Noises Off: A Farce of Monumental Proportions

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Jeremy Herrin’s Noises Off, a Roundabout Theater performance at American Airlines Theater on Broadway, is a farce, a work of buffoonery and horseplay, involving absurd actions and improbable situations. It is the “Theater of the Absurd” with accomplished actors performing great work delivered with both synchronicity and precision. According to Playbill, citing JG Stillwater: Eros UntrouseredStudies in the Semantics of Bedroom Farce “In a typical bedroom farce, a man and a woman come to some secret or mysterious place to perform certain acts which are supposed to remain concealed from the eyes of the world.” Additionally, “Some partial disrobing may occur, to suggest perhaps a preliminary stripping away of world allusions, but total nudity (perfect truth) and complete ‘carnal knowledge’ (i.e. spiritual understanding) are perpetually forestalled by the intervention of coincidental encounters…” Noises Off has all of these characteristics to a great degree. Characters try to engage in illicit actions, but to no avail. This play stars Andrea Martin, Campbell Scott, Tracee Chimo and Megan Hilty.  Andrea Martin walked on stage to great applause. The creative team includes Derek McLane for set design, Michael Krass for costume design, Jane Cox for lighting design, and Christopher Cronin for sound design. Through both a great creative team and awesome actors, this play achieves the unfathomable and keeps the audience in stitches.

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Noises Off is a play within a play in which the actors are engaged in a tech rehearsal of their play, “Nothing On.” The fictitious theater company repeats farcical scenes in which characters cannot remember their lines or accompanying actions. While rehearsing for “Nothing On,” Herrin allows us backstage through a set reversal. The entire set is reversed and the actors are upstage, but we cannot see them clearly because we are “backstage.” We see the director of “Nothing On,” giving stage directions to his actors. Some actors become renegade actors, while others try to get their performance acted according to the director’s specifications. It’s a play of sardines and doors, of bags and clothing. One has to see the play to understand how these items are used to elicit guffaws from the audience. Although I less frequently bellowed boisterous laughter, most of the audience could not contain itself and laughed throughout the performance. At times, I said this is just dumb, but other times I just laughed at the comedy, forgetting my proclivity toward serious classical drama.

Herrin’s direction is impeccable. We hear doors slamming, glass shattering, and actions in tandem. Pulling this off is a feat itself. With one wrong move, this play fails; however, it never does. Everything falls and shatters at precise moments and the actors move about peripateticly engaging in repetitive acts. The cadence of the actor’s voices rises and falls in step with the action. No one is ever out of synch. The amount of work needed to achieve success is extraordinary.

The split level and set reversal make the show both great and zany. The actors  cannot see what each one is doing on either the bottom or top level of the set, but each actor delivers action with synchronization that one cannot help but applaud the perfection of the actors and the director. Yes, the subject matter is ludicrous. It’s too ludicrous to even discuss in this post. It’s laughable, uproariously laughable.

The characters also make this show laughable. Andrea Martin is funny beyond belief. Her voice is engaging and she delivers her lines repetitively without a break in character. From beginning to end, she is dynamic, never static. She makes this play compelling in all of its ridiculousness. She deserves a Tony nomination for her uncanny performance. Megan Hilty is also noteworthy. In her costume, she makes this play a sexual farce and a burlesque. She plays the part of a woman trying to engage in a sexual liaison with an assignation that never becomes realized. The other actors fall, shake, and all but rattle and roll on the stage. This great ensemble cast makes this show stupendously “stupid.” After all, it is a comedy!

I give this play a positive vote, with one caveat. Check all serious attitudes at the door. It may not be one’s preferred genre, but it is entertaining. Also, sit in the front mezzanine so that a great view can be achieved. It’s playing until March 13, 2016.

 

Pericles: Tempest Tossed and Love Regained

 

Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s most underperformed play, was highly favored during his lifetime. Arguably written in concert with George Wilkins, Pericles does not fit neatly into any of the categories traditionally reserved for Shakespeare’s work. Having elements of romantic comedy, it seemingly also has elements of tragedy that do not end in any character’s demise (other than Antiochus and his daughter). Currently, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at the Folger Theater, is performing Pericles. Wayne T. Carr plays Pericles, Armando Duran plays Gower, Jennie Greenberry plays both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, and Brooke Parks plays both Thaisa and Dionyza. Directed by Joseph Haj with a strong creative team, Pericles is brilliantly staged using video projections, lyrically composed Shakespearean sonnets, instrumental music, and great acting performances.

