Girls & Boys

Carey Mulligan has a story to tell. The tragicomic, shocking life story of an unnamed lover, wife, young professional and mother. She delivers it in a -seemingly- free flowing monologue with wit, tenderness and, at odds with her slender figure, a steely determination in a powerful, arresting performance that deserves admiration. That, besides her phenomenal capacity as an actor, to absorb ninety minutes worth of text and recite it naturally, almost if it were spontaneous rather than painstakingly rehearsed.

If your way brings you to New York City in the coming days, go see Ms. Mulligan in the rollercoaster of a monologue that is ”Girls & Boys”. It will run until July 22, 2018 only, but its effect may stay with you a lot longer.

The Minetta Lane Theatre

July 8th, 2018

887 @ BAM

887 Murray Avenue, Quebec City, Canada.The apartment block where the play’s main – and only – character actually grew up becomes alive, with the help of an incredible off-stage crew, in the form of a giant dollhouse.
Robert Lepage, who also wrote and directed this deeply personal, autobiographical play,  invites us to join him on a journey into the realm of memory. On the way, he revisits his childhood home; shares anecdotes about his friends and family; commemorates names of parks, streets and monuments – places often forgotten or no longer noticed; recalls Charles De Gaulle’s call for a Free Quebec, the time he famously ended his July 24, 1967 speech with a loud and clear ”Vive le Québec libre!”, in Montreal.

The same words that were used as a slogan by Front de Libération du Québec, the separatist group that had launched a series of terror attacks in 1963, a campaign that culminated with the kidnapping and killing of Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, in October 1970.
The trip starts with a struggle: Lepage is invited to recite ”Speak White”, a poem by the Quebecoise Michèle Lalonde, in an evening commemorating the anniversary of a poetry event that first took place in Montreal, in 1970. But, for reasons that he cannot explain, the more he tries to memorize the worlds, the more they elude him. 

So he turns to the method of loci, an ancient technique in which the items to be remembered are placed in specific places (”palace rooms”) one associates with past experiences or childhood memories. In order to retrieve them, all Lepage had to do was revisit the right ”palace room”. And we were only too happy to follow him along.

”Speak White” refers to the oppressive orders shouted at the enslaved across North American plantations, forbidding them to speak their own languages, incomprehensible to their masters. ”Speak White” was also used to shame francophone Canadians and force them to adopt the language of the British Empire.
The ”palace room” method worked; in the end, Lepage did recite the poem and it was powerful, emotional – flawless. Ironically, the most compelling performance we’d seen thus far in New York was by a francophone Canadian, translated into English.

Speak White by Michèle Lalonde: original in French and translation in English.

[…]
Speak white
Tell us again about Freedom and Democracy

We know that liberty is a black word
Just as poverty is black
And just as blood mixes with dust in the streets of Algiers
And Little Rock
[…]

All images by Erick Labbé.

887 @ BAM

March 25th, 2017

Sunday in the park with George

On a Saturday evening at the Hudson Theatre, exactly one month after its reopening on February 11th, 2017.

First opened in 1903 it served many a purpose: theatre, radio & television studio, club, porn cinema, events venue and, making a full round, a theatre again. And a Broadway one at that.

Many of its original features have been lovingly restored, like this magnificent Tiffany glass ceiling. But the seating has been completely redesigned with chairs adjusted to fit the average human measurements and not the other way round as in most (or all) other Broadway theatres.

It opened with the revival of ”Sunday in the Park with George”, a play inspired by George Seurat’s masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Jake Gyllenhaal embodied the master of pointillism and, on his side, Annaleigh Ashford performed the role of his muse and lover, Dot. The story unfolds with the perfectionist master obsessing over his work to such an extend that he ends up alienating the bourgeoisie, his peers and even his lover. His relationship is damaged, his fellow artists have rejected him, and yet…

Nothing will stop him from his quest to ”finish the hat”.

The story kicks off like this:

ACT I
Time: 1884.
A white stage. George, an artist, is sketching.

GEORGE
White. A blank page or canvas.
The challenge: bring order to the whole. (As he continues to speak, the white stage is transformed into a park on the island of La Grande Jatte. Trees descend onto the grass; a bottle glides into view; a cut out couple appear in the distance. The lighting gives the impression of early morning.)
Through design.
Composition.
Tension.
Balance.
Light.
And harmony.

1. SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
George is sketching. Dot is posing.

DOT
George. (no response) Why is it you always get to sit in the shade while I have to stand in the sun? (still no response) Hello, George? There is someone in this dress! (twitches slightly, sighs, mutters to herself)
A trickle of sweat.
The back of the head.
He always does this.
(hisses)
[…]

Until the painting was complete.

