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Showing posts from June, 2017

Invincible

In Torben Betts’ play Invincible, presented by The Original Theatre Company and Ghost Light Theatre Productions at 59E59 Theaters, a London couple named Oliver and Emily move to Northern England and experience culture shock. Specifically, they invite their neighbors, Alan and Dawn, over for a visit one evening and find that they have no mutual ground. Oliver and Emily are quintessential sophisticates, unmarried, progressive, slender, refined. Alan and Dawn are boors. She dresses like a streetwalker and speaks a dialect using “were” for “was”. He’s an overgrown baby. His beer belly shows under his T-shirt and he has a loud, stupid laugh.
Emily paints abstracts. Alan paints childish pictures of his cat, Invincible, brutally bad. The four neighbors manage to slug their way through conversation until Alan produces his paintings and Emily gives her candid opinion. This somehow gets tied into the couples’ contrasting attitudes toward the military, and the evening is a disaster.
The main disso…

Tychyna, Zhadan & The Dogs

Tychyna, Zhadan & The Dogs is a production conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz and presented by La MaMa and Yara Arts Group. It combines Ukrainian poetry with Ukrainian rock music. The poetry was written by Pavlo Tychyna just after World War One, and by contemporary poet Serhiy Zhadan (with additional verse by Bob Holman of the Yara Arts Group). Mr. Zhadan is the lead singer for the rock group, Zhadan and the Dogs. The opening of the show takes place in the lobby of the theater, creating a nice transition from life to art. An actor (he neglects to introduce himself) announces that he’s Czar Nicholas II. He then abdicates by removing his epaulettes, sash, medals, and he stops being the character. The actor has with him 12 hats. He explains that Kiev saw 12 regime changes in 3 years, one of them lasting only a day, and he dons a hat for each regime. “History is written, of course, above, but it’s lived below,” he tells us. A couple of actors (one of them Serhiy Zhadan) recite poe…

Death Comes for the War Poets

At The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, Off-off-Broadway, Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and Storm Theatre Company are presenting a show called Death Comes for the War Poets. It calls itself “a dramatic verse tapestry”, and the phrase describes the piece well. It’s comprised of the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, with additional verse by Joseph Pearce. It’s wonderful to see a show almost entirely in verse.
There are three characters in this play. Sassoon and Owen, of course, and the third character is Death herself. I use the feminine pronoun because Director Peter Dobbins has cast as Death a young, pretty actress. It’s a great choice.
Indeed, for Sassoon and Owen, death – their own deaths – must have been a seductive alternative to the hideous life they led and witnessed in World War One. It’s a creative miracle that they transformed the horror they saw in the trenches into art. It’s a matter of opinion which was the better poet, but they both wrote poems that are bru…

A Hunger Artist

A Hunger Artist is one of Franz Kafka’s most difficult stories. The writer’s concern in this story is the nature of the artist, his relationship to his public, his motivations. Kafka’s not concerned here with the ordinary guy, the Everyman that he writes about in so many of his other stories.
The title character is a performer whose art is simply to fast. He would fast for up to 40 days, sitting in a cage in public, but that’s the maximum length of time that his impresario would allow. More recently however, he’s separated from his impresario and he’s been forced to join a circus. He’s made to wear a silly collar and a party hat. It’s demeaning, but at least he can fast without limit.
Like all of Kafka’s stories, this is an extended metaphor, without a suggestion about what stands on the other side of the metaphor. Kafka’s mysterious, suggestive, dream-like prose is at its best, heavy with connotation.
And there really were hunger artists, in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s been conjec…

Anouilh's Antigone

There is a moment in Fusion Theatre’s production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone (at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre) when Creon says to Antigone “Don’t annihilate me with those eyes.” And indeed, Antigone’s unrelenting stare does seem to be annihilating him, as it’s been annihilating everyone. As Antigone, Eilin O’Dea motivates Creon’s line so well that it seems Anouilh has written it in response to the actress.


Anouilh’s play, as this production makes clear, is an important drama. Anouilh reworked Sophocles’ play keeping the ancient Greek names and keeping the action in Thebes. The characters, however, mention tobacco, blood tests, film and cars. The dissonance reminds us that Anouilh’s message of courage and moral responsibility is ageless.


Anouilh has created a raisonneur in a character called simply The Chorus. Tragedy, he tells us, “has nothing to do with melodrama”. “In tragedy, argument is gratuitous,” he says, but this is a very strange line; Antigone and Creon will soon have a discuss…