Gower, whose name comes from a fourteenth century poet, (John Gower was both a contemporary and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Gower’s original writing provides the concept for this story) narrates using iambic tetrameter, giving us the play’s backstory and other relevant details that otherwise would leave the story unclear. Thematically, Pericles is the story of both love and loss via tempests tossed. Solving Antiochus’s riddle (Antiochus commits incest, Pericles discovers it, and Antiochus fearful of his sin’s exposure, orders Pericles’s death), Pericles fears for his life. Multiple times, while becoming shipwrecked at sea, Pericles experiences what he believes to be both loss of family and loss of love. During one of his shipwrecked voyages, he marries the lovely Thaisa. Alas, Pericles buries Thaisa with jewels and spices, believing she is dead; however, gentlemen find her coffin tossed on shore; Cerimon opens it, realizes that she breathes and restores her to life and to her high position.  Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter, Marina, aptly named, is given to Cleon and Dionyza, the couple whom Pericles helped during his first shipwrecked voyage. Mistreated, pirates rescue Marina as a hit man nearly kills her. Pericles’s despondency overtakes him as he separates himself from society. Marina fights for survival and devastation encompasses Pericles.The loss of both Thaisa’s only love and her only child devastates her as well. Marina, unknowingly meets Pericles, discovers that he is her father and arouses him from years of despair. Thaisa, through the goddess Diana’s (goddess of childbirth and women) mythical powers, meets Pericles.  At the close of the play,  the family unites with an “Odyssey like” ending as Pericles requires proof that Marina is his lost daughter and that Thaisa is his lost, but now found wife. Family, once lost via tempest tossed, is now regained. Despair is lifted and happiness is restored.

Haj, the director, uses video imaging to create scenes on land and on shore. Creating a lifelike tempest is not easy. Through video projections, sound design, and fabric, Haj creates a credible tempest. We see Pericles tossed to and fro at sea as the storm’s intensity increases. Brilliantly staged storms rage as the sea billows toss Pericles from sea to shore. Pericles fights for survival through intense fabric waving mimicking a storm, swimming his way toward shore. We hear the sea roar and the sky crackle in the night. The multimedia sets the stage for acting intensity. Celestial imaging canvasses the walls and colorful imagery at the resolution of the play projects elation at the family’s reunion.

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Goddess Diana works her mystical power on Pericles              (used with courtesy)

Interpretive songs and Shakespeare’s sonnets melodiously sung usher the audience into the story. Lyrically written, the music allows us to empathize with the characters. The play’s  first two lines, “To sing a song that old was sung, /From ashes ancient Gower is come,” orients us toward the play’s musical elements. Before the acting of the first line, musicians play with flutes and accordions as the actors sing. At the onset of the play, the audience may believe that this play has become a musical because the music takes center stage.

Giving depth of emotion, Wayne T. Carr, Jennie Greenberry, and Brooke Parks all deliver note worthy performances. Greenberry and Parks both play multiple roles throughout the play. Carr has a range of displayed emotions from happiness to total despair. We see him fight for survival physically and dismay at the loss of both family and love. Thaisa, via Parks, with great chemistry shows her love for Pericles. She moves with grace as she gestures to show her enamour toward him. Her performance, superbly acted, left me wanting more. Her range of acting is demonstrated as she plays, Dionyza, the woman who orders Marina’s death. Greenberry, playing both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, saunters sexually across the stage as she plays Antiochus’s daughter with the riddle’s words tattooed on her back as she seductively in quietness allows us to see how she seduced Antiochus. As Marina, Greenberry allows us to see that childlike woman who desires both her parents’care and attention.

Greek costumes orient us to time and place. In the first scene of the play, Raquel Barreto, the costume designer, dresses Antiochus’s daughter in a long dress with the entire back exposed down to the small of her back. The only thing covering her back is a tattoo adding a contemporary nuance to the text. Next, we see the male characters wearing togas and jewels that highlight their social status. The pirates dress for the sea and the women wear sleek dresses and gowns that also accentuate their social hierarchy. Marina’s clothing, aquamarine colored, matches her name , giving further intensity to her character development. Pericles’s appearance changes through the graying of his hair and through the lack of stylish clothing as he despairs. Thaisa, through her flowing white gown, shows her purity, even when her relationship with her husband is severed for years, but ultimately restored.

I highly recommend this play. Because of its Odyssey and Tempest thematic strains, it is enjoyable. It has elements of romance, comedy, and tragedy that untimately end with reconciliation. It’s a great introductory Shakespearean play for students to read and perform that will whet their appetites. Perhaps in years to come, it may fall back into favor.