[…]
Forever
By the blue
Purple yellow
red water
On the green
Orange violet mass
Of the grass

DOT
In our perfect park

GEORGE
Made of flecks of light
And dark

ALL
(except George end Dot)
And Parasols…

People strolling through the trees
Of a small suburban park
On an island in the river
On an ordinary Sunday…
(All begin to leave very slowly, except Dot, who remains in the park, and George, who steps outside the park.)
Sunday… (A blank white canvas descends.)

GEORGE
(looking in the book again)
“White. A blank page of canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities…”
(He looks up and sees Dot disappearing behind the white canvas.)

Sunday in the Park with George
Music: Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: James Lapine

The Hudson Theatre, Broadway
March 11th, 2017

Evening At The Talk House

Back in New York with not a moment to waste. Off to The Pershing Square Signature Center for an ”Evening at the Talk House”. Wallace Shawn’s latest play, a dark comedy, a sounding alarm, a dystopian society, the end of the world as we know it. Nothing too dramatic, just a few friends and theatre colleagues getting together on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of a huge flop they had worked together in, the legendary ”Midnight in a Clearing With Moon and Stars”.

The author, played by Mathew Broderick, introduces us to the rest of the group and they all sit together having drinks and exchanging compliments and mischievous (un)pleasantries. Everything seems perfectly normal – except the more we follow their conversation the deeper we enter into a dystopian world where theatre is dead and people have taken to executing foreign nationals, in order to protect ”us” from ”them”. Who exactly is ”us” and ”them” is open to debate.

But first, there was some housewarming mingling; the audience were treated as guests, with members of the cast offering candy-coloured drinks and jelly babies. If you look closely, you’ll notice Mr. Broderick and Mr. Shawn in his pajamas, casually chatting away with their ”guests”. 

The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 26th, 2017

The play that never was

Three old friends and a neighbor. A summer of afternoons in the backyard. Lingering sunshine and inevitable darkness.

Caryl Churchill, one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, returns to BAM for the first time in 15 years with this by-turns hilarious and unsettling daydream. Directed by Churchill’s frequent collaborator James Macdonald (Cloud Nine; Love and Information; John Gabriel Borkman, Spring 2011), with startling performances from Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, and June Watson, Escaped Alone is doomsday in a teapot, a calmly revolutionary vision of looming collapse.

No, doomsday in a teapot was not meant to be that Saturday evening. The play had already begun and Mrs Jarrett – played by the courageous Mrs Linda Bassett – had already joined the three other ladies in the garden that sat behind the fence. But, as the conversation picked up, Mrs Bassett stood up and walked off stage, calmly, naturally as if it was part of the play. Only Mrs Bassett had been feeling unwell that day but had decided to go on with the show hoping she would manage to make it through. She didn’t, despite her strong will and professionalism; Mrs Bassett could not go on. And neither could the show.

The management offered refunds or rebookings to one of the following days and the play went ahead as scheduled. We missed it only because of a planned trip, our first away from the City since the day we arrived.

Escaped Alone, BAM
February 18th, 2017

Last Work

What we didn’t want to miss that night was the latest work by Batsheva Dance Company, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, making its NY premiere in BAM. I was prepared to be impressed and I was – by the dancer at the back of the stage running on a treadmill for the entire duration of the show! According to reviews, and as you can see below, it was supposed to be a woman (dressed in blue) but on the evening we watched she had been replaced by a man. Still standing, drenched in sweat at the end of the performance, he deserved – and received – a warm round of applause. The work itself was a barrage of beautiful, intense moves and ideas, so much so that the audience was left with no breathing space; no chance to absorb and truly appreciate the scenes. On the way out, we agreed that Last Work was aesthetically stimulating, but bringing so many elements and people on the stage together, all at the same time, resulted in cancelling out emotions it was supposed to evoke. Indeed sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Images courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company

February 4th, 2017

Beauty queens

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a black comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh was premiered by the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, Ireland in 1996.

20+ years later, Druid made its BAM debut with this first in the trilogy of plays set in the rural village of Leenane where forty-year-old Maureen Folan, a single and lonely woman lives with her mother Mag, trapped in a dry, loveless relationship. Until Mag interferes with her daughter’s first – and probably last – romance. Her cruel interference sets in motion a chain of events simultaneously funny and horrible, a narrative that leads to a tragicomic climax and leaves the audience with a bittersweet aftertaste that lingers long after the curtain comes down.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, about to begin:

And the Beauty Queen of Solitaire, patiently killing time:

Aisling O’Sullivan played Maureen, the daughter.
Marie Mullen, was the devious mother; most interestingly, Ms. Mullen played Maureen back in 1996, as if to confirm Maureen’s realisation when she exclaimed: Oh Gosh, I’ve turned into my mother!
Marty Rea was Pato Dooley, Maureen’s first and possibly last lover.

BAM Harvey Theater

January 14th, 2017

The Present

For our New Year’s Eve.

