creon's, bound among his duty to the state, his love
of his son Haemon (Luke Newberry), who is set to
marry Antigone, and proper religious rites. Eccleston
wrings his hands and storms around the bunker as
if the space and his position were a cage. Eccleston
takes on the role with gusto, barking orders to
military men, interrogating Antigone, quietly trying
to convince Haemon that the power of the state must
be upheld, and fnally wallowing in despair as his
allegiance to the rule of law causes all those around
him to take their lives. In Creon's frst scene, he is
talking with military leaders and drafting a press
release regarding the end of hostilities. Costumed
in a blue suit and vacillating between teary eyed
lamentation about his role in upholding the authority
of the state and boisterous exclamations about the
necessary power of the state, Creon initially comes
across as nervous and not entirely able to embody
his station, which is discussed at length throughout
the production. Polynices' body is to inspire terror
in the hearts of the enemies of Thebesthe enemies
of the state or the "subversive elements," as Creon
refers to them. Perhaps the one action Creon does
Antigone at the National Theatre, London
Eero Laine
not think twice about is hanging a large picture of
himself prominently in the bunker. Creon makes
clear that people must serve the state and that he is
now the state.
The production stages Thebes as a pseudo-
fascist regime headed by nervous administrators
and public relations managers. Through Findlay's
staging and smart blocking, Creon's state is shown to
be indiscriminate in its policing. When an unkempt
soldier enters to deliver the news that Polynices' body
has been buried, he is pinned to a chair, an audio
recorder shoved into his face, and interrogated. If
this is how members of Creon's military are treated,
the dissidents can likely expect worse. Creon is
revealed to be deeply concerned about even a small
crack in the veneer of power. After being cast out, the
soldier returns with Antigone, who is immediately
questioned and admits her guilt. The issue is framed
in this production primarily as a confict between
God's law, which is invoked by Antigone, and
Creon's law, the law of a mere man. This stages the
divide not between kinship and the state but between
religious freedom and the stateboth Ismene and
Antigone are referred to as terrorists.
In another scene, Creon attempts to explain
his predicament to Haemon, who, like Antigone,
appears rather young. Dressed in dapper prep-
school clothing, Haemon's counter arguments are
treated as an idealistic plea to save his fanc from
death. Creon's hard-line stance on the role of the
state and his position in it provide a stark contrast
in Newberry's Haemon, who is advocating neither
for the state nor for religious freedom, but for love.
Creon's discussion with Haemon comes across as a
sentimental heart-to-heart talk ranging widely from
Antigone's crime to Creon's ideas of the natures
of women and men and, of course, the role of the
state. As we know, Haemon's pleas have no effect on
Creon, who decides to bury Antigone alive.
When Antigone is returned to the stage,
she is wearing sackcloth prison clothing. In another
deft sequence, Findlay quickly shows the mundane
effciency of Creon's police state. Antigone is given
a clipboard with papers to sign, and she is patted
down while another man in military dress gives her
a brief medical examination, looking in her mouth
and behind her ears. Her hands are zip-tied together,
and a Polaroid mug shot is taken. In three scenes
we have seen Antigone transition from a casually
dressed college-aged woman to a charge of the state,
completely devoid of autonomy. Interestingly, at this
point in the production, Antigone and Creon are in
very similar positions as neither appears to have a
tenable way out of their predicaments, and both are
bound to the apparatus of the state. Creon's duty to
the state is presented in contrast to Antigone's duty to
her brother, but both have become deeply entangled
in the state.
Jamie Ballard as Tiresias breaks the
production's faade of Creon's bunkered state-
centric view. Entering to a commotion of thunder,
quaking earth, and electrical outages, Tiresias is led
onstage by a young boy, who appears unsurprised
by the various natural disasters that appear to follow
his fortune-telling friend. Tiresias has a large growth
that envelops his head and appears to be the source
of his blindness and perhaps his powers. Dressed
in dirty shorts and a tank top, Ballard performs
a Tiresias who is both aware of his powers and is
terribly burdened by them. It is clear that his patience
for the leaders of Thebes is wearing thin by the time
he meets with Creon to explain the fate of Thebes as
he had also done for Oedipus and Laius and Jocasta
before him. Ballard's screeching, writhing speeches
were genuinely hair raising, making Creon's inability
to understand the gravity of his situation even fuller
of hubris.
Of course, Creon does not realize this
hubris until he literally has blood on his hands from
carrying Haemon's body back to his bunker. Eurydice,
Creon's wife, has killed herself in a similarly bloody
manner, which makes use of the large glass walls
separating the offces in Creon's bunker. Antigone,
also dead, is wheeled on. Witnessing the carnage,
Creon demands to be arrested. Of course he cannot
be arrested for supporting the rule of law. Looking
around his bunker, Creon declares that he is nothing.
He is an empty suit in the service of the state and,
mirroring the punishment meted out on Antigone, as
the production ends, Creon is alone, buried alive in
his bunker and his position as the living embodiment
of the state.
I do not have a message. What I do is an architectural
arrangement in time and space.
Robert Wilson

The visionary stage director Robert
Wilson, a master of the theatre avant-garde of the
seventies, once more surprised the Spoleto Two
Worlds Festival's audience with an extraordinary
performance of Frank Wedekind's Lulu. The
production was outstanding in terms of theatrical
conception, interpretation, stage design, and music.
The premiere for Italy took place at the Giancarlo
Menotti Teatro Nuovo on 5 July, with the cast of
the Berliner Ensemble actors and live rock music
composed by Lou Reed. The American stage
director arrived in Spoleto the frst time in 1973, and
then again for three consecutive years in 2008 (The
Threepenny Opera), 2009 (Happy Days and Krapp's
Last Tape) and 2010 (Shakespeare's Sonnets).