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipsed: The Untold Story of the Impact on Women in Liberia’s civil war

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Two recent works explaining the impact of war, one cinematic and the other theatrical, brilliantly depict the ravages of war.  Beasts of No Nation, a film, and Eclipsed, a play, show the impact of war on society’s most vulnerable women and children. Both are riveting. They both thematically are similar, but for purposes of this review, Eclipsed takes center stage and eclipses Beasts of No Nation (yes, pun intended). At New York City’s Public Theater, Eclipsed has been playing to sold out crowds for over two months. According to Webster’s Dictionary, eclipsed is to obscure the light from another, to deprive someone or something of significance, power, or prominence.

Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, directed by Liesl Tommy, is the story of the Liberian (Former enslaved African-Americans, some of whom returned to Africa, established the country of Liberia) Civil War, its sexual impact on women and young girls and its impact on girls as youth soldiers. Women were often denied their power and prominence, as captors obscured the women’s light; however, women, often captured by men at whim, held as sexual slaves, and denied significance, prevailed at the end of the war. This play has a compelling African female only ensemble cast that stars Pascale Armand as Bessie, Stacey Sargeant as Helena, Lupita Nyong’o as “the girl”, Zainab Jah as Maima, and Akosua Busia as Rita. In spite of Nyong’o’s star power, each cast member brings life to her own character. This drama is not a feel good play. Yet, there is plenty of comic relief through Helena’s character, but the seriousness of the story allows one to never forget that women are often denied prominence, respect, and honor, and are often denigrated and disparaged during some of history’s most turbulent times.

Used with Courtesy Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong'o
Used with Courtesy
Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o

In spite of their denigration during the Liberian Civil War, women ended the conflict, and later rose to prominence, electing its first female president, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf. The women portrayed in this drama at some point take control of their own lives as instruments of peace, truth, and reconciliation.  All of the women of varying ages make decisions to make their capture bearable.

The back story of the play is of an insurgency led by Charles Taylor against Master Sargeant Samuel K. Doe. Through a coup d’etat, Taylor usurps Doe’s presidency and establishes pugnacious tyrannical rule over the country. Taylor is later elected president; however, a rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rally against him. Women become captives, some rally for peace as LURD kidnap women and girls, and some become youth soldiers. Fighting escalates as war ravages the country as groups try to negotiate peace. Women lead the peace accords by refusing to settle for less than peaceful reconciliation and by demanding a voice in their government. This agreement, known as the Accra Accord, was instrumental in Liberia’s election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’as the first female president of an African nation.image

All of the women powerfully portray the devastating effects on women during the Liberian Civil War. Fighting for dominance, the women want to have some semblance of control over their lives. They make difficult choices, allowing themselves to live within their controlled lives. Having often forgotten their prior identity, four of them are known by number and not by name. Nyong’o is only known as the girl, although she is number four in the rotation, but since she is the youngest, her captor expects sex at his request. The others are no longer valuable to him for he has moved on to fresher meat. The intensity of this play increases as two of the characters (Maima and the girl) become soldiers and fight fiercely with the hope of reclaiming their lives. Nothing, however, is as easy as one expects. In the end, the establishment of truth and reconciliation ends the war. The play ends with quiet reflection as “the girl” walks back on stage, surveys the land, and quite possibly wonders about the manifestation of her new life as we envision the juxtaposition of a former life with a new one.

The writing makes this play memorable, but the props, set design and sound design all give the audience a feeling of verisimilitude. We see munitions and hear gun shots, and see nonverbal communications of fear. We feel disdain for the captor and horror for the women through the props as they often wipe themselves after forced sexual intercourse. Moreover, the “home” in which they live conveys a felling of sorrow as the women sleep on the floor surrounded by walls riddled with bullets.

At the curtain call, Stacey Sargeant is visibly emotional, although her role as Helena was the most comical. Her role nevertheless, has great impact. In spite of having a baby with her captor, Helena makes the decision to stay; thus, the play shows, through Helena, the varied decisions that women make that are often difficult to fathom.

Heading to Broadway in January, Eclipsed is a moving tribute to women’s resolve to survive contemptuous circumstances. While moved toward sorrow, one will nevertheless laugh (comic relief) at the comparison of the women’s lives at playing “second fiddle” to that of Hillary Clinton’s life playing second fiddle to Monica Lewinsky. It’s not the typical light-hearted Broadway play, but one will empathize with the women, and feel their strength and determination that a change is going to come.

Also check out Beasts of No Nation. It is difficult to watch, but it paints a picture also of the harsh realities of war. There are no winners.

