Insulted. Belarus(sia)

photo: Arlekin Players Theatre Online readings are our theater's response to the covid crisis. Arlekin Players Theatre and Cherry Orchard Festival do a very fine job of it in their reading - presented on Zoom - of Insulted. Belarus(sia), a new play by Andrei Kureichik that examines the current political events in Belarus - the demonstrations and arrests following the bogus re-election of Aleksandr Lukashenko. The playwright, Andrei Kureichik, sits on the coordinating council of the protest movement. The reading was screened twice - once in Russian and once in English. I opted for the English translation.The cast of characters is comprised of actual people and fictitious people. We find Aleksandr Lukashenko and his young son, as well as Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, his losing opponent in the election and - this is well documented - the favorite of the people. In addition, there are fictitious - but no less true - characters on either side of the political divide: two election monitors …

State vs Natasha Banina

photo: Mark Soucy
State vs Natasha Banina is a livestream monologue presented by The Arlekin Players Theatre. The script is based on Natasha’s Dream by the Russian playwright Yaroslava Pulinovich. The monologue is directed by Igor Golyak and performed by Darya Denisova.
The video monologue was streamed twice this month on Zoooom - once in Russian with subtitles, and once in English. Of course, I watched the Russian. I had the great advantage of not understanding the Russian, and the event was enhanced by language as intonation.
The title screen reads "State, plaintiff, versus Natasha Bernina, defendant". Then a mellow voice says, several times, "Welcome. By joining us today you have self-selected to be a part of our trial.… Court will be in session in just a moment." Then, "The live feed from the confinement will commence momentarily."
The date of the livestream is given as the date of this trial. Then, "Due to the COVID-19 pandemic you, the jury, are ta…

Candida - Gingold Theatrical Group

Candida - The Gingold Theatrical Group

The Gingold Theatrical Group (GTG), New York, has for years been producing monthly readings of Shaw's plays on stage. In this time of the plague, they're one of the innovative companies adapting to the lock-down by going digital. Starting on May 20th and available online for five days, they presented a reading of Shaw's Candida.
Candida was the fifth of Shaw's plays, written in 1894 and published in 1898 as one of the Plays Pleasant. Its first success was in new York in 1903, and a second success followed in London the next year. Both cities were said to  be struck with Candidamania.
And, indeed, it's a delightful play. The inspirational cleric James Morell and his wife Candida are joined in a cerebral ménage à trois by a young romantic, Eugene Marchbanks, who thinks Morell doesn't deserve her. This early play anticipates the later Shavian classics. Morell foreshadows Shaw's socialists such as John Tanner from Man and Sup…

Ich kann nicht anders

photo: Carlos Cardona
Ich kann nicht anders is a strange production that La MaMa presented in January. It comes from Beton Ltd., a company from Slovenia, and another producer, Bunker, Ljubljana. The set (by sonda4 and Toni Soprano) is richly textured - it looks like a sort of messy warehouse, with lots of plastic hanging about and cigarette packs strewn on the floor. On it we find two actors and an actress, all barefoot. 
An actor opens, addressing us: “In the following 75 minutes, I will try to convince you that I am not me but someone else.” He continues in a complex speech saying “Some of you will find it boring - which will mean that you have chosen the wrong event for this evening.” He tells us the show is “75 minutes of just words”
Indeed, there’s no plot to the play. There’s intensely emotional or intellectual conversation with no clear train of thought and faulty logic. Nothing makes dramatic sense. But it’s not just words - there is dramatic action. There’s 75 minutes of the int…

Paradise Lost

photo: Jeremy Daniel
John Milton wrote Paradise Lost in 1667. It’s based on the Genesis story from the rebellion of Lucifer to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. The story is greatly enhanced in over 10,000 lines of verse. Lucifer and the paradisiacal couple have distinct personalities: Lucifer is charismatic, Adam infatuated by Eve, and Eve, most interestingly, curious and intelligent.
Fellowship for Performing Arts, one of my favorite NYC companies, produces theater from an intelligent Christian perspective. The company is presenting a stage adaptation of Paradise Lost by Tom Dulack. Its six characters - Lucifer (“Satan” is his “hell-name”), Beelzebub, Sin (that is, sin herself), Adam, Eve and Gabriel - make the Genesis myth personal. The domestic story of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost was a new sort of material for an epic. This production, hardly epic by any standard, personalizes the entire myth from the fall of Lucifer to the expulsion from Paradise more than Milton eve…