This year he proposed the character that
Wedekind made immortal in 1904, scandalizing
the contemporary conformists. For this production,
Wilson took over several roles, working not only
as director, but also as a concept, set and light
designer. This performance had already earned
an extraordinary success last year at the Avignon
Theatre Festival, a success which was repeated
at the ffty-ffth Spoleto Festival. The playbill
included this year forty-one performances, two flm
surveys, a theatre laboratory, three conferences, two
competitions, four awards besides an art exhibition.
The musical section included several concerts and
Benjamin Britten's masterpiece The Turn of the
Screw (staged by Giorgio Ferrara,
director of the festival, with the
Verdi orchestra conducted by
Johannes Debus). The ballet
section included ten performances;
among the performers were the
Wiener Staatsballet and the Pacifc
Northwestern Ballet.
In the theatre section
several outstanding names were
present: among others, Mikhail
Baryshnikov, who interpreted
and produced together with Anna
Sinyakina the play In Paris, a love
comedy on loss by Dmitry Krymov;
Giorgio Barberio Corsetti,
who offered his interpretation
of Kafka's The Castle; Luca
Ronconi, who presented in an
exceptional performance the
results of his laboratory devoted
to Pirandello: Looking for an
Author. But it was on Wilson, the
acclaimed star of contemporary
stage, that the audience's attention
concentratedand it was not
Wedekind's Lulu is one
of the most important works of
the German Expressionism. It
is a tragedy in two parts: Earth
Spirit and Pandora's Box. The
Bob Wilson: Lulu between Theatre, Visual Arts, and Musical
Daniele Vianello
Robert Wilson. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.
protagonist is an ambitious fower girl who knows
how to go ahead in life thanks to her primitive
and magnetic charm. One after another, wooers,
husbands, and lovers get trapped by her. At the end,
comedy turns into tragedy. The protagonist ends up
by prostituting herself in the lanes of London, where
Jack the Ripper murders her. Lulu, at the same time
mistress and conscious object of male desire, victim,
and fetish, becomes the tragic modern embodiment
of the femme fatale myth, hovering between
damnation and freedom. Lulu heads to her death
after going through a series of loveless relations:
from councillor Goll, a respectable public character
accustomed to domestic perversions, a never loved
husband, married just out of self-interest; to the editor
Dr. Schn, her "savior" and pimp, who takes her out
of the street only to turn her into his mistress; over
to the painter Schwarz, who becomes her husband,
believing she is "pure," and ends up committing
suicide; on to her foster father Schigolch, a viscious
person; to the composer Alwa, Schn's son, and the
lesbian Countess Geschwitz; to Rodrigo Quast, the
athlete, suitor and blackmailer; and fnally to the
enthusiastic schoolboy Hugenberg. A network of
situations that only at times the protagonist seems to
have control of. In the end she is in fact dominated
by them, ending her life as a cheap street prostitute.
The drama, made the object of an opera
by Alban Berg, became popular thanks to Pabst's
flm with Louise Brooks, who offered one of the
sexiest performances in the whole history of cinema.
Numberless flms and theatre performances were
inspired by this interpretation and have followed
since then.
Time and Space: Wilson's stage direction
seems to move opposite to Wedekind's drama. His
Lulu is not the symbol of a troubled and criminal
feminine soul, but transforms the seductive
protagonist into an old, smiling and sweet lady,
from time to time a doll moving rhythmically
to the rock music. The poor wooers
are a bunch of dreamers, deprived of
psychological depth, portrayed by Wilson
as bermarionetten, expressionist masks
who go mechanically around, robot-like,
have chalk-white, grotesque faces like
clowns and wear picturesque costumes,
which seem to be huge plaster casts.
Dialogues become empty, at times
frenetic litanies, as if their meaning were
irrelevant. The whole performance is a
ritual of images and sounds in musical
key, where desire and sex appear abstract,
observed and analysed from afar in the
Brechtian style. Wilson says: "Well, I
think in this age of technology that our
only chance of beating the machine is to
become mechanical, to become automatic.
That's why in my theatre works you can't
rehearse anything too much. And the
more mechanical you become, the freer
you become" [Shevtsova, Maria, Robert
Wilson, Routledge, 2007: 59].
Wilson does not only alter Lulu's
age. His rendering of the plot and the
characters of the play seems to be more
interested in his own visual and Reed's
musical suggestions than in being faithful
to the text. In fact, he breaks the play
down into a series of separate pictures,
of tableaux vivant. Wilson takes quotes
from the text which fascinate him and
builds up a light-and-sound spectacle, Frank Wedekind's Lulu, directed by Robert Wilson. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.
which runs backwards, announcing from the very
beginning what the end will be. As a result, the story
loses its narrative rhythm and evolves in fashbacks,
as if one observed a series of memories. In the frst
part, the Earth Spirit, the structure is respected, while
the second, Pandora's Box, dissolves in oneiric,
ghost-like scenes.
Wilson remarks: "In the European tradition,
the text is the most important element on the stage. In
my theatre all the elements are equal: the space, the
light, the actors, the sound, the texts, the costumes,
and the props. I think that is something Brecht tried
to bring to the German theatre, too" [Shevtsova,
2007: 48].
The performance, held in English and
German, lasts three hours. When the curtain rises,
Lulu is already dead. Councillor Goll, her frst lover,
introduces the story, as the audience is overwhelmed
by the protagonist's scream while she is being
killed. The role is interpreted by Angela Winkler,
an extraordinary actress who succeeds to embody a
death dance in black and white, which begins with
her scream from behind the stage and proceeds then
in a sequence of suggestive geometric pictures drawn
by clear-cut, icy lights. "Everything I do can be seen
as dance," says Wilson. Giving up the stereotype of
the femme fatale, Wilson makes of Lulu the pivot
of destinies that cross each other, not the cause of
As Wilson himself stated in the press
conference, by adopting this "immaterial scene" he
succeeded to play with time, going backwards. To
quote him: "I did it to respect the formal essence of
my theatre work, to be able to observe events afar,
without emotional involvements. As a consequence,
I severed the plot from any historical and temporal
context." He took out a paper and drew a line. "This
is the line of time. It allowed me to follow a logical
order: I put a black box on top of it which becomes
bigger and bigger till it invades the stage." It is
clear that Wilson aims at creating at the same time
a feeling of fullness and emptiness, darkness and
light, movement and standstill, sound and silence
in a frame of images and Reed's scathing rock. The
result is a nonlinear performance that grows little by
little on the stage, adding layers one upon another
and thus offering the audience the possibility to
follow the plot. A strong choice, not always easy to
accept by the audience, especially by those who are
not familiar with the play.
Talking about the preparation phase of a
performance, Wilson reveals: "I begin about one
year before to explore the space, I then insert the
actors into it, and only after some months the sound."
Lulu. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.
Lulu's staging does not literally follow the plot and
does not want to imitate life. For Wilson texts should
evoke images that do not necessarily reproduce what
words say. So, a hotel room becomes a long alley,
where cypresses and chandeliers that hang from the
sky function as counterpoints.
Wilson's exceptional orchestration of lighting
creates images of a stylized, icy, and anti-naturalistic
universe with incredibly beautiful landscapes. In
lighting, Wilson has no rivals amongst contemporary
stage directors. "I do everything with light," claims
Wilson. "Light determines everything else: It
works with the music or confronts it, makes things
transparent or lays out zones, orders movement,
breaks up the text, and structures the set. It is
anything but an extra, it structures and assembles
and, consequently, it drives the text and the music.
And not the other way round" [Shevtsova, 2007: 69].
Wilson is a multifarious talent immersed in
contemporary culture and reality who retains a deep
tie with his origins. To paint his scenes he often
draws inspiration from the great European painters:
"Czanne is my favorite painter. My work is closer to
him than to any other artist. [] Czanne simplifed
and purifed forms to reveal classical structure and
composition. I learned everything form Czanne, his
use of color, light, the diagonal, andhow to use
the centre and the edges. His images are not framed
by the boundaries" [Shevtsova, 2007: 53]. Also
Italian painters had an infuence on his work: "If I
think of the Italian painters who inspired me, Andrea
Mantegna and Giacomo Balla hold a central place."
He creates a kind of "visual libretto" on the foor into
which actors enter in relation with each other. Later
come in text, voices, and music. Angela Winkler
recalls: "It is a wonderful way to work: frst with the
body, once movement in silence is achieved, text and
music enter the stage." He may not have a theory to
check or prove, but his work with everyone during
the production process is meticulous and exacting.
Wilson is certainly one of the directors that
have infuenced contemporary theatre the most by
reinventing the stage space-temporal coordinates,
the image sequences, and the acting style. It is not
strange that in 1993 he won the Golden Lyon at
the Biennale not thanks to a performance, but to
a sculpture: "Wilson is a polymathan architect,
designer, painter installation artist, writer, performer,
director, and moreyet the diversity of his output is
on a continuum" [Shevtsova, 2007: 3]. The director
himself stated: "I was studing architecture, but
what I was doing was a sort of crossover between
architecture and performance, design, and it was a
time in the sixties when you had this crossover."
The curtain rises on an immaterial stage,
where theatre makes space for visual art. The frst
scenes pass by one after the other, leaving the audience
immersed in a static, suspended atmosphere. The
very actors become light points, material elements of
an exclusively visual performance. Mask-characters
Lulu. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.
stand out on the white background moving among
fuorescent tubes. Colors are few. The make-up is
characterized by white faces that contrast with dark,
straight hair and heavy lipsticks. Houses, streets, all
things among which Lulu wanders are shown thanks
to a fascinating play of light whichtogether with
musicis the backbone of this performance.
Music and actors: Typical of Wilson's
productions is the cooperation with the great
masters of contemporary music: from the legendary
performances with Philip Glass to Woyzeck with
Tom Waits. Also Makropulos Case, by the Bohemian
writer Karel apek, is a musical staged (in Czech)
this year at the Naples Festival. It tells the story of
a three-hundred-year-old woman, Emilia Marty,
a famous singer who has many lives, but never
achieves happiness (years ago, this text was staged
by Luca Ronconi with a fascinating Mariangela
Lulu, too, is at times a musical. In Wilson's
hands Lulu turns into a rock cabaret of the seventies.
With his sharp and acid notes that confer rhythm
to the actors' mechanical gestures and bewildering
voices, Lou Reed takes the place of Kurt Weill, Philip
Glass, Tom Waits, and David Byrne: Rather than
contrasting the characters, they act as substitutes of
their actions. The songs (in English) are performed
by an orchestra of six members hidden in the
orchestra pit. "I have known Lou Reed since the
sixties; he was introduced to me by Andy Warhol.
It has been years that I thought of a
new work with him, we had several
hypotheses, in the end he suggested
this drama," says Wilson. He then
goes on: "We had spoken for a long
time, after Poetry, of a new work. This
piece seems to me the right one for
his music and his songs." The result
has been a performance that merges
in a perfect way musical theatre
and visual art, going to the roots of
the early twentieth century which
Karl Kraus defned as "a feminine
labyrinth, a trip in a garden in whose
complex paths more than one lost
the intellect." Wilson, combining
Lou Reed's songs to Wedekind's pre-
expressionism, transforms in rock
star style the self-controlled actors of
the Berliner Ensemble that employ
Brecht's estrangement theories, all
extraordinary interpreters with the
unforgettable Ruth Gloss, the only
actress from the original company.
Several of them have witnessed
historical performances staged
by some of the main directors of
our time. The memory goes to the
Threepenny Opera, the supreme
masterpiece by the very Wilson,
staged four years ago in Spoleto, with
the Berliner Ensemble actors, among
whom Angela Winkler emerges both
as a singer and as an actress. Of
her Wilson says: "I have exploited
Angela's sweetness. I like her voice,
her ability to reproduce the most
delicate sounds; it is one of the few
Lulu. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.
voices that understands silence's power in contrast
with Reed's rock music. Wedekind used to call his
theatre anti-naturalistic: Thus, it does not matter
whether an old person interprets a youngster's role,
in this case the role of a girl who embodies the charm
of femininity, victim and at the same time free. Lulu
is for me a predictably unpredictable performance,
because it deals with an unreal world."
About his style of work with the Berliner
Ensemble actors, Wilson says: "I let them free to
think what they want of the character they have to
interpret, but I request them not to reveal it to the
audience. I demand them to face the text with an
open mind, wondering always not what it means for
them, but in itself. In the States, critics maintain that
my work is European. When I come to Europe, I am
told I am American." The only Italian in the cast,
Francesco Maria Cordella, who comes from Strehler's
Piccolo Teatro di Milano, shares what Wilson said:
"I started working with him in 1996, and this is the
ffth time I work in one of his productions. Working
with him changed my life. If you embrace his vision,
everyone succeeds to express the best of themselves.
In the beginning I did not speak English, I entrusted
myself to his physical and spiritual communication
power. The work he does on silence is the discovery
of a new world, but a world that we already know:
one has to give oneself totally in. If an actor tries to
work with Wilson having as a goal to make personal
experiences emerge, he feels blocked. Freedom
consists in entrusting oneself to him."
Wilson fxes a form, not so as to subordinate
the actor to it, but to hand it over to him, as this
recent declaration confrms: "Anyway, I give formal
directions. I have never, ever in thirty-something
years of working in the theatre, I've never told an
actor what to think. I've never told them what
emotions to express. They're given these very,
formal, strict movements and directions. Within that
there is a freedom for the actors to fll in the form.
The form is not important. It's how you fll in the
formthat's what's important" [Shevtsova, 2007:
In Lulu actors appear and disappear as if
sorted from a magician's hat, wearing ancient style
costumes made of contemporary materials, designed
by the inseparable Jacques Reynaud. The global
result is a sense of displacement and astonishment
in presence of a work that is theatre and at the same
time a dream. And, like dreams, it has an absolute
rigor while experienced, but when one wakes up one
has the perception of something which is on the one
hand meaningful and, on the other, hazy, diffcult to
contextualize, but of indescribable beauty.
Next year, Wilson will be in Italy with two
performances: one at the Naples festival with a play
by Raffaele Viviani, the other at the Piccolo Teatro
di Milano with Odyssey, a co-production with the
Greek National Theatre (in Greece on 6 October,
in Naples on 2 April). Wilson, referring to Viviani,
states: "I do not know which text I will choose,
but I am attracted by the idea of doing something
different from what I am accustomed to, which shall
respect the Neapolitan tradition." About the other
performance he says: "I conceive it as a journey
between life and death. We are all Ulysses. Ulysses
is a human being, not a hero. I will not stage a
"historical" performance, it is not my way of looking
at theatre."
Known for its charm, affuence, and a
movie by the same name starring Hugh Grant, the
posh Notting Hill district of London is perhaps not
the frst place where one would imagine a revolution
being staged. Amidst vintage clothing stores,
antique shops, and fashionable bars and cafes, the
Gate Theatre's 2012 season presented Three Stories
of Rebels and Revolutionaries under the title and
imperative to Resist! Bookended by a play about a
character that bears a striking resemblance to Julian
Assange and a production about intergenerational
reconciliation among black revolutionaries, Hassan
Abdulrazzak's play The Prophet is set on January
28, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Three days into what
would develop to be called the Egyptian Revolution,
we meet Layla and Hisham, an upper-middle class
married couple.
When the play opens, the character Layla
(Sasha Behar), a self-described "lefty," is wistfully
considering the fact that she did not wake up thinking
about revolution or the Egyptian state. Rather she
was perplexed about the state of her pubic hair and
speculating as to whether shaving it might improve
her marriage, which has grown stagnant. What has
also stagnated is her husband Hisham's (Nitzan
Sharron) career as a novelist. Hisham, we learn, is
having diffculty fnishing his novel. Fortunately,
he has an upcoming meeting with a publisher from
London, who is known for her ability to help writers
fnish their work. The meeting worries Layla, who
thinks that Hisham might be unfaithful to her. Voicing
her concerns about her husband's rendezvous, Layla
leaves for work with the intention of visiting the
protests before returning home. Hisham is left sitting
at the table with a computer and a bottle of whiskey.
The gray and brown set stands in contrast to
the streets below, which we glimpse through vibrant
and quickly edited video projections played between
scenes. The projections consist of video montages of
protestors and police and fashes of Cairo seen from
vehicles, recorded with shaky handheld cameras and
set to a driving Arab dance beat. After each montage
we return to the same set, which begins and ends
the play as the living room of Layla and Hisham's
upper-middle class home. Along the way, however,
with some minor rearrangement to the furniture, the
dreary walls fll in for a business offce, an upscale
hotel, and a torture chamber. The play spends
its time exploring these domestic and repressive
spaces while the streets of Cairo pulsate with
revolutionary energy. With the revolution playing in
the background, Hisham and Layla have a series of
encounters that eventually bring them back together
and save their troubled marriage.
The program and much of the advertising
for The Prophet claimed the play was written making
use of extensive interviews with people in Cairo at the
beginning of 2011. Most of this material appears to
have ended up in one of Layla's monologues, which
stands out from the rest of the play while highlighting
Behar's versatility and nuance as a performer. The
monologue, which describes Layla's experiences on
the streets of Cairo, anchors the play in the historical
moment of the Arab Spring. The monologue also
highlights Abdulrazzak's talent for fusing pathos and
humor, a talent that was on abundant display in his
debut play, Baghdad Wedding.
Layla describes being chased by brutal riot
police, dodging tear gas canisters, the solidarity with
others in the street, and the sense that great things
were changing in the world even if preoccupied
with staying out of harm's way and helping others
avoid danger. In a moment of curious lucidity, Layla
picks up an empty gas canister that had been lobbed
at protestors. She notes that while examining the
canister, she thought it would certainly be marked
"Made in the USA." It was unmarked, however,
leaving her to assume that it was made locally. Layla
mused that she usually prefers local produce, but not
in such a situation. The offhanded lightness of the
observation while surrounded by danger reminds
us of her position as a member of the upper-middle
class, who chooses to buy locally sourced food and
for whom attending the protests is not a necessary
action but another choice to be made.
Not all of Layla's choices are handled in
such a sophisticated manner, however. Before taking
to the streets, Layla reports to work at Vodafone's
Egyptian headquarters, where her boss, Hani (Silas
Carson), has just been visited by the state authorities.
A portrait of Mubarak hangs on the back wall, which
Hani credits for the pleasantness of the recent visit.
Despite Hani's assertions that a Western company
like Vodafone stands for ideals such as freedom and
democracy, the reason the authorities came to visit
is revealed when he asks Layla, as one of the head
engineers, to shut down the cellular network. Layla
ultimately concedes, but the supposedly weighty
The Prophet by Hassan Abdulrazzak, The Gate Theatre, London
Eero Laine
decision is overshadowed by Hani's bungling
firtations and slapstick persona. Carson hams it
upat one point fretting ridiculously that the cactus
in his offce might contain a secret microphone; at
other times pleading with Layla to take a weekend
vacation with him. The scene has a disjointed sit-com
quality, which attempts to fnd humor in the fact that
the ridiculous and bumbling Hani is actually running
a wing of a multinational corporation. Carson works
well with the material Abdulrazzak gives him in this
scene but is much more convincing in his other roles,
which he plays with a frightening intensity.
While Layla is shrugging off a firtatious
boss, shutting down communication grids, and
marching in the streets, Hisham is meeting with
Suzanne (Melanie Jessop), the literary agent from
London. They discuss Hisham's novel in a hotel
room, which serves to underscore the sexual tension
of the scene. The room is staffed by a bellhop, also
played by Carson, who, in a funny bit of meta-
theatre, Hisham recognizes as looking vaguely like
Layla's boss. The scene echoes Layla's encounter
with Hani, except instead of clumsy pick up lines
and wacky antics, the seduction in this scene is all
double entendres and sultry posturing from Jessop's
Suzanne. It is not long before Suzanne has ordered
Hisham a drink, and then another and then another.
The next time we see Suzanne and Hisham,
they are in an underground chamber that is described
as similar to the one in Hisham's unfnished novel.
Hisham is drunk and is quickly subdued by a prison
guard, Metwali, also played by Carson, and tied to a
chair. What follows is a gruesome series of scenes of
physical and psychological torture in which Hisham
is beaten, has his fngernails torn off, is hung from
the ceiling and electrocuted, and is made to imagine
Layla being raped by Metwali through a graphic
monologue. Throughout the torture, Suzanne
questions Hisham on his past and his novel, saying
she is only doing what she promised, which was to
unlock his psyche so that he might fnish his novel.
The questioning soon moves to one of Hisham's
old acquaintances, an activist who also dated Layla
when they were students at college. After being
questioned and electrocuted for some time, Hisham
is pushed to admit that he was the informer that led
the authorities to Layla's ex-boyfriend, who was
then tortured and left confned to a wheelchair from
injuries. Suzanne pulls a gun and gives Hisham until
the count of ten to admit his betrayal, which he does
on the count of nine. She then shoots him.
In the fnal scene Layla has returned home.
After a moment, Hisham enters the living room as
well. We learn that he never left. Suzanne called
earlier in the day and cancelled the appointment.
The whiskey bottle that adorned the stage at the
beginning of the day is now empty. The scenes with
Hisham were all a dream. The hotel meeting, the
questions, the torture were all dramatic devices meant
to explore the psyche of Hisham, the novelist with
writer's block. The play moves quickly forward to a
conclusion as the couple realizes that they love each
other after all. Further, inspired by her experiences
that day, Layla has made a resolution to have a child
and issues Hisham the ultimatum of fathering the
child or ending the marriage. The play ends with
Layla drawing a connection between the energy
of the streets and the to-be-conceived child, which
will be brought into a better and brighter world. A
marriage is saved for the moment, there are protests
on the street, Tahrir Square is only developing, and a
baby will be born.
Abdulrazzak's play begins and ends in
an upper-middle-class living room. The play has
an easier time imagining high-class comforts,
multinational corporate offces, and torture chambers
than the inspiring visions presented by those who
risked their lives on the streets and in Tahrir Square.
The comfortable but drab looking spaces seem to
blur together throughout the play, which perhaps
makes sense considering that many of the scenes
are revealed to be pseudo-psychological dreams
conjured by Hisham's drunken haze. The focus of
the play remains on the intimacies of Hisham's and
Layla's relationship while the revolution remains
offstage, brought on only through video and Layla's
messenger-like monologue. Focused on the domestic
and insulated against the events on the streets, The
Prophet probably could have been set in Notting Hill
rather than Cairo.
MARVIN CARLSON, Sidney E. Cohn Professor of Theatre at the City University of New York Graduate Center,
is the author of many articles on theatrical theory and European theatre history, and dramatic literature. He is the
1994 recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism and the 1999 recipient of the American
Society for Theatre Research Distinguished Scholar Award. His book The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory
Machine, which came out from University of Michigan Press in 2001, received the Callaway Prize. In 2005 he
received an honorary doctorate from the University of Athens. His most recent book is The Theatres of Morocco,
Algeria and Tunisia with Khalid Amine (Palgrave, 2012).
MARIA M. DELGADO is Professor of Theatre & Screen Arts at Queen Mary University of London and co-
editor of Contemporary Theatre Review. Her books include "Other" Spanish Theatres: Erasure and Inscription
on the Twentieth Century Spanish Stage (MUP 2003), Federico Garca Lorca (Routledge, 2008), Contemporary
European Theatre Directors (Routledge, 2010), three co-edited volumes for Manchester University Press, and two
collections of translations for Methuen. Her co-edited volume, A History of Theatre in Spain was published by
Cambridge University Press in 2012.
EERO LAINE is a PhD candidate in the Theatre Program and Film Studies Certifcate Program. His dissertation
focuses on the theatricalization of global business practices through a socioeconomic study of the professional
wrestling industry. His work has been published in Theatre Journal and Western European Stages, and he is
a contributor to the forthcoming volume, American History Through American Sports. Eero teaches acting,
theatre history, and introductory courses in the Performing and Creative Arts Department and the Media Culture
Department at CUNY's College of Staten Island.
GLENN LONEY is Professor Emeritus of Theatre at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He
is Senior Correspondent of NYTheatre-Wire.com and of NYMuseums.com, and Founder/Advisor of Modern
Theatre.info, based on his chronology of British and American theatre, Twentieth Century Theater (Facts on File).
His ffty-year archive of art, architecture, history, and design photos he has made worldwide is now online at
INFOTOGRAPHY.biz. His digitally preserved audio interviews with performing arts personalities will soon be
online at ArtsArchive.biz, along with press photos of major theatre, dance, and opera productions. He is the author
of numerous books, including his latest, Peter Brook: From Oxford to Orghast.
TIINA ROSENBERG is a Professor of Theatre Studies and a gender scholar at the Department for Musicology and
Performance Studies at Stockholm University, Sweden. She has been professor of Gender Studies at Stockholm
University and at Lund University and has written extensively on performing arts, feminism, and queer theory.
Her latest monographs include Bgarnas Zarah: diva, ikon, kult (Queer Zarah: Diva, Icon, Cult, 2009) and Ilska,
hopp och solidaritet: Med feministisk scenkonst in i framtiden (Anger, Hope, and Solidarity: Carrying Feminist
Performance Art into the Future, 2012).
STAN SCHWARTZ is a freelance theatre and flm journalist with a particular interest in Scandinavian theatre and
flm. He lives and works out of New York City and has written for such publications as The New York Times, The
Village Voice, The New York Sun, Time Out New York, Playbill, and Film Comment. In Sweden, he has written for
Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, and Teater Tidningen.
DANIELE VIANELLO is Professor of History of Theatre and Performing Arts and Theories and Techniques of
Theatre Staging at the University of Calabria (UNICAL). He has taught Theatre History and Performing Arts at
the University of Rome La Sapienza from 2002 to 2008. He has published on the Renaissance and contemporary
theatre. His main book is L'arte del buffone: Maschere e spettacolo tra Italia e Baviera nel XVI secolo, Roma,
Bulzoni, 2005 (Series La Commedia dell'Arte, VII). For several years he collaborated with the cultural activities of
the Teatro di Roma, where he also worked as assistant to Italian and foreign stage directors (among others, Mario
Martone and Eimuntas Nekroius).
PHILIPPA WEHLE is Professor Emerita of French Language and Culture and Drama Studies at Purchase College,
SUNY. She writes widely on contemporary theatre and performance and is the author of Le Thtre populaire
selon Jean Vilar (third edition July 2012) Drama Contemporary: France, and Act French: Contemporary Plays
from France. She has translated numerous contemporary French language plays and is a Chevalier in the French
Order of Arts and Letters.
DAVID WILLINGER is Professor of Theatre at The City College, CUNY, and is also on the faculty of the PhD
Program in Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is author of many anthologies of Belgian drama translated to
English, all with extensive critical introductions, including: An Anthology of Contemporary Belgian Drama, 1970-
1984 (Whitston), Hugo Claus: Works for the Theatre (CASTA), Ghelderode (Host), Three Fin-de-Sicle Farces
(Peter Lang), Theatrical Gestures from the Belgian Avant-Garde (Peter Lang), and The Sacrament and Other Plays
of Forbidden Love by Hugo Claus (Susquehanna). His most recent book, The Maeterlinck Reader in collaboration
with the late Daniel Gerould came out last year, and he is currently working on one on Ivo van Hove. His articles
have appeared in many encyclopedias and such publications as: The Drama Review, Western European Stages,
Plays International, The Contemporary Theatre Review, Symposium, and Textyles. He has received awards from
the B.A.E.F., the N.E.A., the N.E.H., the Fulbright Foundation, Drama-Logue, the Jerome Foundation, a Rifkind
Center Award, as well as an award for Rayonnement des Lettres l'Etranger from the Belgian Ministry of Culture.
He is also a theatre director and a playwright. His stage adaptation of a lost novel by William Saroyan will be
entitled The Upper Lip, and is slated to open at Theater for the New City in May.
PETER ZAZZALI completed his PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center's Theatre Program in the fall of 2012. His
research areas include US actor training and the sociology of theatre, with a particular interest in the economics of
US theatre in the twentieth and twenty-frst centuries. He is currently on faculty at Colby College.
Four Plays From North Africa
Translated and edited by Marvin Carlson
As the rich tradition of modern Arabic theatre has recently
begun to be recognized by the Western theatre community, an
important area within that tradition is still under-represented in
existing anthologies and scholarship. That is the drama from the
Northwest of Africa, the region known in Arabic as the Maghreb.
We hope that this first English collection of drama from this region
will stimulate further interest in the varied and stimulating drama
being produced here. It engages, in a fascinating and original way,
with such important current issues as the struggle for the rights of
women and workers, post-colonial tensions between Maghreb and
Europe, and the challenges faced in Europe by immigrants from
the Arab world.
This volume contains four plays based on the Oedipus legend by four
leading dramatists of the Arab world. Tawq Al-Hakims King Oedipus,
Ali Ahmed Bakathirs The Tragedy of Oedipus, Ali Salims The Comedy
of Oedipus, and Walid Ikhlasis Oedipus as well as Al-Hakims preface
to his Oedipus on the subject of Arabic tragedy, a preface on translating
Bakathir by Dalia Basiouny, and a general introduction by the editor.
An awareness of the rich tradition of modern Arabic theatre has only
recently begun to be felt by the Western theatre community, and we hope
that this collection will contribute to that growing awareness.
The Arab Oedipus
Edited by Marvin Carlson
Price US $20.00 each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
Visit our website at: www.segalcenter.org Contact: mestc@gc.cuny.edu or 212-817-1868
This volume contains four modern plays from the Maghreb: Abdelkader Alloulas The Veil
and Fatima Gallaires House of Wives, both Algerian, Jalila Baccars Araberlin from Tunisia,
and Tayeb Saddikis The Folies Berbers from Morocco.
Quick Change: Theatre Essays and Translations
Written and translated by Daniel Gerould
Quick Change is full of surprises. It is a nicely seasoned tossed-salad of a book
concocted by an ironic cookmeister with a sometimes wild imagination. And
how many quick changes has he wrought in this book of 28 pieces. The writ-
ings range from translations of letters and plays to short commentaries to fully-
developed essays. The topics bounce from Mayakovsky to Shakespeare, Kantor
to Lunacharsky, Herodotus to Geroulds own play, Candaules, Commissioner,
Gorky to Grotowski, Shaw to Mroek, Briusov to Witkacy. From ancient Greeks
to Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, from pre-revolutionary Russia to the
Soviet Union, from France and England to Poland. From an arcane discussion of
medicine in theatre to a libertine puppet play from 19th century France.

Richard Schechner
Quick Change: Theatre Essays and Translations, a volume of previously uncollected writings by Daniel Gerould
from Comparative Literature, Modern Drama, PAJ, TDR, SEEP, yale/theater and other journals. It includes es-
says about Polish, Russian and French theatre, theories of melodrama and comedy, historical and medical simu-
lations, Symbolist drama, erotic puppet theatre, comedie rosse at the Grand Guignol, Witkacys Doubles, Villiers
de LIsle Adam, Mrozek, Battleship Potemkin, and other topics. Translations include Andrzej Bursas Count Ca-
gliostros Animals, Henry Monniers The Student and the Tart, and Oscar Mtniers Little Bugger and Meat-Ticket.
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
Visit our website at: www.segalcenter.org Contact: mestc@gc.cuny.edu or 212-817-1868
Price US $20.00 each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Barcelona Plays:
A Collection of New Works by Catalan Playwrights
Translated and edited by Marion Peter Holt and Sharon G. Feldman
The new plays in this collection represent outstanding playwrights of three generations. Benet
i Jornet won his rst drama award in 1963, when was only twenty-three years old, and in recent
decades he has become Catalonias leading exponent of thematically challenging and struc-
turally inventive theatre. His plays have been performed internationally and translated into
fourteen languages, including Korean and Arabic. Sergi Belbel and Llusa Cunill arrived on the
scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with distinctive and provocative dramatic voices. The
actor-director-playwright Pau Mir is a member of yet another generation that is now attract-
ing favorable critical attention.
Playwrights Before the Fall:
Eastern European Drama in Times of Revolution
Edited by Daniel Gerould.
Playwrights Before the Fall: Eastern European Drama in Times of Revolution contains
translations of Portrait by Sawomir Mroek (PL); Military Secret by Duan Jovanovi
(SI); Chicken Head by Gyrgy Spir (HU); Sorrow, Sorrow, Fear, the Pit and the Rope
by Karel Steigerwald (CZ); and Horses at the Window by Matei Viniec (RO).
martin e. segal theatre center publications
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
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Price US $20.00 each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Claudio Tolcachirs Timbre 4
Translated and with an introduction by Jean Graham-Jones
Claudio Tolcachirs Timbre 4 is one of the most exciting companies to emerge from Bue-
nos Airess vibrant contemporary theatre scene. The Coleman Familys Omission and
Third Wing, the two plays that put Timbre 4 on the international map, are translated by
Jean Graham-Jones and Elisa Legon.
Four Works for the Theatre by Hugo Claus
Translated and Edited by David Willinger
Hugo Claus is the foremost contemporary writer of Dutch language theatre, poetry, and
prose. Flemish by birth and upbringing, Claus is the author of some ninety plays, novels,
and collections of poetry. He is renowned as an enfant terrible of the arts throughout Europe.
From the time he was afliated with the international art group, COBRA, to his liaison with
pornographic lm star Silvia Kristel, to the celebration of his novel, The Sorrow of Belgium,
Claus has careened through a career that is both scandal-ridden and formidable. Claus
takes on all the taboos of his times.
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
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Price US $20.00 each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Czech Plays: Seven New Works
Edited by Marcy Arlin, Gwynn MacDonald, and Daniel Gerould
Czech Plays: Seven New Works is the rst English-language anthology of Czech plays
written after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. These seven works explore sex and gender identity,
ethnicity and violence, political corruption, and religious taboos. Using innovative forms and
diverse styles, they tackle the new realities of Czech society brought on by democracy and
globalization with characteristic humor and intelligence.
Jan Fabre Books:
I am a Mistake - 7 Works for the Theatre
The Servant of Beauty - 7 Monologues
Flemish-Dutch theatre artist Jan Fabre has produced works as a performance artist,
theatre maker, choreographer, opera maker, playwright, and visual artist. Our two
Fabre books include: I am a Mistake (2007), Etant Donnes (2000), Little Body on the
Wall (1996),
Je suis sang (2001), Angel of Death (2003), and others.
Jan Fabre: Servant of Beauty
and I am a Mistake - 7 Works for the Theatre
Edited and foreword by Frank Hentschker.
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
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roMANIA After 2000
Edited by Saviana Stanescu and Daniel Gerould
Translation editors: Saviana Stanescu and Ruth Margraff
This volume represents the first anthology of new Romanian Drama published in the United States and
introduces American readers to compelling playwrights and plays that address resonant issues of a post-
totalitarian society on its way toward democracy and a new European identity. includes the plays: Stop
The Tempo by Gianina Carbunariu, Romania. Kiss Me! by Bogdan Georgescu, Vitamins by Vera Ion,
Romania 21 by tefan Peca, and Waxing West by Saviana Stanescu.
This publication produced in collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and Bucharest.
BAiT epitomizes true international theatrical collaboration, bringing together four of the most important
contemporary playwrights from Buenos Aires and pairing them with four cutting-edge US-based directors and their
ensembles. Throughout a period of one year, playwrights, translator, directors, and actors worked together to deliver
four English-language world premieres at Performance Space 122 in the fall of 2006.
Plays include: Women Dreamt Horses by Daniel Veronese; A Kingdom, A Country or a Wasteland, In the Snow by
Lola Arias; Ex-Antwone by Federico Len; Panic by Rafael Spregelburd. BAiT is a Performance Space 122 Production,
an initiative of Saln Volcn, with the support of Instituto Cervantes and the Consulate General of Argentina in New
Buenos Aires in Translation
Translated and edited by Jean Graham-Jones
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : The Graduate Center Foundation Inc.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center,
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
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Josep M. Benet i Jornet, born in Barcelona, is the author of more than forty works for the
stage and has been a leading contributor to the striking revitalization of Catalan theatre
in the post-Franco era. Fleeting, a compelling tragedy-within-a-play, and Stages, with
its monological recall of a dead and unseen protagonist, rank among his most important
plays. They provide an introduction to a playwright whose inventive experiments in dramatic
form and treatment of provocative themes have made him a major gure in contemporary
European theatre.
Josep M. Benet i Jornet: Two Plays
Translated by Marion Peter Holt
Witkiewicz: Seven Plays
Translated and Edited by Daniel Gerould
This volume contains seven of Witkiewiczs most important plays: The Pragmatists, Tumor
Brainiowicz, Gyubal Wahazar, The Anonymous Work, The Cuttlefish, Dainty Shapes
and Hairy Apes, and The Beelzebub Sonata, as well as two of his theoretical essays,
Theoretical Introduction and A Few Words About the Role of the Actor in the Theatre of
Pure Form.
Witkiewicz . . . takes up and continues the vein of dream and grotesque fantasy exemplified
by the late Strindberg or by Wedekind; his ideas are closely paralleled by those of the
surrealists and Antonin Artaud which culminated in the masterpieces of the dramatists of
the Absurd. . . . It is high time that this major playwright should become better known in
the English-speaking world.
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Theatre Research Resources in New York City
Sixth Edition, 2007
Editor: Jessica Brater, Senior Editor: Marvin Carlson
Theatre Research Resources in New York City is the most comprehensive catalogue of New York
City research facilities available to theatre scholars. Within the indexed volume, each facility is briefly
described including an outline of its holdings and practical matters such as hours of operation. Most
entries include opening hours, contact information and websites. The listings are grouped as follows:
Libraries, Museums, and Historical Societies; University and College Libraries; Ethnic and Language
Associations; Theatre Companies and Acting Schools; and Film and Other.
This bibliography is intended for scholars, teachers, students, artists, and general readers interested in the theory and
practice of comedy. The keenest minds have been drawn to the debate about the nature of comedy and attracted
to speculation about its theory and practice. For all lovers of comedy Comedy: A Bibliography is an essential guide
and resource, providing authors, titles, and publication data for over a thousand books and articles devoted to this
most elusive of genres.
Comedy: A Bibliography
Editor: Meghan Duffy, Senior Editor: Daniel Gerould
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The Heirs of Molire
Translated and Edited by Marvin Carlson
This volume contains four representative French comedies of the period from the death of Molire to the French
Revolution: The Absent-Minded Lover by Jean-Franois Regnard, The Conceited Count by Philippe Nricault
Destouches, The Fashionable Prejudice by Pierre Nivelle de la Chausse, and The Friend of the Laws by Jean-
Louis Laya. Translated in a poetic form that seeks to capture the wit and spirit of the originals, these four plays
suggest something of the range of the Molire inheritance, from comedy of character through the highly popular
sentimental comedy of the mid-eighteenth century, to comedy that employs the Molire tradition for more
contemporary political ends.
This volume contains four of Pixrcourts most important melodramas: The Ruins of Babylon or Jafar and Zaida, The
Dog of Montargis or The Forest of Bondy, Christopher Columbus or The Discovery of the New World, and Alice or The
Scottish Gravediggers, as well as Charles Nodiers Introduction to the 1843 Collected Edition of Pixrcourts plays
and the two theoretical essays by the playwright, Melodrama, and Final Reections on Melodrama.
Pixrcourt furnished the Theatre of Marvels with its most stunning efects, and brought the classic situations of
fairground comedy up-to-date. He determined the structure of a popular theatre which was to last through the 19th
Hannah Winter, The Theatre of Marvels
Pixrcourt: Four Melodramas
Translated and Edited by Daniel Gerould & Marvin Carlson
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