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Race Matters

Last weekend I had dinner with a friend of mine, Joe, who was in town from LA.  He brought a friend of his, Mercedes, along to have dinner with us. During our dinner conversation, Mercedes mentioned that she is a professor, currently on sabbatical, from Pomona College. I immediately referenced the writer, Claudia Rankine, a former professor from Pomona. Rankine wrote the cover article for the August 30, 2015 edition of the New York Times Magazine ,as well as Citizen, and many other works. Recently, however, Rankine, became a professor at the University of Southern California. Mercedes and I talked briefly about Rankine and her work.  As a result of our conversation, I decided to revisit Rankine’s books. Citizen: An American Lyric, the first one I reread, is a lyrical reflection on the status of race in America. As I revisited the book, I met another woman, who heard Rankine speak last year at NYU; she offered details about Rankine’s process in writing the book. The book includes individual accounts, that may appear to be isolated events in an African-American’s life, but each story has a common thread about racial perceptions in America, and the reactions of Americans, white or otherwise to these events. She references every day events that people of color experience while most white Americans do not consider race as a factor in these events.

As I read the individual racial accounts, I knew that I had a story of my own to tell. Race is always a complicated and daunting topic to talk about because of the offense that is often taken and because the communicator does not want to offend.  Often, as Rankine opines, African-Americans remain silent without an utter of thought or without a feeling of freedom of expression. Rankine divides her book into seven sections. In the first section she individually writes about individual citizens of the United States who encounter racism in subtle forms. She simply states the events, leaving the reader with the ability to ruminate on each event. In another section of the book, she talks about Serena Williams, and the perception of her as “the angry black woman.” She discusses the overt and the covert racism Williams experiences either because of her persona or because of her physical size. Additionally, in other sections of her book and in her writings in general, she looks at racial situations in the media, like Trayvon Martin, whose death gained national attention, and she looks at the racial perception of the African-Americans in these situations. A pervasive thought echoes through America, “If only he had not had worn a hoodie.” ” If only he had not worn a hoodie.” If only, if only, if only,……..

Rankine emphatically states in the aforementioned New York Times article that “The daily grind of being rendered invisible, or being attacked, whether physically or verbally, for being visible, wears a body down.” According to Rankine, and I personally know this to be true, that ” There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better. Only after they give 150 percent will white Americans recognize black excellence for what it is.  But of course, once recognized, black excellence is then supposed to perform with good manners and forgiveness in the face of any racist slights or attacks.” I often wonder if I am worn down by desiring to be recognized for black excellence. I ask, “Does my race really matter when it comes to performance?”  Of course it does! We do not live in a color blind society. I wish we did. I am still challenging myself to see people individually, not according to racial perceptions or stereotypes.

Throughout my fifty years, I have experienced many “subtle racial attacks or racial slights” that most people may not see as offensive. For example, I have eclectic interests and hobbies that I engage in avidly. Recently an acquaintance told me that “I am the whitest black person” she knows. I did not take it offensively, but I remained silent. I should have said that “African-Americans come in many shades and colors, and that we should not be stereotyped.” Similar to the ideas suggested in Citizen, I remained silent for fear of negative comments about my character, about the negative connotations of  the embodiment of yet another angry black woman. Another example of overt racism was when I was at the Whitney Museum with my friend Joe (I never disclosed this situation to him) having breakfast. Only members of the community were invited to the complimentary breakfast. I attended the event with Joe. When my friend stepped away, a white woman approached me and asked, ” Do you live in the community?” I replied “No.” At that moment, my friend approached and I said, “He does.” She quickly scattered like a roach when exposed to the light. If I were white, she would have never approached me. Using the words of Zora Neale Hurston, ” I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

Even as I write this post, I am conscious of how my white colleagues (not my white friends because they know my character and I have shared my thoughts often) will perceive my thoughts.  I hope they, and others, will receive them with the spirit in which I intend. Lastly, when people say that racism no longer exists, I often think, “Where do they live? Oh, I don’t mean the house that they live in…….”