Any suspicion this would be a one-woman show, was proven wrong; the Aussies know a thing or two about team work. But what a delight to watch Cate Blanchett live on stage! If nothing else, to reaffirm what a phenomenal actress she is – being the heart and soul of the play yet a convincing member of the team.  Albeit a leading one.

Playbill excerpt : ”Variously known as Platonov, Wild Honey, Fatherlessness, and The Disinherited, Chekhov’s first play was not discovered until 1920, some 16 years after the playwright’s death. Upton’s adaptation, according to press notes, is set “post-Perestroika in the mid-1990s at an old country house where friends gather to celebrate the birthday of the independent but compromised widow Anna Petrovna (Blanchett). At the center is the acerbic and witty Platonov (Roxburgh) with his wife, his former students and friends and their partners. They may appear comfortable, but boiling away inside is a mess of unfinished, unresolved relationships, fueled by twenty years of denial, regret and thwarted desire.”

There were certainly fireworks during the play. And gunshots. And aggravation and awkwardness. The full friend & family real-life drama that is an integral part of a Russian soul.

Matched only with the end-of-year Times Square closure-for-the-festivities drama, because of which at least a quarter of the theatre-goers kept arriving well into the play.

The Sydney Theatre Company performed ”The Present” by Anton Chekhov in a new adaptation by Andrew Upton.

Barrymore Theatre, Broadway

December 31st, 2016

Love, Love, Love

An off-Broadway play by Mike Bartlett in three acts, staged by Roundabout Theatre Company.

A small, perfectly placed cast performing the roles of Kenneth (Richard Armitage), Henry (Alex Hurt), Sandra (Amy Ryan), Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) and Rose (Zoe Kazan).

A life. A play about reaching maturity without ever wanting to grow-up. About starting a family, because that’s what everyone does, without ever wanting to part with your juvenile selfishness.

A clash. Of care-free youthfulness against duty-laden responsible mid life. Of generations. Of egocentric, self-absorbed characters.

It begins in 1967.
Sandra, Henry’s smart and witty girlfriend meets his brother Kenneth, a party-going, pot-smoking, life-loving young lad; it is June 25th and the entire world is watching the historic, first ever live satellite programme in which the Beatles performed ”All you need is love”.

Sandra and Kenneth sing along; they dance; they fall in love.

1990.
Married. Two kids. Financially secure. High profile jobs. No time to waste. Not least for two needy, self-conscious, egotistic teenagers.

2011.
Parents retired. Affluent. Kids are now adults; Jamie resigned, Rose angry, both still lost deep in the generations chasm, unable to accept the world they inherited.

Rose: I want you to buy me a house.
Sandra: smiles.
Kenneth: laughs.
Sandra : A house?
Kenneth: laughs some more.
Kenneth: You’ve got a house.
Rose: I’m renting.

….

Kenneth: What’s the matter love
Sandra: Something’s wrong, isn’t it? I can tell.
Rose: laughs.

Rose: I’m thirty seven

Rose: So… my birthday. I had a little thing in a bar in Clapham, hired out this little bar, and all my friends came, and two days before I didn’t tell you this, but two days before my birthday I broke up with Andy.
Kenneth: You didn’t… oh… you’re not with.
Rose: No.
Kenneth: You didn’t say.
Rose: You never asked.
Sandra: You don’t like us asking.
Rose: Yeah so I’d already booked this bar, and I went ahead with it anyway even though I was quite… lonely… you know.
Sandra: Oh baby.
Rose: And everyone turned up and some of them with kids and stuff and we had a bit of a dance you know, kept the smiles going but then suddenly I found I was sat on a chair at the side of the room, all on my own, at my own party, and I was crying.
Sandra: Were you drinking gin?
Rose: No.
Sandra: Gin can do that.
Rose: I wasn’t drinking at all Mum but I found I was crying, and it was because I realised as I was sat there, I realised I’d completely fucked it up.

Sandra: It’s not too late, you’re not even forty.
Rose: At my age you had a house, half paid off, two kids, holidays, money.
Kenneth: It was different then.

Rose: Look at you… ”If you can remember the sixties you weren’t really there”. What a smug fucking little thing to say. You didn’t change the world, you bought it. Privatised it. What did you stand for? Peace? Love? Nothing except being able to do whatever the fuck you wanted.

Kenneth: It’s your life Rosie.
It has to be.
He drinks from the wine.
We love you.
But you can’t blame us.
You want us to give up our retirement, our independence, our holidays, our security as we get older, you want to take all of that away from us and just give you a house.
Rose: It’s not fair.
Kenneth: Life isn’t.

And on and on and on it goes – such is the multifarious process that’s life.

Laura Pels Theatre at the Howard and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre

November 25th, 2016 (ran through December 18, 2016)