Sounds of Siberia

photo: Rubin Museum
On January tenth The Rubin Museum of Art (which presents art of the Himalayan regions), New York, presented an extraordinary concert called Sounds of Siberia. Two performers, Yuliyana Krivoshapkina and Nachyn Choreve, demonstrated the throat singing of the Tuva, a republic within The Russian Federation bordering on Mongolia. They accompanied themselves on two instruments: Ms. Krivoshapkina played the khomus (a type of jaw harp) and both she and Mr. Choreve played a string instrument which I believe was a balalaika, with three strings.
Ms.Krivoshapkina sang the opening song in vocalese - that is, without words, with only a vowel sound. She accompanied herself with elegant arm gestures suggesting flying. It was a marvelous choice to open the concert.
This was followed by a song in which Ms.Krivoshapkina sang words, presumably Tuvan. Mr. Choreve introduced his first balalaika, which had a boat-shaped body. He would later switch to one with a rectangular body. Sometimes h…

Winter Songs on Mars

Photo by Waldemart Klyuzko
Koliada is a solstice ritual from Eastern Europe that predates Christianity in some aprts. Koliadnyky is a Ukrainian vocal group that sings Koliada songs. The group has teamed up with The Yara Arts Group to present for one performance the show Winter Songs on Mars at La MaMa.
The text is adapted from a 1780 puppet show, a nativity play called Vertep, and it’s fused with traditional Koliada songs. It’s all put into a clever context of Martians discovering their ancestors were Ukrainian - it’s silly but it gives the play a nice frame.
Of course, those ancestors show up - with drums, vibes, piano, a bass, a cello, more drums, and specially tuned fiddles. The traditional instruments are a trambita (a “mountain horn”), the duda (bagpipes made from a goat), drymby (jaw harps) and a tylynka (an “overtone flute”). And there’s a large hammer dulcimer - at one point the musician turns it over and raps on the wooden back.
The grand, full-bodied singing is largely from men …

Paul Winter’s 40th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration

Paul Winter’s 40th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration opened with Paul Winter’s soprano saxophone heard in darkness. Then he was spotlit in his white jacket. It was the start of a marvelous one-night-only three-hour concert at St. John the Divine’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world. The venue is monumental and the jazz concert matched its grandness.
From where I sat, I could see the seven sanctuary lamps in the apse burning behind the players. Audience on the other side of the players saw the entrance to the cathedral dimly lit. There was an organ by the raised playing area, and on scaffolding on the area’s sides were the other musicians, The Paul Winter Consort. There was a bass, a euphonium, an alto sax, a cello, keys, drums and more drums. And gongs - three on each side.
The tone of the pieces ranged from fragile to ecstatic, some of the best moments coming from Mr. Winter’s sax solos and a lovely cello solo by Eugene Friesen. Friesen not only bows - he strums and plucks …

World Music Institute: Discover the Pipa

photo: WMI
The pipa (pee-pah) is an ancient Chinese instrument similar to a lute, with four strings, played almost vertically. Pear-shaped, it has four tuning pegs and about 30 frets, and modern ones have a small sound hole under the bridge. Its sound is haunting, like the sound of nature.
Its origins are debated, but it evolved as a combination of many instruments, the earliest a hand mallet drum to which animal gut strings were added. We first hear of it in documents of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 to 220 AD). Its master, Ruan Xian, lived in the fifth century. It was most important in the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) and repopularized in the Middle Ages, during the Ming Dynasty. 
And it’s still played today - most notably in the hands of Zhou Yi, who’s been winning awards since childhood for her virtuosity. On November 20 she gave a marvelous concert at The China Institute in New York, Discover the Pipa, produced by The World Music Institute.
Her first piece was similar to a round - the las…

Druid Shakespeare: Richard III

photo by Richard Termine
Richard III has never been my favorite Shakespeare, but the current production in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, produced by Druid, a theater from Ireland, has shown me how great this unwieldy play can be. Druid Shakespeare: Richard III is brilliant, bordering on expressionism, directed meticulously by Druid’s Artistic Director, Garry Hynes. 
Queen Margaret skulks across stage before Richard enters, looking like a ghost in diaphanous gauze, in the play’s most surreal moment. Only then Richard enters from the floor with the famous soliloquy. This isn’t the text-based delivery of the 19th-century nor the rushed gone-before-you-know-it delivery that’s currently the rage in some circles. It’s metered, controlled verse supported by character and emotion. This Richard is bragging, not threatening, daring or confiding, and we become complicit in his crimes.
And that complicity remains throughout the play. Richard is a wise guy, his lines, with some exceptions, m…