Pick up your copy of Citizen today! We can achieve racial healing through conversation. Let’s talk…

Love Lost and Love Regained in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline

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Cymbeline

by William Shakespeare

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

with  Teagle F. Bougere, Kate Burton, Emma Duncan, Raul Esparza, David furr, Hamish Linklater, Jacob-Ming-Trent, Tim Nicolai, Patrick Page, Lily Rabe, Steven Skybell, David Ryan smith

The Public Theater’s production of Cymbeline, part of its annual free Shakespeare in the Park series (Central Park’s Delacorte Theater), is extraordinary in its direction of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. It is a cool summer breeze transporting the audience away from the summer heat; It is a cool delicious salad that leaves the audience wanting more! Magnificantly directed by Daniel Sullivan, it includes a creative team that features Riccardo Hernandez for scenic design, David Zinn for costume design, David Lander for lighting design, Acme Sound partners for sound design, and Tom Kitt for the original music.This is a beautiful contemporary rendition of Shakespeare’s work. During the morning of the performance, I read and studied Cymbeline so that I would have a better understanding of the performance. I wanted to be able to focus on the performance instead of the meanings of unfamiliar words and phrases. Becoming well acquainted with the performance beforehand makes a great difference when seeing Shakespeare. I was able to determine which scenes were deleted from the performance and how some scenes were rearranged to suit the contemporary performance.

The best part of the show,  is how select members of the audience, while sitting on stage, participate in the performance, and how music and dance are beautifully woven within the story. The sound and the lighting design beautifully accent the actors’ performances. Lily Rabe plays Imogen and Hamish Linklater plays both Posthumus Leonatus and Clotus. Patrick Page adeptly plays Cymbeline, the King. Cymbeline is the story of a daughter’s love, and a father’s fury; it’s the story of a queen’s revenge and a stepdaughter’s triumph; it’s the story of Iachimo’s chicanery and a husband’s redemption; and lastly, it’s the story of war and peace. Cymbeline regains his long-lost sons who were both kidnapped twenty years before the beginning of the play, and Imogen regains her husband that she previously believed was dead. The Queen and her son, Clotus are both dead, and no one is sorry for their death! Truly at the end of this play, the audience can say, “All’s Well That Ends Well.” But, that is another play! 

Daniel Sullivan, the director of this play, is ingeniously creative. He takes what appears to be difficult text and rearranges the text to help the audience better understand the performance.The syntax of the opening lines of the text makes the initial concepts somewhat difficult to understand. I read those lines several times to make sure that I was understanding the text; however, in The Public Theater’s performance, there are two characters on stage who serve, initially as narrators, to give us an understanding of the opening scene of the text. Under the direction of Sullivan, audience members are given lines to read as the narrators orient the audience to the events in the story that take place prior to the beginning of the play. There are times when the audience is encouraged to clap to the music, further bringing us into the drama. I looked forward, however, to the scene in which Posthumus father’s apparition would appear during Posthumus’s  dream; it, however, was a deleted scene. The play is three hours long including a fifteen minute intermission. That scene and others would have added additional time to an already lengthy running time.

Hamish Linklater stupendously plays both Cloten, the queen’s son, and Posthumus Leonatus (so named because both his parents are deceased).  The range of acting is great, and I did not realize that Linklater plays both parts.  The two characters are the antithesis of each other and the costume design for each character is different as well as the voices of the two characters. The way Clotus interacts with Imogen made me not even consider that the same person played both parts. The audience can easily identify with Posthumus, while despising Clotus because of Linklater’s delivery of his lines as well as his gesticulations while acting.

Lily Rabe is perfectly cast as Posthumus’s wife and as the sister to her long-lost brothers.  Her love for her banished husband is evident as she gazes into his eyes at the beginning of the play and at the end of the play. The affection that they have for one another sets the stage for the events to follow. Her love for her husband is the impetus for all of her actions that follow.  When she climbs into the grave with the man whom she thought to be her husband,  Posthumus, one could see and feel that she truly loved her husband. The scene was both powerfully acted and directed.  Her actions and Sullivan’s direction serve to beautifully illuminate the scene. The filial love that Imogen has for her brothers, even before she realizes that they are her brothers, is adroitly and tenderly acted as they gain at the end of the drama, the relationship that they should have always had.

Patrick Page, as Cymbeline rages early in the play at his daughter for her oppositional and defiant behavior in marrying the lowly, but gentlemanly Posthumus. The emotion by which he delivers his lines is neither melodramatic nor overwrought, but delivered with enough intensity that the audience feels his choleric temperament. She desires his love and affection, but his furor grips him to the extent that one would wonder if their relationship would be repaired. At the end of the performance, the King is now at peace as he realizes that his sons are alive.  He forgives his daughter for her disobedience when he becomes aware of his queen’s beguilement, Cloten’s deceit, and the extent of Iachimo’s mendacity to deceive Posthumus. This scene is filled with a range of emotions.  We see the King’s regret, Imogen and Posthumus’s love, and the reconcilement of the entire family, minus the two self-absorbed characters, the Queen and her son, Cloten. At the end of the play, the King’s affability has been juxtaposed with his previous irascible temper.

Both the lighting and audio design help transition the audience from scene to scene. The battle scenes are beautifully choreographed with the sound of war orienting the audience to time and place. We  hear muskets and canons firing. There is music similar to “the Battle Hymn of the Republic,”  ushering the audience into the scenes. The sound design is potent and the music is beautifully directed as the drummer plays with great passion during the battle scene. The neon lights during the contemporary dance add stunning brilliance to the scene in which Posthumus and Iachimo meet. They meet in a “bar’ where the wager is made that Iachimo can make Imogen commit infidelity. The lights as well as the music and dance bring a smile to one’s face because of the jazz music and dance of the 40s and 50s. The costume design perfectly matches the glitz and the glamour of the forties. At the end of the performance the dancers all come out on stage dancing what appears to be western style dancing, now that the “West has won” and the war between the British and the Romans is over. Everyone is reconciled and elysium is achieved as the characters move toward a more halcyonic time and place.  It is a cool summer breeze that llifts the audience from the heat’s heaviness.

This performance is a must see, especially because it is seldom performed. The music and the dance as well as all of the creative elements catapult this show to great heights. Please get your tickets today. It will uplift your spirit. The Odyssey will also be performed in the park from September 4-7

Four ways to get tickets:

*Free distribution in Central Park at noon (line starts forming early before 6am.)

*Free virtual ticketing lottery (I’ve never been successful at getting tickets that way.) *

Free downtown lottery distribution at the Public Theater (I’ve never been successful with that either.)

*Skip the line and support free Shakespeare. ( for a sizable donation of $200 )

It’s a Tale Told by an Idiot but Signifying Everything: A Theatrical Review

Playing until July 12, 2015 at The Public Theater in NYC. Running time: 2hrs and 15 minutes with no intermission. Picture used with permission.

It’s rare to see a play in which the traditional conventions of casting (race, gender, age) are cast aside (pun intended). The Elevator Repair Service (ERS),an experimental theater in NYC, did just that. Known for taking literature and /or document based writing and dramatizing them, the ERS performed an unorthodox rendition of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It was directed by John Collins. The title The Sound and the Fury, takes its name from a line in Macbeth in which Macbeth says “…it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing.  I saw two of ERS’s past productions, Gatz, a word for word performance of The Great Gatsby performed in its entirety, and Arguendo, a play based on a U.S. Supreme Court case on obscenity. I was thrilled late last year when The Public Theater announced that The Sound and the Fury would be part of its current season of performances.  Because I thoroughly enjoyed the previous performances that I saw with ERS, I waited expectantly to see another great performance. Additionally, because I had not read The Sound and the Fury, I knew that I needed to read it. Although I was familiar with Faulkner’s style of writing, I knew his complexity would be an impediment to thoroughly understanding the text. Unfortunately, I did not finish the book by the date of the play.  As a result, when I saw the performance, I had a difficult time identifying and following the many characters. I then decided to complete the text and see the performance again. I can totally say that I enjoyed the performance much more the second time because I was thoroughly familiar with all of the characters and with “the stream of consciousness” with which the story was written. The opening scene of the play orients the audience to one of the major events taking place during the story. There is a traveling band with a banjo playing and everyone is dancing and enjoying themselves. The scene repeats itself during the show to illustrate for the audience the background of this travelling show in the community in Mississippi.

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From Left to right: dilsey played by Greig Sargent and Benjy played by Susie Sokol. Picture used with permission.

Faulkner’s stream of consciousness throughout the novel makes understanding the plot difficult.  It is not told in chronological order, and Benjy (called an idiot for his developmental delay), the first narrator, remembers events out of sequence. In the first chapter, we find out that Benjy keeps focusing on the relationship that he had with his sister Caddy. He is reminded of her and begins to cry because he hears the word caddie spoken by some golfers nearby. This causes him to reflect on various events concerning her and how he felt around her. Benjy is now thirty-three years old, and it is his birthday. Although he is his age chronologically, the text says that developmentally he has been three for thirty years. Luster, Frony’s (Dilsey’s daughter) adult child, is put in charge of Benjy. He looks after him and becomes his primary caregiver. No one wants to be bothered with Benjy because he is always making noise and crying. He needs constant care and attention. He cannot talk, but he obviously feels emotions like sorrow and happiness.The only way that he can express himself is through sound which appears meaningless to others. Only Caddy treats Benjy with love and affection. Benjy is reminded of his sister often. Caddy, unfortunately, illegitimately becomes pregnant, (before chapter one ) runs away, and later marries a wealthy man who is not the father of her child (this information is given out of sequence).

Quentin, one of the Compson brothers, goes to Harvard (the family sold a  piece of their land in order to afford to send him to Harvard) where he is mistakenly accused of sexual impropriety which reminds him of Caddy’s actions.  Quentin, distraught over his sister’s pregnancy, tells his father that he committed incest by having sex with Caddy (how incredulous). He did not want her to suffer either blame or humiliation. Quentin (suffering from his own neuroses) fantasizes about death, and ends up committing suicide.

Caddy’s daughter is raised by her family and is named Quentin (in the text she is often called Miss Quentin), after Caddy’s brother. Caddy, now estranged from the family, desires to see her daughter and provides economic support to her. Miss Quentin absconds with the money that Jason has hidden for years.

Jason, Caddy’s brother who is perpetually angry, takes Caddy’s money for himself, while giving only a little of it to Miss Quentin. Jason convinces his mother not to take the money because it comes from a “whore”. The mom  does not know that he covertly cashes the checks regularly and stashes the money. Miss Quentin, because she is ill-treated by Jason, sneaks out of the window to be with her boyfriend. The family believes that this type of behavior is in her blood, therefore they do not expect anything more from her.

Dilsey, the maid, has raised the Compson children. Through all of these characters we get glimpses into the prejudices that we have toward one another. Even the members of Dilsey’s church evaluate the guest preacher on Easter sunday by the way he looks. In the end, Dilsey “endured” living with the Compsons.

The twelve member cast is exceptional.  Many of the characters play multiple parts. some of the most notable are: Susie Sokol, who plays Benjy, Ben Williams, who plays Luster as well as other characters, Daphne Gaines, who plays multiple parts- most notably Jason, Greig Sargeant, who plays Dilsey as well as others, and Caddy played by Rosie Goldensohn and Tory Vazquez. The characters put much vitality into their roles.  All of the emotion from each character is infused within the story. The characters have the accents and the mannerisms that accompany the temperaments of the characters. Through the rhythm of their language and their gestures, the characters transport the audience back to the the early 1900’s and to the roaring twenties, although the 20’s were anything but roaring for the Compson family.image

The set and the props are inclusive of a family home with all of the southern comforts. It is not elaborate, but it reflects the cozy home atmosphere, in spite of the dysfunctional family.  It includes fourteen lamps (possibly for a technical issue to allow the audience to focus on certain illuminated performances, while others are less in focus), a Persian or oriental rug (possibly to depict their former status, nineteenth century furniture, a large radio of the time period, and a large stove for heating purposes in front of which Benjy often sat for comfort.

This performance is worthwhile seeing, with one caveat.  It is essential to have a fresh reading of the text. Without knowing the story plot, one is likely to be both lost and confused because of the stream of consciousness and because of the inability to decipher the cast members because of the interchangeability of the characters and the unorthodox casting by the Elevator Repair Service. It runs through July 12th, 2015.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: A Review of A Human Being Died That Night

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Fishman Space at BAM

A Human Being Died That Night

Fishman Space at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Viewed on June 13, 2015; Closes on June 21, 2015

The Fugard Theater and Eric Abraham  (the publisher of the book) present the play, A Human Being Died That Night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is based on the book by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. The play was written by Nicholas Wright and directed by Jonathan Munby.This play is an excerpt of forty hours of conversation between Madikezela, a psychologist, and Eugene de Kock, a convicted murderer, at Pretoria Central Prison during the apartheid era in South Africa. In this play, based on a true account of notorious killings in Pretoria, South Africa, Madikizela is played by Noma Dumezweni and de Kock is played by Matthew Marsh. It is primarily a two person show. In apartheid South Africa, the police were responsible for a covert counter-insurgency operation in which many black South Africans were killed by the police.  The most notorious assassin was Eugene de Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil”.  de Kock was convicted of one hundred and twenty-one charges including nine murders. He was sentenced to two hundred and twelve years and two life sentences for his many crimes. He is still waiting for some of his accomplices who were never charged to accept the blame for their actions. Madikezela tells him that “When guilt is shared, it is hard for anyone person to feel the weight of it.” South Africa had previously abolished the death penalty, but de Kock applied for a pardon over a decade ago, and in January of this year he was granted parole.

After the nullification of apartheid and the election of President Mandela, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was promulgated to hold accountable those who were responsible for the assassinations of innocent South Africans. Madikizela was part of the committee. She visited de Kock and recorded their conversations to try to understand what happened during his reign of terror and to forgive him for his horrific acts. This theatrical performance is condensed to one hour and twenty minutes. Because the play is based on a series of authentic prison interviews, the play takes place in a “cell”  with limited movement by the characters. The audio design gives us the feeling of a prison as well as a constructed prison cell. There are very few props and the lighting is limited to light streaming on the two characters. Madikezela is dressed professionally and de kock is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit until the end of the performance when he is given privileges because of his good behavior (this shows his transformation). It flows like a theatrical documentary, but the issues that are discussed and explored are relevant for all of us, regardless of race or domicile. Many social issues such as AIDS, domestic violence, and women’s rights are explored, but these issues appear to be forced into the dialogue and do not flow as well as the main issues of truth and reconciliation and the causes of violent behavior (whether violence is learned or innate).image

Humans have both the capacity for evil and the capacity for forgiveness. In the play, Madikizela tries to understand de Kock’s point of view. Through out many hours, de Kock acknowledges the truth; he details why he murdered many black men, women, and children. Through the overwrought dialogue, we get an accurate understanding of the thoughts and intents within de Kock’s heart. Specifically, he did not see blacks as human beings, although he never considered himself a racist. According to the taped recordings, all he saw was their color, and he said that he and the other police were prepared to defend South Africa at any cost. He stated that white South Africa had to know that South Africa was being protected. They did not care how they were protected as long as they had good schools and great homes. According to him “White South Africa needed a scapegoat and black South Africa needed a culprit.”  Rule by black men, according to de Kock, was the one sure way to destruction. They were prepared to save South Africa at any cost. He was encouraged by the police to “make a plan” regarding black people.  Making a plan meant for him to do whatever it took to ensure the death of black South Africans. That even meant killing black police officers who crossed over to the African National Congress threatening to expose the truth. He asked the question,” Did I do wrong? Did I know it was wrong?” He saw it as ” a bunch of great guys doing a tremendous job.” I am not sure at what point, de Kock repented for his actions, but he realized that the men he killed read the same Bible that he did. That was his first glimpse that he realized they shared some similar beliefs.

In spite of all the horrific acts de Kock committed, Madikizela both connects with him and forgives him. The wives of the deceased forgive him also, even though de Kock stated that he felt as if he were “doing the wives a favor” because of the belief that the husbands were unfaithful (based on stereotypes). At the last interview, de Kock asks Madikizela if she personally knew anyone that he killed. He stated that he believed that she would find it hard to forgive him, if he killed someone she knew. She said that she knew none of his victims. The victims’ families had to lay down their burdens instead of continuing to carry them. Listening to the dialogue and watching the action was difficult because connecting de Kock with the murders and listening to his confession was somewhat disconnected. It was easy to see that he was a human being who needed forgiveness and that he too was a victim of the racist policies of South Africa. Everyone throughout the world has been touched by race. We cannot escape it. We, like de Kock, have to work through it and forgive each other for the wrongs that we have committed in the name of race.

The play also explores possible motives and causes that lead a man to commit abhorrent acts. de Kock stated that he looked at himself as a crusader. He did not see that he was doing anything wrong. He stated that he had a typical childhood. As a child, he said, he was ridiculed for stuttering.  For him, violence “was an addiction that had a short-term thrill that left him hungry for more.”  He never saw himself as a racist because he said that he worked with blacks. Moreover, de Kock stated that one’s code of morality comes from “What you were taught from home.” He also stated, “I was not born evil. God would not do that to a small child.” He added, “Maybe part of my character was toward violence.” Through this performance one learns that it is easy for perpetrators to make excuses for the violence against the oppressed. No one regardless of race, social-economic status, or past history should treat anyone less than a human being. de Kock, through these intense conversations, came to the conclusion that political leaders sell their souls. He and the other police killed many, and that they fought for nothing. Madikizela comes to the conclusion that the “difference between good and evil is paper-thin.” We all have the propensity for evil and we all need forgiveness.image

This show is playing until June 21, 2015. Although it is dialogue heavy, the issues discussed are relevant for all of us today, whether you live in Israel, Myanmar, the United States, or South Africa. Let’s use this play to spur a conversation. I am not without my own racial prejudices, but  I strive daily to lay them aside and to see people as human beings first! Comments welcome.

*Personal note*

The Education and Humanities Department at BAM asked me to assist them in curriculum development for this play. They have secured the right to film it and to show it to students at a later date.  If anyone has any ideas, please feel free to share them. Thanks.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch