The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Did DOJ collude with William Browder to scuttle settlement with politically-connected Russian it accused of money laundering?

Filed under: Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 8:51 pm

By Lucy Komisar

New York, Dec 14, 2017 — Did the Justice Department collude with William Browder to block the settlement of a case which Browder got it to file to build a wall against Russian attempts to go after him for $70 million in back taxes and illicit returns from stock fraud?

Today at a federal court hearing in New York (Southern District of NY), a U.S. government attorney admitted that he had received information that the Dutch would block release of money that was supposed to settle a dispute between DOJ and the real estate holding company, Prevezon.

This is not just a minor civil case connected to a big-time convicted international tax evader. It about a major political/foreign policy operation promoted by interests who support hostility between the U.S. and Russia. Browder’s story is the basis for the U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions against Russians. And for western law enforcement agencies such as Interpol to refuse to arrest him on Russian charges.

The money was supposed to pay for a $6 million settlement between the U.S. and Prevezon to end a case relating to the charge that Prevezon laundered $1.9 million of $230 million stolen from the Russian Treasury.

The Russians never asked for U.S. intervention, it brought its own case against the perpetrator, who got a jail term, but that is another story. The U.S. Justice Department brought this case because a politically-connected Browder asked for it. He met with Justice officials and supplied the documentation they used to file their case.

The alleged laundered amount was $1.9 million. The DOJ never ever brings cases for such small sums. It’s considered chump change.

Finally, the DOJ and Prevezon settled for a $6 million payment of money (a debt owed to Prevezon) that the U.S. had gotten the Dutch to freeze. (The DOJ had frozen another $14 million elsewhere.) The U.S. asked the Dutch to release the debt. But curiously, the Dutch delayed until Browder could bring a case that would refreeze the money and prevent Prevezon from using it to pay the settlement.

For Browder, it appears vindictive, because he doesn’t benefit. He lost nothing in the tax refund fraud case, only the Russian Treasury lost. So, why would the U.S. and Dutch support this double dealing? This gets into the weeds. See the 100Reporters story for the details on how Browder has built an international political wall against Russia’s attempt to collect evaded taxes and illicit stock profits.

Today, in U.S. federal court in the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni admitted that the Dutch authorities knew months before the October 10, 2017 unfreezing of the accounts that Browder would bring the new suit. It would unfreeze the account at 1pm and refreeze it at 1pm.

This would have the effect of throwing a money-wrench into the settlement. But Monteleoni didn’t tell the Prevezon attorneys when he learned this.

Did this failure to inform the opposition lawyer represent collusion or collaboration with Browder? Why would Monteleoni want to scupper the agreement? The Prevezon lawyers today (if you read the meaning of attorney Faith Gay’s polite statements) shouted fraud! Here is the Dutch letter.

It tells Monteleoni that Browder filed a complaint against Prevezon May 16, 2017 charging it with money laundering. That is one day after Judge Pauley in New York approved the settlement order! A coincidence?

Ironically, Browder and his company were not victims of any money laundering or fraud. The Russian Tax Authority lost $230 million. So why would he have standing? Why would the Dutch, well known as facilitator of tax evasion (the “Dutch Sandwich”), the very crime Browder was convicted of in Russia, take this case? What is going on here?

The Justice Department behavior has been suspicious from the beginning, since it filed a civil complaint against Prevezon and its owner, Denis Katsyv, which was based only on the report of the DOJ chief investigator, Ted Hyman who said he got all his evidence from Browder. And didn’t check it out. Asked in a deposition if he had contacted the banks through which the laundered money allegedly flowed, he explained he didn’t, because they were foreign banks. “Really,” asked the lawyer questioning him. “Does your phone go long distance?”

Background for those who don’t know: to get the whole story, look here. William Browder was convicted of tax evasion and in a sworn deposition in U.S. federal court, admitted to one of the Russian charges, that he had claimed he hired the disabled to get a tax break. Except that he didn’t hire anybody, his companies just held shares.

After that, some of his companies were used in the $230 million scam on the Russian Treasury, under which they were sued for the amount of the taxes they had paid, settled the suit, and applied for a $230 million tax refund. Browder said the companies had been stolen and others pulled the fraud. According to the man the Russians convicted, Browder’s accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, was involved.

So Browder got the Justice Department to charge a Russian, Denis Katsyv, who father was a government railroad official, with laundering $1.9 million of the money.

The DOJ lawsuit went on from 2013 and was finally settled in 2017. Prevezon agreed in May to pay $6 million to get back the assets and stop money hemorrhaging for a trial. The money would come from the debt (money owed to Prevezon) in a Dutch contract, frozen by the Netherlands at the DOJ request. Prevezon in the agreement signed by both parties would use that money to pay $6 million to the DOJ.

But here is the scam. Which the Justice Department knew about months before. In documents cited today, the Dutch said today we will lift the restraint and seize it simultaneously!

What was going on? Monteleoni spent the whole time today arguing a lot of legal talk that to “release” the money had nothing to do with to “return” the money. But Prevezon lawyer Gay said, “At the same time we (the U.S.) asked them to release, we were helping them keep it.”

According to Gay, only nine days after the settlement “our government began to work with the Dutch government on what would become complete frustration” of the settlement, the key being the Dutch release of the frozen debt.

She said, “The government of the Netherlands told our government early on what it had done with U.S. knowledge.”

She said months went on getting ready for the transfer. She said they held the request in abeyance till they could do it at the same time. Release and freeze.

“Our government didn’t say [to the Dutch] we have an agreement…..Did our government say we made a deal for release” of the debt? There was an understanding by Prevezon that the debt would be released before the payment was due. And why didn’t the DOJ tell the Prevezon lawyers four months earlier?

She accused the DOJ of “a serious question of good or bad faith.” That appeared to be a subtle way of saying there was complicity, which Gay acknowledged to me afterwards she cannot say.

She said in court, “We’d be entitled to discovery as to what our government work with the Netherlands was during this period.” That means did the DOJ collude with the government on behalf of Browder?

This is part of the corrupt Browder v Prevezon case (sorry officially the U.S. v Prevezon, but really Browder v Prevezon) in which the DOJ is in effect acting as Browder’s lawyer. Paid for by the Justice Department because it fits with the ColdWar 2.0 attack on the Russians.

I will post documents subsequently, but you can get them on Pacer, the federal court website, www.pacer.gov.

Case 1:13:-cv-06326-WHP Document 749-4 filed 12/06/17. Letter from Dutch Prosecutor to Monteleoni.

Also Case 1:13:-cv-06326-WHP Document 748.  And Case 1:13:-cv-06326-WHP Document 749.

 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Browder: the Cyprus investigation. What is he hiding?

Filed under: Blog,Russia,tax evasion — Lucy Komisar @ 1:55 pm

By Lucy Komisar
Nov 25, 2017

William Browder has blocked the Russians from investigating how he may have used shell companies in offshore Cyprus to fraudulently move assets out of Russia. He filed a request to a court in Cyprus asking an emergency injunction on transfer of any data about his activities to Russia. Then 17 of his loyal supporters in the European Parliament asked the Cyprus government not to cooperate with Russia in its investigation into how Browder might have used his offshore companies in tax evasion, illicit share purchases and fraudulent bankruptcy. See here.

Cyprus is a favorite bank and corporate secrecy place for Russians and people who do business in Russia. According to U.S. news reports, Paul Manafort, now being investigated for various suspicious money movements connected to Russians the U.S. investigators don’t like, was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyprus, dating back to 2007.

Glendora document lists Hermitage and Republic International Trust.

William Browder is also a fan of Cyprus secrecy. Cypriot shells Glendora and Kone were part of his offshore network “owned” by an HSBC Private Bank Guernsey Ltd trust. The real owner was Browder’s Hermitage Fund. Assets (stocks and money) went from Russia to Cyprus and then to parts unknown. Republic International Trust, registered by Mossack Fonseca of Panama Papers fame and listed on the Glendora document, was in the offshore network of Republic National Bank owner Edmond Safra, an early investor who then held 51% of Hermitage Fund shares.

Kone document lists Hermitage and HSBC Private Bank Guernsey, the Hermitage trustee.

The Russians are looking to chase down those “parts unknown.” They think that Browder used the Cyprus shells to move assets from Russia to evade taxes, cover up fraudulent stock buys and bankrupt his Russian companies to prevent assets being seized. They want to know where such illegitimate profits landed.

They were recently awarded $20 million in a Russian bankruptcy fraud case against HSBC, reduced from an initial $30 million. (Numbers vary based on currency rates.) They want some $50 million more, which Russian criminal court evidence shows Browder illicitly obtained.

They wanted cooperation from Cyprus. This is standard between countries investigating fraud and corruption.

But Browder doesn’t want the Russians to find out where the assets went. So, he filed to block the Cypriots from cooperating with the Russians.

Will Paul Manafort be so lucky?

Cyprus has an incentive to protect its lucrative corruption-enabling tax haven system. Will Americans seeking Cypriot cooperation about Manafort be more successful than the Russians wanting it about Browder? And what could that say about the international rule of law?

Readers, please tell me if you find corporate or even Western alternative media writing about Browder’s blocking the Russians from getting information about his Cyprus shell companies.

 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

My radio interview about William Browder

Filed under: Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 11:32 am

Nov 21, 2017 –

My radio interview about William Browder, his tax evasion and his fake Magnitsky story, this morning on #FaultLines, new Washington DC-based talk show, weekdays 7 to 10am, 105.5 FM. Click here.

 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Man Behind the Magnitsky Act: Did Bill Browder’s Tax Troubles in Russia Color Push for Sanctions?

Filed under: Featured,Fraud,Russia,tax evasion — Lucy Komisar @ 5:13 pm

100Reporters – Oct 20, 2017

William Browder testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 27, 2017.

The controversial New York meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump’s campaign team and a group of Russians, initiated as a talk about finding dirt on Hillary Clinton, is drawing new scrutiny of US economic sanctions against targeted Russians.

Donald Trump Jr.

At the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump confederates, lured by a promise of compromising information on Trump’s rival, instead stumbled upon a quagmire: a fraud that bilked the Russian treasury of $230 million; a trans-Atlantic dispute over offshore accounts and tax evasion, and a U.S.-born investor, William Browder, who once ran the largest foreign investment fund in Russia, and who plays the eminence grise in this drama.

Browder is perhaps best known as an investor in Russia turned an anti-corruption activist, and the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, the battery of economic sanctions aimed at Russian officials. However, an examination of Browder’s record in Russia and his testimony in court cases reveals contradictions with his statements to the public and Congress, and raises questions about his motives in attacking corruption in the Kremlin.

That human rights effort, named after a man Russian investigators say was part of a tax evasion scheme, has helped sour US-Russian relations.

 

Magnitsky interrogation in Oct 2006 about tax evasion by Browder’s Russian shell companies.

Browder has insisted that his departure from Russia resulted from his anti-corruption activities. However, Russian authorities revoked his visa in November 2005,  two years after a provincial court convicted Browder of  evading some $40 million in taxes. The Russian federal government next took up the case.

Magnitsky was interrogated in 2006 about the tax evasion and detained over it in 2008.

Nevertheless, by 2012 Browder had convinced key U.S. politicians that Magnitsky was his lawyer, hired to investigate the theft of three of Browder’s companies and jailed by corrupt Russian authorities, who engineered his death in prison. The Magnitsky Act banned visas and business ties for a number of Russians allegedly linked to Magnitsky’s death. The impact of that legislation has spread, with US and European human rights advocates pressing for a global Magnitsky Act against public officials and corporate officers everywhere accused of corruption or rights violations.

 Back in the spotlight this summer, Browder used Magnitsky’s death to again rail against shady Russian government officials and their cronies in Congressional testimony and in the press.

 

It is the theft of the three companies that ties Browder to the controversial Trump, Jr. meeting. In 2007, shell companies that had once been owned by Browder were used to claim a $230 million tax refund based on trumped-up financial loses. Browder has said the companies were stolen from him, and indeed in a murky operation organized by a convicted fraudster, they were re-registered in the names of others.  

Nataliya Veselnitskaya, lawyer for Prevezon, photo by Lucy Komisar, Nov. 2016.

About five years later, Browder went after a company he said had gotten money laundered in the tax refund fraud. He persuaded the Justice Department to bring charges in 2013 in New York against Prevezon, a Russian real estate investment firm, and others. Browder accused Prevezon of receiving $1.9 million from the tax refund fraud. It used the money to buy New York real estate, he 6 said.

That New York lawsuit is what brought Prevezon’s Russian lawyer, Nataliya Veselnitskaya, to the United States several times in 2016, including to the June 2016 meeting with Trump Jr.

Veselnitskaya says the Prevezon suit was a distraction Browder used to cover up his own tax evasion and–she claims–collusion in the tax refund fraud. She bases her accusation in part on the role of Magnitsky. She has lobbied against the Magnitsky Act, deriding it as Browder’s way of protecting himself from Russian legal trouble.

Browder declined repeated requests for an interview about the Russian charges, his time as an investor in Russia, and his campaigns for the Magnitsky Act. Browder went so far as to have the author of this article banned from a public talk he gave at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, in December 2016.

But this summer, in sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Browder made statements that appear to contradict his testimony in the Prevezon case. Statements by Browder in this article come from the printed record of his Senate testimony, and his various public appearances and writings.

A Nested Russian Tale

 

“While working in Moscow I learned that Russian oligarchs stole from shareholders, which included the fund I advised,” Browder told the Senators during the Washington, DC hearing this summer.

There is, however, a record that suggests Browder knew well more about suspicious transactions involving the companies he controlled. That record questions the prevalent depiction of Browder as an entrepreneur wronged by a rough-and-tumble Russian business community.

A 100Reporters investigation, published in 2014, illustrated how Russian titanium company, Avisma, in which Browder was an investor, used an Isle of Man shell company to “buy” titanium at fake low prices and sell it abroad at higher market prices, cheating both minority share-holders and Russian tax authorities. A lawsuit showed Browder knew that was the business plan.

Browder made fun of the discovery, assuming nobody would discover he built his company on the same smelly firm.

According to corporate documents, Browder’s holding company, Hermitage Capital Management, was built on corporate registrations authored by the Mossack Fonseca law firm.

Mossack Fonseca document says Browder owns Berkeley Advisors. See link for details.

That firm is the source of more than one million documents made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in its Panama Papers investigation, involving assets hidden through the use of shell companies and secret offshore accounts. Its disclosures have led to resignations by government officials worldwide, criminal investigations and charges of corruption against bureaucrats and business leaders.

Mossack Fonseca established Browder’s Berkeley Advisors shell company in the British Virgin Islands tax haven.

Mossack Fonseca set up two companies in the British Virgin Islands, Berkeley Advisors and Starcliff, to hold shares in Hermitage.

The Browder family home in Princeton, New Jersey, is registered by a Mossack Fonseca shell, Pepperdine Holdings Ltd.

Browder’s $11-million estate at 691 Pfister Drive, Aspen (Google satellite image), registered in name of shell company Sundance Aspen run by Victoria Tarantino.

Browder’s $11-million vacation home in Aspen is also “owned” by a shell registered in an agent’s name.

Browder’s real address on Pfister Driver is perhaps the one redacted here, but 54 Colleton River Drive is the more modest house where his agent Victoria Tarantino lives.

The US taxes offshore earnings. In 1998, Browder traded his US citizenship for one in the UK, which does not.

 

How Hermitage Got Started

 

In Browder’s time in Russia, a key figure was accountant Konstantin Ponomarev, who in 1995 founded Firestone Duncan with American lawyer Jamison Firestone as a minority partner. Ponomarev hired Magnitsky, with whom he had studied at the Russian Economics Academy. He named Magnitsky deputy head of the new firm’s audit department and assigned him to Hermitage. According to Ponomarev, the firm – and Magnitsky — set up an offshore structure that Russian investigators would later say was used for tax evasion and illegal share purchases by Hermitage.

Konstantin Ponomarev, Firestone Duncan founder.

In a series of emails to the author, Ponomarev said that Firestone Duncan set up a number of Hermitage shell companies in the Russian republic of Kalmykia. They held stocks in some Russian companies that Browder had purchased for himself and clients. Ponomarev said the structure helped Browder execute tax-evasion and illegal share purchase schemes.

Glendora in Cyprus was an early Hermitage shell company. Edmond Safra, owner of Republic Bank, was an original Hermitage investor, moving his funds through a Mossack Fonseca shell company.

He said the holdings were layered to conceal ownership: The companies were “owned” by Cyprus shells Glendora and Kone, which, in turn, were “owned” by an HSBC Private Bank Guernsey Ltd trust. Ponomarev said the real owner was Browder’s Hermitage Fund. He said the structure allowed money to move through Cyprus to Guernsey with little or no taxes paid along the way. Profits could get cashed out in Guernsey by investors of the Hermitage Fund and HSBC.

This Cyprus shell company was run for the Ziff Brothers. Browder is fighting Russia’s attempt to get Cyprus to help trace how its shells laundered Hermitage Russian profits.

Russian authorities contend that Magnitsky was a participant in a tax fraud led by Browder.

 

Ponomarev said Hermitage wanted to obtain shares of Gazprom, the giant Russian energy conglomerate. Company policy and then Russian law prohibited direct purchases of Gazprom shares by foreigners, including foreign companies and investment funds. Foreigners could buy shares only through ADRs (American Depository Receipts) sold in London, but they could not buy them in such numbers – or at the same prices – as Russians could. Ponomarev said that in 1996, the firm developed for Browder “a strategy of how to buy Gazprom shares in the local market, which was restricted for foreign investors.”

It did the same for the Ziff brothers, then owners of Ziff Davis Media, whose investments Hermitage managed. Ziff Brothers Investments did not return repeated requests for comments.

Tax Breaks and Disabled Employees

 

A central charge by Russian tax fraud investigators is that Hermitage’s shell companies falsely claimed they employed disabled workers and invested in the local economy. Ponomarev said the two claims would cut a company’s taxes by 40%.

Russian court found that Magnitsky created fake labor contracts for the disabled.

He said, “After we successfully passed our own tax audit, we started to offer this to our clients, including Bill.”

 

In 2001, Hermitage shell companies Dalnaya Steppe and Saturn Invest declared on tax returns that a majority of their Kalmykian employees were disabled, complying with a law aimed at social rehabilitation of the disabled. But they hadn’t hired anyone, since they were just stock holding companies.

Russian tax authorities investigated the claim that disabled workers were “analysts” for the two companies. A legal judgement found that the employees were working at other locations as physical laborers. It said of the workers: “Bukayev has no education or qualifications. Badykov is a worker. Byatkiyev is a machine engineer. They had nothing to do with Saturn and were only used by the Claimant to get the income tax relief.”

The tax authority demanded overdue taxes plus a fine and interest. Russian court decisions show that Browder failed to pay, then later put the companies into bankruptcy. Back taxes could not be collected.

In a deposition he gave in the Prevezon case in 2015, Browder was asked, “Who came up with the idea that you could use this tax regime?”

“[W]e were advised by Arthur Andersen, Firestone Duncan, Ernst & Young and various other firms that this was a proper way of organizing our affairs,” Browder replied.

 

Browder in deposition admits to taking disabled tax deduction for profits on shares sold by his shell companies. “But the courts in Kalmykia didn’t agree with you, correct?” Browder: “They did and they didn’t.”

An important point, Ponomarev said, was that other companies had lowered taxes this way, but had actually hired disabled workers.

The alleged tax frauds came to $40 million, Russian tax authorities charged. Allegedly illegal purchases of shares in Gazprom through the use of offshore shell companies were reportedly valued at another $30 million, bringing the total figure to $70 million.

In his Prevezon deposition, Browder said that in 2004 he “transferred (Dalnaya Steppe) to be liquidated” by Visao Risk Management Group (VRMG), a Moscow security firm run by Jakir Sha‘ashoua, whom Browder has identified as a former agent of the Mossad.

The Raid

 

Browder made many unsubstantiated charges that Congress and media never checked out.

On June 2, 2007, Russian tax investigators raided the offices of Hermitage and Firestone Duncan. They seized Hermitage company documents, computers and corporate stamps and seals.

In a statement to US senators, Browder said that interior ministry officials “seized all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that I advised. I didn’t know the purpose of these raids so I hired the smartest Russian lawyer I knew, a 35-year-old named Sergei Magnitsky. I asked Sergei to investigate the purpose of the raids and try to stop whatever illegal plans these officials had.”

Magnitsky, however, had been Browder’s Firestone Duncan accountant for a decade.

In questioning by Russian investigators in 2006, Magnitsky said he was an auditor on contract with Firestone Duncan. Though Browder continued to say Magnitsky was his lawyer in this summer’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, two years ago, in his testimony in the US government’s Prevezon case, Browder told a different story.

He was asked if Magnitsky had a law degree in Russia.
“I’m not aware that he did,” Browder said.
Did he know if Magnitsky “went to law school?”
“No,” Browder answered.

 

Creative Tax Refunds

 

All this leads to a second Russian investigation involving three Browder shell companies.

Browder told the Senate committee that Magnitsky “went out, investigated, and came back with an astounding conclusion. . . that the purpose of stealing our companies was to try to steal our assets, which they didn’t succeed in doing. However, they did succeed in stealing $230 million in taxes that we paid to the Russian government from the Russian government.”

The companies were re-registered in the names of straw men and used in fake lawsuits that demanded damages for alleged contract violations. Once the damages were paid, the companies filed for tax refunds that came to $230 million. Browder says that the companies’ documents taken when his firm and Firestone Duncan were raided were to enable the re-registration. He said that he received none of the funds.

Lawyer Andrey Pavlov who worked on tax refund scam, photo by Lucy Komisar, Feb 2017.

Moscow lawyer Andrey Pavlov in an interview in New York, told 100Reporters that he assisted in obtaining court orders based on the fake lawsuits claiming liabilities for the Hermitage companies that resulted in the $230 million tax refund fraud.

However, Pavlov contends that Browder knew the purpose of the raids on his company and on Firestone Duncan: authorities were looking for evidence to support Russian charges of tax evasion and illegal purchase of shares of Gazprom by his and the Ziffs’ companies. He disputes Browder’s contention that the tax investigators who did the raid were responsible for the Treasury scam.

Pavlov said the tax refund fraud he participated in was common in Russia at the time: firms agreed to settle claims from fake shell companies about bogus contract violations. The companies would then file amended tax returns to deduct the settlements, recouping money as tax refunds.

Pavlov said he was approached by Viktor Markelov, a convicted felon, who wanted to hire him. Markelov wanted Pavlov to obtain a court order based on an invented liability for the Hermitage companies, which would then lead to a claim for a tax refund. Pavlov said the refund application would require detailed information from the companies’ books for the year, which he said pointed to inside involvement. However, Pavlov said he was never told the identity of the client who would benefit from the refund scheme.

Pavlov was questioned by Russian authorities, and Markelov was convicted and sentenced to five years for the scam. At his trial, Markelov testified that one of the people he worked with to secure the fraudulent tax refund was Sergei Leonidovich. Magnitsky’s full name was Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky.

“In October [2007] the whole Browder team knew about these claims and didn’t appeal the decision [allowing the take-over of his companies] which had been granted,” Pavlov said. “They did nothing till the money was paid out of the budget [the Russian Treasury].”  This corresponds with Browder’s book, which states that he and Magnitsky found out about the theft of the companies in October 2007. Just the same, Browder didn’t immediately go to court to challenge the re-registration of the companies and the court’s decision.

However, it would appear that Browder knew, or should have known, about the theft months before.  Financial documents for 2007-08 for HSBC Private Bank, which owned about 10 percent of Hermitage, state that as of July 27, 2007 Hermitage had set aside $7 million to cover legal expenses related to getting back Russian companies Hermitage owned. The document said others had taken control of the Hermitage companies to create fraudulent liabilities – and facilitate the fake lawsuit payouts. Deposed in the Prevezon case, Albert Dabbah, chief financial controller for HSBC, confirmed the document’s authenticity.

Magnitsky in Prison

 

Browder told the Senators, “On Nov 24, 2008, about six weeks after Sergei testified against a bunch of corrupt officials, some of the same officials he testified against, came to his home at eight in the morning in front of his wife and two children arrested him and put him in pre-trial detention where he was then tortured to get him to withdraw his testimony.”

But Magnitsky’s testimony in October 2008 does not mention any corrupt officials.

In his Senate testimony this summer, Browder said “they put [Magnitsky] in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds and left lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation.  They put him in cells with no heat and no window panes in December in Moscow so he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole on the floor where the sewage would bubble up. They moved him from cell to cell to cell in the middle of the night.”

A report by the Russian Public Oversight Commission for Human Rights Observance, which Browder links to on his website, does not echo all Browder’s charges, but confirms that prison conditions were bad for everyone, not Magnitsky alone.  The group reported that one cell lacked a cold-water tap, and another hot water. On occasion, raw sewage spewed up from the in-ground toilet, covering the floor of Magnitsky’s cell. It took 35 hours for authorities to move Magnitsky and two cellmates. In important ways, Magnitsky did appear to suffer especially from harsh—and ultimately fatal—mistreatment. For six days, for example, Magnitsky had no access to boiled water, which worsened his already fragile health, the commission wrote. Despite documented need for ongoing medical attention, he was transferred to a prison where none was available.

Investigative journalist Oleg Lurie. Hardly uncritical of Putin, as Browder would paint him, he has a “Freedom for Pussy Riot” photo on his Facebook page.

In his written statement, Browder said Magnitsky wrote over 400 complaints detailing instances of mistreatment. “He was able to pass his hand-written complaints to his lawyers, who dutifully filed them with the Russian authorities. Although his complaints were either ignored or rejected, copies of them were retained. As a result, we have the most well-documented case of human rights abuse coming out of Russia in the last 35 years,” Browder wrote. The complaints were never made public.

In prison, Magnitsky turned to a fellow inmate, Oleg Lurie, for help in filing complaints about conditions. Lurie is a well-known Russian journalist who was accused of attempting to blackmail a member of the Duma, and later exonerated. Inmates often sought Lurie out for jailhouse advice. Deposed in the Prevezon case, Lurie described Magnitsky as initially “confident” that his employers were working to get him out.

But in a subsequent meeting, Lurie said, Magnitsky’s demeanor had changed. He was distraught, Lurie recalled, and said his employers were now selling him out and wanted him to sign documents that had nothing to do with his charges. On October 13, 2009, Magnitsky filed a complaint accusing police of “possible participation” in the theft of the Hermitage companies.

Magnitsky died on November 16, 2009.  Browder testified in the Senate that “eight riot guards with rubber batons beat him until he died.” He said elsewhere that the assault lasted eight hours. On a website devoted to Magnitsky, Browder posted the hospital death certificate, highlighting the notation, “closed craniocerebral injury?” But the report put a question mark after the finding, which wasn’t explained, and provided no evidence to indicate Magnitsky was beaten to death.

A 2011 analysis by the Physicians for Human Rights International Forensics Program of  documents provided by Browder found no evidence he was beaten to death. However the analysis also described the conditions of Magnitsky’s imprisonment as  “torturous,” and said that his lack of medical treatment was “calculated, deliberate and inhumane.” Conflicting and absent medical records undermined their confidence in the official determination of Magnitsky’s cause of death.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a Russian court, relying on investigations that included the testimony of Konstantin Ponomarev, convicted Browder of tax evasion. Browder was in London.

Though Browder claims Magnitsky was convicted, a Russian legal document shows the case against him was closed because he had died.

Two weeks ago, Kirill Nogotkov, a Russian bankruptcy receiver on the trail of assets that Browder transferred out of Dalnaya Steppe, won a case in Russia against HSBC bank, the Hermitage trustee. The bank paid $30 million of evaded taxes.

Additional documents have been added to the original 100Reporters post.

Albert Camus’ “State of Siege” a stunning surreal allegory about totalitarianism

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 11:42 am

By Lucy Komisar

Albert Camus’ 1948 play, powerfully staged by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, director of the Paris Théȃtre de la Ville, seems so prescient, so of the moment, that you could swear it was written yesterday.

Albert Camus.

Orwell’s “1984” was published a year later. But both warn against totalitarian governments that frighten and coopt ordinary citizens until a few brave souls fight back. They will be bloodied. Both are called allegories. I consider them warnings.

This production starts with the cabaret music of the 40s; people are dancing. Suddenly there are flashing lights, a siren. Joy turns to horror. There’s been a bombing. War? It takes a fool, Nada (a nonchalant Philippe Demarle), to realize it was a comet. Nada is Spanish for nothing; Nada believes in nothing. People will recognize fake threats and ignore the real ones.

The set has three platforms on which characters move, emphasizing the surreal nature of the production. Theirs is a large video screen. The background sound is portentous organ music. The acting and staging are vivid, memorable.

People are struck by plague and declare that the venom is in our hearts. Heaven sent this to corrupt cities. There are calls for confessions. The US right-wing evangelicals about disastrous floods? But those in charge decide that as the epidemic is in poor or outlier districts, they need not tell the public. The judge (a deliberately banal careerist, Alain Libolt) shares the view. Bodies are thrown. Our young hero Diego (an almost innocent Matthieu Dessertine) is afraid and feels shame.

Citizens confront Valérie Dashwood as Death and Serge Maggiani as The Plague.

To deal with the health menace, all public gatherings are forbidden. Or is that just an excuse? Is the plague something other than a medical disease? Camus was a socialist who hated totalitarianism. For him, the plague is political.

Suddenly a black floor covering moves and rises. We are confronted with The Plague (a powerfully villainous Serge Maggiani). Not a disease, a totalitarian. “I reign,” he declares. “I rule on my terms.”

A woman in a black glitter dress appears. She is the secretary/Death (Valérie Dashwood, conjuring up an austere dominatrix). She has a list, a book of names of people who are infected, ie targeted, who will die. A list like Joe McCarthy’s list? A woman is struck down. The governor (Pascal Vuillemot) asks urgently, “Will you protect my family?” He’s ready to give up Jews and blacks. The collaborators of the Nazis.

You can’t go into the street after 9pm. You can’t help those with the malady, ie those targeted. You must denounce family members and others to authorities. You will separate men and women. Everyone is suspect. (The Nazis but also Soviet communists and their client states.)

Valérie Dashwood as Death in red looks over her victims.

The Plague declares, “I give you organization.” And order. He says, “I demand your collaboration.” And some, including the judge, decide it’s better to be an accomplice than a victim. Vichy France?

Citizens need certifications of existence. They have to fill in the major events of their lives. One replies, “My life is private.” The secretary, sitting in an upper platform in a wheelchair, replies, “The words have no meaning for us. What interests us is you.” The age of surveillance could not have been imagined.

The secretary wears blood-red leather. The purpose of government is that the victim carries out his own execution. There is contagion, an interesting way to describe the thoughtless mob. One declares a belief in a struggle informed by passion and intelligence and says, “Once we were a people and now we’re a herd.” Ah, the victory of American corporate politics.

A man is bloodied.

Those who resist are beaten. They are suppressed, wounded, limping, homeless. A woman’s husband is taken. But some still resist. There is a badge for those who refuse to wear the badges. Star of David? They wear workers’ clothes and sing a revolutionary song.

The collaborator judge says he serves the new ruler “because it’s the law.” His wife (Sarah Karbasnikoff) says, “I spit on your law. Justice is on the side of those who suffer.”

Matthieu Dessertine as Diego and other resisters with slickers and beaks.

Diego has fled to the edge of the sea. He tells others, “Don’t be afraid, that’s the only condition. Stand up, tear up our certificates.” One says, “Smash their office windows.” Another, “Throw away your gags.”

The text is updated in talk about victors’ Iraqi and Syrian funeral pyres. The Plague’s hatred needs fresh victims.

A stunning play, it has a lot to say to our time and should be staged often.

“State of Siege.” Written by Albert Camus, directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. In French with English supertitles. Théȃtre de la Ville, Paris, at BAM Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY.  718-636-4100, Nov 2-4, 2017. 11/14/17.

Friday, November 10, 2017

“Time and the Conways” fascinating take on British class system between the wars

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 4:17 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Coney, Brooke Bloom as Madge, and Charlotte Parry as Kay, photo Jeremy Daniel.

Before the First World War, things in England seemed quite solid, unmoving, as far as classes went. The upper class was frivolous, its members assumed everything about their lives would remain pretty much the same. Nice homes, nice parties. At the opening, a family and friends in Yorkshire are doing charades, underlining lives of fantasy.

But the interwar years seemed to change everything, to auger in a seismic shift in class relations.  J.B. Priestley’s absorbing 1937 play about what happened to one family and the people whose lives they touched explains how by the time the Second World War occurred, to be followed by the victory of the Labor Party, the ascendancy of the upper class was not so assured. At least, money would matter more than class.

The harbinger of that shift is the guy at the party who nobody likes, the slightly creepy Ernest Beevers (the very good Steven Boyer) who knows he wants to marry well, into the upper class, and bides his time. Priestley also remarks on the role of women – and how the ones who do best are smart women who don’t marry. The Conways are headed by a matriarch (the fine, biting Elizabeth McGovern); the father has drowned. But the children are charmers.

Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Conway, Matthew James Thomas as Robin Conway, Cara Ricketts as Joan Helford, Brooke Bloom as Madge Conway, photo Jeremy Daniel.

By 1937, nothing good has happened to most of the family. Daughter Hazel (played as a silly thing by Anna Camp) has made a disastrous marriage with Beevers, by then a rich businessman. Joan Helford (Cara Rickets) has made a bad match with the charming Robin (Matthew James Thomas), the Conway son who came back from the Air Force with little plan of what he would do with his life. So, he used up the family money and drank.

Of course, the ones who interested me were the smart women, Kay (the terrific Charlotte Parry), the would-be novelist, and Madge (Brooke Bloom), the socialist. “You don’t realize how poor most people are,” she told the others. The stolid, uninteresting Alan (Gabriel Ebert) has a clerk’s job. That realism is the only choice that keeps him afloat.

Nearly two decades after the fantasy party, Kay, a bit cynical, in an unhappy affair with a married guy, does unexceptional journalism; she is writing a piece about South Hampton, not a novel.

Steven Boyer as Ernest Beevers rises to hold his own above the inherited upper class, photo Jeremy Daniel.

Joan hasn’t seen Robin in months. Madge is to be a senior mistress at a large public girls’ school, though she says, “The life you don’t see is my real life.”

Hazel arrives with a fur collar, befitting her wealth, but when the bully Ernest appears, square faced in a pin-striped suit, you don’t envy her.

Then you see what they did in the intervening years, how they all got there. It’s the kind of plot that could be a soap opera or high-concept TV serial, if the writing wasn’t so subtle, the characters so good and director Rebecca Taichman so focused and sharp.

Time and the Conways.” Written by J.B. Priestley, directed by Rebecca Taichman. American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-719-1300. Opened Oct 10, 2017, closes Nov 26, 2017. 11/8/17.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cabaret Convention 2017 presents top American jazz and standards singers

Filed under: Cabaret & Jazz,Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:53 pm

By Lucy Komisar

The Cabaret Convention put on by the Mabel Mercer Foundation has for almost three decades brought together some of the best cabaret performers in the country, each of four days presenting as many as 20 singers, some prominent, some new, some doing standards, others jazz, to keep the tradition alive. One night this year featured the works of George Gershwin, which is why you’ll note many singers doing his songs.

Marilyn Maye, photo Seth Cashman.

A nice part about the event is that the performers come out to the lobby at intermission and after the show to chat and schmooz with the audience. Hence these photos. Dozens appeared over four evenings; these are just my highlights of three nights I attended. I notice that most are women. Well, so be it! They had the most pizzazz, the most drama.

The 2017 Cabaret Convention began with a sense of its history, with Marilyn Maye, now 89 years old in black sequin jacket sauntering on stage with a hint of horn and her voice filling the room in a style that has lasted the years, in a saucy jazzy Johnny Mercer’s “Day in Day Out,” “You’re Just Too Marvelous,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers.” Her voice was like another instrument to add to piano, bass, drums. Her story telling came through in a still glorious voice.

Lyric Peterson, photo Lucy Komisar.

And then the probably youngest performer, Lyric Peterson, from Oklahoma, just out of school in her New York debut, doing “God Bless the Child” made famous by Billy Holiday, a bit of the gospel, soprano and then R&B. She takes over the stage. You will hear from her.

Carole J. Bufford, photo Lucy Komisar.

Luba Mason showed her anguish, soft and then cries of pain in “Love for Sale” taking us through the pure and tawdry. Her voice range was impressive, her performance seemed visual as well as vocal.

Carole J. Bufford, in glittery red and silver flapper dress with sequins and tassels, silver heels, is becoming the cabaret star of the moment. Her “Chicago” shows her not just a singer but a perfect performer, with shimmy and shake. She did Gershwin with pizzazz. In “The Man I Love,” always a story, she becomes another character, makes it a torch song not of a sweet little thing. She was presented a Donald F Smith Award. Waiting for her to sing on Broadway.

Karen Oberlin, photo Lucy Komisar.

Karen Oberlin, if Carole is the new coming cabaret star, Karen Oberlin is comfortably settled as the classic sophisticated jazz singer. Her “Hamlet” was a funny story of “a prince of a spot called Denmark,” with scat, and then a “Night and Day” medley with a choice of cabaret songs you maybe hadn’t heard. Her voice soars.

I liked Danny Bacher, with his clarinet doing “If It’s Love You Want Baby, It’s Me,” by Leonard, Betty and Adolph, as he said, a jazzy story teller with a comic come hither, his idea of old rap à la Louis Jordan. He reminded me of Satchmo. And old style 40s. His “So Lucky to be Me” also seems from the old school. He is a charming crooner, I love the swing style.

Tanya Moberly, photo Lucy Komisar.

 

Tanya Moberly saunters with guttural yeah yeah country rock grunts and screeches, tough demeanor in “Chuckie’s in Love.” Not my style, but well done.

KT Sullivan, photo Lucy Komisar.

 

 

 

 

 

And then KT Sullivan’s  “Kiss Me Kate,” why can’t you behave, her own sophisticated style reminded me of Channing or a comic Merman. She has a theatrical Broadway style, and she can also hit the high notes as she shows in “So in Love” and “Wunderbar.”

Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, photo Lucy Komisar.

Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, a delicious couple, he at the piano, “Isn’t it a Pity” we never met. She in red satin, with a round honeyed soprano voice, “Time wasted fishing for salmon playing at backgammon,” clever lyrics. Let it rain and thunder, a million firms go under … who cares what banks fail in Yonkers.” That was 1931, the depression.

T. Oliver Reid, photo Lucy Komisar.

 

 

A highlight was T. Oliver Reid doing “Porgy and Bess” and a medley of “Rhapsody in Blue.” His voice was full, deep, of amazing timber, soaring in “I Got Plenty of Nothing” and then moving from his bass and tenor suddenly to high notes in “Summertime,” that make you think you hear a female soprano. He’ll be on Broadway in “Once On This Island” in December.

Anna Bergman, photo Lucy Komisar.

Anna Bergman is an elegant operatic soprano doing “By Strauss.” Delightful, sweet, I loved it.

A duet by Celia Berk and Karen Akers, which Akers comically introduced as sung by the two lowest female voices in cabaret, featured a charming, sprightly “What Are We Here For?” from the “Treasure Girl” musical. It makes you want to see the Gershwin play.

Celia Berk and Karen Akers, photo Lucy Komisar.

Then Akers continued as a prostitute in “How Long Has This Been Going On.” “I could cry salty tears.” She acts the story, she emotes, I didn’t know it started with a prostitute. She is a champion, what cabaret is about.

Gabrielle Stravelli did a jazzy Gershwin number, bright, vocalizing on the notes, climbing and falling in classic jazz fashion.

Steve Ross, One of the prime guy singers, sang “Stairway to Paradise” from George White’s Scandals of the 20s. Loved the jazzy rhythm, inflection and beat of his piano. You want to tap your feet and nod your head in time.

Mark Nadler, photo Lucy Komisar.

Mark Nadler created a fine “S’Wonderful” and “Rhapsody in Blue” on his jazzy boogie black and white keys.

Jennifer Sheehan’s “A Foggy Day” features her bell clear rich voice that shows how to do standards.

I liked Shauna Hicks’s medley “But Not for Me,” and “I’m Biding my Time,” with a perfect cabaret voice, strong, a big band kind of voice that lifts you, and a presence that belongs on stage. Her “I’ve got Rhythm” is cinematic.

Maude Maggart, photo Lucy Komisar.

We have missed Maude Maggart in New York since she moved to California. Her soprano is still lilting, an elegant sound with trills in “Why Was I Born.” And then in “Once in a Blue Moon,” her voice is ethereal. It seems like a recording of the 40s.

Barbara Brussell in “This Nearly Was Mine” has a sound almost quivering in sadness as she tells the story of a love story gone wrong. It was like a theater piece, amazing acting.

Natalie Douglas, photo Lucy Komisar.

Natalie Douglas conjures up Lena Horne in “I Love to Love” and “Stormy Weather” in a jaunty sultry soft jazz mood. She sings up a storm of elegance.

Cabaret Convention 2017, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 60th Street, Oct 16-19, 2017. 10/28/17.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“As You Like It” cut down, and it’s still a charmer

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:58 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Celia and Hannah Cabell as Rosalind, photo Richard Termine.

A modern trippy jazzy smart take on Shakespeare’s couples play (“As You Like It”) about males and females going after each other, circling each other in real life before internet dating sites. In modern dress with a jazzy Elizabethan piano. And with the rather austere stripped down set that director John Doyle is known for. Let’s just do the play!

Rosalind (Hannah Cabell) is dressed as a boy, but doesn’t fool anyone. In fact, forget the real play, about her and her cousin, the duke’s daughter Cecilia (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), hiding out in the forest. (Well, rather bereft of trees.) And about Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe), who she is in love with. And a shepherd who wants the woman who wants the fake man, Rosalind.

Kyle Scatliffe as Orlando and Hannah Cabell as Rosalind, photo Lenny Stucker.

Plus an older guy (André De Shields), a jazz man, and slightly funny, flaky lady with a ukulele. By then I couldn’t remember Shakespeare’s play at all, seems to have gotten lost. Cutting it to 1 ¾ hours will do that. And in the theater with three sides, in which I couldn’t always understand the dialogue, which is in blank verse and occasionally was directed away from my hearing.

But didn’t matter. It’s a light charmer, with piano, base, guitar, violin – lots of jazzy inflection of the Elizabethan songs. A musical pas de deux. I liked the mood, the style, fiery spirit.

By the end you are smiling a lot, which is a clue that you really liked this production. Cabell is terrific as Rosalind. And Scatliffe as her swain.  And the ensemble. You will be delighted at this find.

As You Like It.” Written by William Shakespeare, directed by John Doyle. Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St, New York City (bet 3rd & 4th Aves). 212-677-4210. Opened Sept 28, 2017, closes Oct 22, 2017. 10/9/17.

 

 

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

“In the Blood” gritty, surreal, sardonic look at how their betters treat unmarried mothers

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:36 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Saycon Sengbloh as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

From Hester in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, to Hester, La Negrita (the excellent Saycon Sengbloh) today, naïve trusting women with no economic independence are the victims of men, and then the victims of the social managers and critics, the moral cops of society, who blame them for being the victim.

In Suzan-Lori Parks’ “In the Blood,” first staged in 1999, Hester had a child out of wedlock with her teenage lover, Chilli (Michael Braun), who promptly split. And then she has more. She is excoriated by a chorus of social betters who yell at the unmarried mother: “She don’t got no skills, ‘cept one.” She’s a “burden to society…. Bad news in her blood.” The writing on the wall is SLUT.

The play is surreal and stylized, with adults playing the kids, her “five treasures, five joys.” She has told the kids all their daddies died in the war.

The Cast, photo Joan Marcus.

They live under a bridge, and trash, the detritus of life, regularly arrives through yellow barrels that make a chute. The kids’ play is mashing tin cans or running up the slanting bridge support and sliding down.

Hester wears black pants, a beige polo shirt and high red sneakers. She is naïve, gullible, good-hearted and abused and insulted by everyone. Not as if she doesn’t notice: “Bad boys writing on my home… a mean ugly word to hurt my feelings.” She has one of the kids wipe off SLUT.

But in a story where she is pilloried for having kids out of wedlock, the people who chastise her abuse her for sex. (Pilloried is a good word here, as it conjures up the Scarlett Letter era when that was a punishment.)

Saycon Sengbloh as Hester and Jocelyn Bioh as Welfare Lady, photo Joan Marcus.

Her friend Amiga Gringa (Ana Reeder) owes Hester money but cheats her. She had sex with Hester in front of a paying audience.

The doctor (Frank Wood) says higher ups wants to spay her. Turns out he had sex with her

A welfare worker (Jocelyn Bioh) in a bright blue suit and pink heels wrapped in plastic assures us of her valuable role, “I walk the line between us and them.” But, “She is a low-class person… we have absolutely nothing in common.” She brings Hester home to a threesome. Hypocrisy could drown every adult Hester deals with.

Russel G. Jones as Reverend D and Saycon Sengbloh as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

A street corner preacher Rev D. (Russel G. Jones) who doesn’t want to part with the cash in his collection plate says, “Your clothes don’t have to be torn…. You don’t have to hate yourself,” but refuses to own up to his child.

The reverend wants to give to the “respectable” poor. He says, “Gimmie foreign poor. Poverty exotica. Gimmie brown and yellow skins against a non-Western landscape, some savanna, some rain forest, some rice paddy.” Where the only English they know is “thank you,” said into the camera. So, how come the reverend slept with Hester, who had come to him for help? He explains, “Suffering is an enormous turn-on.”

Parks is brilliant in skewering a penchant for supporting exotic poor in faraway lands and ignoring or showing contempt for those at home.

The ensemble cast moves through their double roles with dark comedic aplomb. And director Sarah Benson almost makes one think gritty “documentary” instead of biting, sardonic play.

In the Blood.” Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Sarah Benson. Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-244-7529. Opened Sept 17, 2017, closes Oct 15, 2017. 10/9/17.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

“F**king A” is dark play about the cruelty that afflicts the poor

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 3:13 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Suzan-Lori Parks reimagines Hester of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “A Scarlet Letter” in a time when small children are imprisoned for stealing food and their sentences extended for decades. And when bounty hunters go after escaped prisoners, who they will torture and kill.

Christine Lahti as Hester, photo Joan Marcus.

Think “Les Miz” and the slave-era South. Injustice and cruelty stalk the land. Under Jo Bonney taut direction, the play is strong, disturbing, surreal, naturalistic. Parks has also done the music and lyrics for the dark original songs.

Hester Smith (the riveting, exceptional Christine Lahti) is an abortionist. Her house in made of pock-marked mud walls. Her apron is stained with blood. When she talks about sex or women’s bodies with Canary Mary (a sultry Joaquina Kalukango), the lover of the mayor (Marc Kudisch), they use a weird gobbledygook, a ladies’ language.

Her life revolves around her son in prison. She saves her money to buy the right for a picnic with him.

The smarmy mayor wants to have his progeny rule for a thousand years and is angry his wife (Elizabeth Stanley) doesn’t conceive. He tells Canary he will kill his wife and take her money.

Elizabeth Stanley as mayor’s wife, Marc Kudisch as the mayor, photo Joan Marcus.

The three hunters (J. Cameron Barnett, Peter Romano and Marlene Ginader) are itching for the prey. They sing, “There used to be plenty of jobs to work, but then the factories tanked. I used to live in a lovely house. Had to give it back to the bank…With jobs so scarce and times so hard, some folks have turned to crime. The law locks all the bad ones up ….when they escape it’s good for us, cause we hunt…. but we do not eat what we catch!”

Desperate workers without jobs may steal, and other workers without jobs make a living catching and killing them.

The son (an impressive Donovan Mitchell), known as “The Monster,” escapes and his picture is put over town. Meanwhile, Hester is provided a picnic with another convict, and told he is her son. He rapes her. The son comes to house. He steals her money. The mayor’s wife has sex with the son and gets pregnant. But Hester plots revenge.

Hester says to her son, “You used to be so good. What happened?”

He replies, “Oh – this and that.” He sings, “You think it would take so much work to create the devil incarnate? But it’s easy….A small bit of hate in the heart will inflate and that’s more, so much more, than enough to make you a Monster.”

Evil always wins over good. This is a very difficult, painful, powerful play.

F**king A.” Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jo Bonney. Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-244-7529. Opened Sept 11, 2017; closes Oct 8, 2017. 10/7/17.

 

Monday, September 25, 2017

“Mary Jane” absorbing drama of how mothers cope when kids have incurable illness

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 9:00 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Mothers coping with seriously ill children who will never be healthy and normal is the theme of Amy Herzog’s new play.

Sounds depressing, and it is, but it’s also curiously rather uplifting. Because it’s about the women’s trying to maintain normality, loving their children with a kind of forcefulness and desperation as if that could will a cure. And with Anne Kauffman’s naturalistic direction, the play never gets near soap opera.

Carrie Coon as Mary Jane and Susan Pourfar as Brianne, photo Joan Marcus.

Herzog brings you slowly into the story and the life of Mary Jane (the excellent Carrie Coon). Things in her apartment seem normal. The super (Brenda Wehle) is attempting to fix a clogged sink drain. You don’t really know the facts until suddenly, subtly, they are apparent.

Mary Jane’s son Alex was born early and had brain damage. Now he is almost 3. He can’t communicate. He has seizures. Her husband couldn’t handle that and left them.

Mary Jane’s interactions are real and poignant. She helps Brianne (Susan Pourfar), a new mother of a sick kid, with advice about a baby carriage that is good for carrying oxygen. At the hospital, she chats with an Orthodox Jewish women, Chaya (also Pourfar), who talks about the support that comes from her community. You wonder where these women get the fortitude to handle these personal tragedies with such composure.

The child has round-the-clock nurses. We meet Sherry (Liza Colón-Zayas) who sets up IVs. Sherry’s niece (Danaya Esperanza) remarks on Alex’s great hair. The music therapist (also Esperanza) sings to him. Mary Jane insists that Alex, who can’t talk, really understands her when she talks to him. You never see him.


Liza Colón-Zayas as Sherry, a nurse, and Carrie Coon as Mary Jane, photo Joan Marcus.

There’s a problem when a seizure leads to a 7-week hospital stay. Mary Jane insists on staying at the hospital, and that threatens the job she got because her boss went to college with her sister. Losing the job would cancel her health insurance, which covers home nursing. We don’t know how that works out.

We see the tension, but the crises are dealt with matter-of-factly. Under Kaufman’s direction, this is utterly natural, real life, not exploitative tear-jerking TV. She works with a first-rate ensemble cast.

I wondered why Herzog did this play. It’s not a usual topic. Did this happen to her or a friend or member of her family?

It was depressing. Still, I’m glad I saw it for Herzog’s artistry. For the challenge of taking on such a difficult subject and making an audience uncomfortable but moved.

Mary Jane.”  Written by Amy Herzog, directed by Anne Kauffman. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th St., New York City. (between Bowery & 2nd Ave). 212-460-5475. Opened Sept 25, 2017, closes Oct 29, 2017. 9/24/17.

Monday, September 18, 2017

“Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender” is political rally as theater piece

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:10 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Standup comedy, political rally, late night talk TV? It’s hard to know what to make of Michael Moore’s theater event billed as a play. Donald Trump’s black and white photo is the backdrop. A box on the upper right has red, white and blue bunting. It’s the presidential box and Trump and family have been invited. Moore is wearing his signature worker’s blue shirt and cap.

Michael Moore with Trump photo in background, photo Joan Marcus.

He starts out arguing political issues — that a majority of American agree on equal pay for women, climate change, health care but they don’t hold power. This will be Moore’s 12-step meeting on how the audience can change that. He jokes, “Everyone gets an arm band and a machete and we take this place by midnight.”

And then he tells the audience to get the 5calls.org app that tells people the issues congress will vote on or hold hearings on, plus name of the person’s representative and phone number, even dials it and gives talking points. He tells them to run for office.

He does a comic riff on items the TSA says people should not take with them on planes, and pulls items out of a suitcase: dynamite, meat cleaver, microwave oven, power tool, cattle prod, hand grenades, leaf blower, a Muslim – and a woman with a headscarf rises out of the carry-on.

If you like Moore’s politics, you will like this show. Except for some silly parts, including a contest between an audience Canadian and American to show who knows more about political geography. Didn’t quite turn out as scripted.

The most interesting bits are autobiographical.

In 1971, the Elks Club took only whites. His father had planned to join, saw the form and walked out. Moore, 17, was at a Michigan Boys’ State and noticed a sign advertising an Elks prize for best speech on Abraham Lincoln. He wrote and won with “How dare the Elks Club sponsor a contest about Abraham Lincoln when …..this is Michigan not Mississippi. And I don’t want your stinkin’ trophy.” The story was on CBS, Senator Phil Hart held hearings, and (official) race barriers at private clubs were ended.

At 18 and a high school senior, an assistant principle made him bend over and slapped him with a wooden paddle, because his shirt tails were out. He ran for the school board. Seven adults ran against him and split the vote. He became the youngest elected official in the U.S. There’s a nice projected photo of him sitting at a board table with the others glowering. But he collected information on how badly the school was run, and by the end of the year, the board had fired the principle and assistant.

Michael Moore, photo Joan Marcus.

In 1984, President Reagan was going to Germany and would lay a wreath in the Bitburg cemetery at the graves of Nazi soldiers. Moore and a friend who had family members killed in the Holocaust decided to go there.

To get into the site, they joined an ABC camera crew by volunteering to carry their equipment. When Reagan arrived, they unfurled a bedsheet that said, “We came from Michigan USA to remind you. They killed my family.” He flashes the photo. Guards grabbed the two and dropped them in a distant cornfield. But the picture went worldwide.

A story of how one person makes a difference. Harper Collins told him the book they just printed in 2001 had to be toned down. He said no. They said it would be pulped. He read two chapters at a labor conference in New Jersey and told the audience the copies would be destroyed. An Englewood librarian got on a listserv and in a few days, librarians with picket signs protested at the publisher’s Madison Avenue headquarters. The publisher’s rep, an Australian (the publisher was Rupert Murdoch) said they would put the 50,000 books in the stores, but after that, nothing. No publicity or book tour.

Four days later, the books were sold out and the company went to 59 printings. The book spent 29 weeks as a best seller and was published in 27 languages, all because of a librarian in Englewood NJ.

Happy ending. But some of what Moore says is serious and scary. He plays a Glen Beck audio interview on the Bill O’Reilly show where the rightwing radio host talks about choking Moore to death. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani says on Fox News, “I’m against the death penalty except for people like Michael Moore.”

Michael Moore, photo Joan Marcus.

Moore was getting 1000 death threats a month and needed a bodyguard. The bodyguard got second degree burns by intercepting a coffee cup thrown at Moore, another got a knife in his hand when he raised it to protect Moore. A white supremacist made a fertilizer bomb to blow up Moore’s house, but his AK47 went off, and a neighbor called the police. Chilling.

There is another murder, murders, that happened. Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder decided to save $15 million by shifting Flint’s drinking water source from clean Lake Huron to the Flint River, which was polluted by half a dozen factories. The population of Flint is majority black. Officials at the General Motors plant said they need to get filters, because the water was corroding parts. So, Snyder shifted GM back to clean water. But not the citizens, who drank poison for a year and a half.

Within weeks, kids were going to the hospital with skin rashes. They tested positive for lead. The water was drunk by 10,000 children under 6. They will have permanent brain damage. The local environmental agency cooked the books. There was no press coverage. The victims were black and poor.

Moore declares, “No terrorist organization has figured out how to poison a city. A Republican governor figured it out.” Postscript, “The average value of homes in Flint is now zero.”

Moore says, “Flint was prologue to Trump’s America. We all live in Flint now.”

I saw the show before the climate change hurricanes.

Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender.” Written by Michael Moore, directed by Michael Mayer. Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened Aug 10, 2017. 9/18/17.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

“Prince of Broadway” remembers great musicals but forgets the politics

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 6:34 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Tony Yazbeck and Kaley Ann Voorhees, in “West Side Story,” photo Matthew Murphy.

Harold Prince produced and directed some of Broadway’s brilliant musicals: “Cabaret,” “Candide,” “Evita,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” “Fiddler.” Those shows were about politics and ideas. I was glad to see a reprise of famous numbers, but I was sorry this production did not deal with Prince’s vision. It was more “and then I directed/produced” rather than this is why I put on this show. David Thompson’s book should have made the point that they were very political shows. That and their artistry is why they succeeded.

Prince starts as a young man, and we see him through seven decades, with various actors playing the role, all with glasses perched on their heads in his signature style. Prince explains that his success was about the luck of being in the right place at the right time. But that’s not how he choose his shows. It was his political vision.

Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, Tony Yazbeck, in “Follies,” photo Matthew Murphy.

He helped Sondheim with “West Side Story,” the riveting play about ethnic strife. Then we see “She Loves Me,” a feminist take on relationships. “Superman” didn’t work. It was just fantasy.

His favorite was “Follies,” which he directed. One of mine too. Complex, sophisticated, feminist, about what happens to former show girls decades later when their lives depend on the men they married.

Chuck Cooper, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” photo Matthew Murphy.

And “Fiddler,” about repression in Czarist Russia. Chuck Cooper is very good as Tevye. Black guy, Jew? Makes sense for one to play the other. They share repression. And tradition.

“Cabaret” of course was based on the growing Nazi power in 1930s Germany. Prince got a Tony for directing the show in 1967. Brandon Uranowitz, with painted face and pink vest, is good as the MC performing “Willkommen.” And in the chilling words sung to a gorilla (Karen Ziemba), “If you knew her like I do, she doesn’t look Jewish at all.”

Brandon Uranowitz, in “Cabaret,” photo Matthew Murphy.

Ziemba is terrific as Fräulein Schneider, the German trying to get by, in “So what?” Bryonha Marie Parham brings Sally Bowles to life. In her jazzy rendition of the title song, her voice has the power of a sweet musical horn.

By the way, it must be said that the cast is uniformly excellent, in voice and acting. And Susan Stroman’s choreography is as usual vivid. She is also co-director.

In “Company,” an erector set stage features the terrific “Here’s to the ladies who lunch….a matinee, a Pinter play.” Again about women and their choices, or that they didn’t have many. Prince directed.

Back to serious politics, “Evita” declares that the voice of the people cannot be denied. It’s nicely, militantly staged as the crowd lifts protest signs.

Interesting that Prince put on three plays about innocent men imprisoned and brutalized. “Parade” is a soul-smashing musical about the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (Tony Yazbeck), who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old employee. The yellow press (which was all of it) boiled up anti-Semitism, and when Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, he was kidnapped from prison and lynched.

Janet Dacal, in “Evita,” photo Matthew Murphy.

In “Spiderwoman,” a gay man (Uranowitz), who is a window dresser at a store, and a leftist revolutionary are both tortured in a Brazilian prison. (The U.S. government beginning with Lyndon Johnson supported the Brazilian generals’ coup and the 21-year dictatorship 1964-84.) To survive the abuse, the gay Molina has movie fantasizes about “the Spiderwoman” (Janet Dacal).

And another prison story, “Sweeney Todd,” which Prince directed, is about a man (Cooper) who returns after being unjustly condemned to 15 years in a penal colony. He learns that the judge raped his wife, who then poisoned herself. And that the judge is keeping his daughter. He will be revenged. Karen Ziemba is very good as the gruesome pie maker.

“Phantom,” one of the most successful musicals in U.S. theater history, is a fantasy that turns on personal longing and despair. And it worked better than “Superman,” the fantasy that never got out of cartoonland.

Prince had a genius for producing and directing plays that dealt with social and political issues. If this production makes people aware of that, it deepens their understanding of the best in American musical theater.

Prince of Broadway.” Book by David Thompson, directed by Harold Prince, co-directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 W. 47th St, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened August 24, 2017, closes October 22, 2017. 9/15/17.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

“For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday” flies into a tempest of clichés

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 1:00 am

By Lucy Komisar

Playwright Sarah Ruhl has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony nominee. She even got a MacArthur “genius” Award. She has done some fine work, especially the funny feminist “The Clean House” and the bizarre “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.” But this play doesn’t make the cut.

Ron Crawford as Dad and David Chandler, Daniel Jenkins, Lisa Emery, Keith Reddin & Kathleen Chalfant as his children, photo Joan Marcus.

The first part, about the pater familias (Ron Crawford) yellow-faced, near comatose and dying, seems to take place in tedious real time.  He chokes and death-gurgles a lot. His progeny suffer with him. (Where was Peter Pan to bring in some joy?) Hard to judge the role of director Les Waters, since he didn’t have much to work with.

In the background is the clapboard house where the family grew up. And when he finally breathes his last, the five brothers and sisters repair there for a good old Irish wake, at which we hear about their lives and politics. Pretty evenly divided between right and left, though this is the Bill Clinton era, not the present.

But, as this is fantasy, dad gets up from the death bed and goes into the house, where he is met by the beloved dog who we learn has been put down. (If you know “Peter Pan,” the dog has a role to play. Cute.) Dad sits at the wake table, in a Santa hat.

Ron Crawford, Keith Reddin, David Chandler, Lisa Emery, & Kathleen Chalfant, photo Joan Marcus.

The college prof brother John (Daniel Jenkins) plays “the Saints” on a trumpet. They drink Jamisons and tell bad jokes. Or clichés like “Man created god as a means of social control.”

Invisible dad drops a bowl. On the mention of Tinkerbell, he hits a spoon on a cup. There’s a quip about Newt Gingrich. This play is drowning in clichés. A reference to a conservative newspaper, The New York Times. Well, Ruhl got that right. And an attack on Ann Coulter. Does Coulter go back that far?

They fight about politics. The father who went to college on the GI bill became a conservative. (It’s called pulling up the drawbridge.)

Ann (Kathleen Chalfant) asks, “When did you all go to the dark side under Reagan?” Yes, Chalfant is a terrific actor, but she needs a script, not a political speech.

Daniel Jenkins, Keith Reddin, Kathleen Chalfant & Lisa Emery, photo Joan Marcus.

The gimmick is that as a child Ann played Peter Pan in a local community theater. And that is indeed a cute segment. But you want to groan even then. Remember Peter’s shadow that Wendy sewed on?

WENDY (Lisa Emery)
Everything has a shadow, Peter Pan. Honestly you should have gone to Jungian analysis. You would have learned that you can’t experience joy without your dark side.

PETER PAN (Chalfant)
I don’t know what you just said, Wendy.

WENDY
You can live on Freud until you’re 40 but when you’re 70 and facing death you either need religion or Carl Jung.

Kathleen Chalfant & David Chandler, photo Joan Marcus.

My favorite character of the play is Captain Hook, played by brother Jim (David Chandler), also a doctor, who has been taking care of dad. He has a great red coat and long curls and chews the scenery. There is even sword play.

Director Waters does a nice job with the Peter Pan fantasy. Perhaps it solves a logistics problem, but he gets a bed to fly.

Does this all have a deeper meaning? Sorry, it eluded me.

Ruhl says she wrote the play for her mother on her 70th birthday, because mom had played Peter Pan in the local Davenport, Iowa, theater. She should have just got her a cake.

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday.” Written by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Les Waters. Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42 St, New York City. 212) 279-4200. Opened Sept. 13, 2017, closes Oct 1, 2017. 9/13/17.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

“1984” describes the chilling past and future of the American superstate

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:44 pm

By Lucy Komisar

When British writer George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published in 1949 it was viewed as a dystopian novel. Now, it seems taken from the news.

Orwell’s work, adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, is stunning theater as well as trenchant political commentary. I’d say surreal, but it’s too close to the truth. Except it is surreal in the sense that it mixes realistic staging with what we used to call horror video.

Photo Julieta Cervantes.

The story is set in a province of a superstate that is always at war. The superstate is run by and for the elite, which cares not for the welfare of citizens but for its own power.

The government engages in manipulation and surveillance of the public. The police and the military serve it. The system is directed by Big Brother, the party leader, who is venerated but not seen. But sees all: Big Brother is watching you.

This state uses an invented language to turn lies into truth. Independent thinkers are guilty of thought crimes and are subject to enforcement by the thought police. That spells trouble for Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth to rewrite or delete past newspaper articles so they support the party line.

Orwell’s post-war book was taken to describe Stalin’s Russia. Orwell was a democratic socialist and fierce anti-communist, as his “Animal Farm” shows. It is chilling to realize that his superstate mirrors the United States in key details. Always at war, check. Run by and for the elite, check. Manipulation and surveillance of the public, check. Language that argues war is peace, check. Enforcement against thought criminals?

Ask the whistleblowers of government crimes who have been jailed. Ask Julian Assange. Consider the police and military who enforce the elite’s policies against all opposition, check. Oh, and there’s that high-tech torture scene. Ask the victims of Abu Graib. As they left their seats, audience members voiced the connections.

The play starts with a meeting about Winston Smith’s diary recounting that horrific “past” of a time when, “We should never have trusted them.” The book says there is objective truth, and freedom is the freedom to know that. [I could get into the current infantile fantasy that there is no truth, only your identity. But let’s not go there.]

Winston (a strong, brave, frightened Tom Sturridge) is taken to an antique shop, where in a snow globe he can see the past. A child is screaming to her father, “You are a traitor, a thought criminal.” And “Big Brother is watching.”

Photo Julieta Cervantes.

Winston must operate with Newspeak, the only language that gets shorter every year. When there are no words to express something, there is no thought. There is plenty of time for “two minutes of hate.”

That’s pretty au courant.  Who do we hate? Muslims, check. Russians who approve of their government about twice as much as Americans approve of theirs, check. Foreigners with brown skins, check. Anyone who does sex differently than the majority do, check.

And there are the evergreen slogans, “War is peace” (U.S. supported genocide in Yemen at the moment) and “Ignorance is strength” (climate change, except in Texas.)

Winston turns out to be a quiet anti-party revolutionary. By the word. Before shelves of books, he cries, “Down with the party, down with Big Brother.”

He meets Julia (a cinematic Olivia Wilde) who shares his antipathy to the system. They become lovers. She gives him chocolate, “Stuff they keep for themselves.”

She says they can’t meet again. They would be captured, tortured. But in their lovers’ bedroom there is a telescreen. Of course, they are recorded. [This is why you put masking tape over the camera on your laptop. This is why you don’t get “useful” wifi devices that record ambient conversations.]

Back to the kid who turned in her father. Parsons (Wayne Duvall): “My kid made sure he was some kind of enemy agent. Might have been parachuted in or something. But this is the part that’s really fantastic. What put her onto him in the first place? He was wearing a funny pair of shoes! So chances are he was a foreigner. Pretty smart, right? Pretty smart for a seven year old….I’m glad they watch us. I am. There are people out there who hate us. Hate our way of life. And if we’re being watched, so are they.”

Reed Birney as O’Brien, Olivia Wilde as Julia, Tom Sturridge as Winston, photo Julieta Cervantes.

But then there is a chance at fighting back. Winston meets someone from The Outer Party, the opposition. O’Brien (a cool, sterile Reed Birney) who appears to be a high-level functionary but is presenting himself as the opposition, tells him, “You need read Goldstein’s book.”

This is a book by the opposition leader which is read in secret. He tells him, “An idea is the only thing that has every changed the world.” But would even a good guy use terrible tactics for the right cause?

O’Brien: If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face – are you prepared to do that?
Winston: Yes.
O’Brien: You are prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so?
Winston: Yes.
O’Brien: You are prepared to lose your identity – forego who you are – or to live in hiding?
Winston: Yes.
O’Brien: You are prepared to terminate your contact with each other [with Julia] – to never see each other again?
NO.

There is no safety from the thought police. Parsons is shouting in his sleep, “Down with Big Brother.” His 7-year-old (Sami Bray/Willow McCarthy) listening through the key hole turns him in.

Finally, Winston, entrapped by O’Brien, arrives in Room 101, a box of flashing lights in the Ministry of Love. O’Brien tells him, “You suffer from defective memory.” The torturers wear white suits of the sort used to protect against chemicals. There is darkness, then a drill sound, and he spits blood. He will be electrocuted because he tells truth.

Fast forward to Abu Graib. (Note that CIA officer John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the agency’s rendition and torture program, oh, excuse me, love program, was jailed for two years.)

Tom Sturridge as Winston and Reed Birney as O’Brien, photo Julieta Cervantes.

What will defeat the party? What will defeat the Brotherhood? Humanity? Except that history in the future is a boot in the face. O’Brien: Imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever. The face of the enemy. Defeated. Powerless. But about to be cured.

If you want a picture of the future, Winston, it looks like this. It will always look like this. It has always looked exactly like this.”

Winston is reminded that he was willing to commit murder.

The system that organizes world is chocolate. It’s all that you are, all you care about. O’Brien reminds, “The individual is dead. The party will always win.” But back to the opening segment, which is the fiction that before 2050 the party fell. No evidence yet that the American war and torture party will be defeated by 2050. Plenty of evidence that the crimes depicted in the play will continue.

1984.” Written by George Orwell, adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan. Hudson Theatre, 145 West 44th St, New York City. (855) 801-5876 or 212-239-6200. Opened June 22, 2017, closes Oct 8, 2017. 9/2/17.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dance Forms showcases performers from classical to avant garde

Filed under: Dance — Lucy Komisar @ 3:01 pm

Dance Forms has been presenting performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 16 years, everything from classical to avant garde, from major company principals to unknowns.

Brandon Lawrence, soloist Birmingham Royal Ballet, photo Garry Platt.

This year’s International Choreographers’ Showcase had major European and American ballet soloists and the iconic post-modern choreographer Douglas Dunn, who danced with Merce Cunningham’s company. As one expects from Dance Forms, there were some very fine pieces. Of eleven, I selected these six.

Arms swinging, body twisting, muscles rippling, Brandon Lawrence, soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet performed “Angel.” Are his bent arms wings and his high kicks flight?

Kathy Diehl, photo Garry Platt.

Indeed, he seems godlike in this improvised piece driven by electronic music by a Massive Attack (Mad Professor Remix) concept and directed by choreographer Susana B. Williams, who also helms Dance-Forms Productions.

In “Singular Moments of Unraveling Truth” choreographed by the two dancers, Kathy Diehl and Leanne Rinelli move to a liturgical sound. In black leggings and gray tunics, their fluid bodies combine bends, high kicks, and twists with slow moves of arms and sweep of bodies. Sometimes they hold positions kneeling as in prayer or hands held up the simulate prayer books. It is a graceful and supple performance. The piece premiered at Artisan Works in Sept. 2015.

Rainer Krenstetter, principal dancer Miami City Ballet, and Breno Bittencourt, formerly principal dancer Aalto Theater Essen, photo Garry Platt.

Rainer Krenstetter, principal dancer with Miami City Ballet and Breno Bittencourt, formerly principal dancer with Aalto Theater Essen performed “Supreme” of Né:Roi, choreographed by Ken Ludden, director of Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet. This Edinburgh premiere is the excerpt of a full length ballet on the subject of destiny.

The two classical male dancers do pas de deux with lifts that they might do with female dancers, and they are utterly natural, not campy. It is a treat for lovers of classical ballet. Lots of high turns and kicks in air. The violin music is from an original composition by Australian David Pyke recorded with the Moscow Philharmonic. The result is an elegant highlight.

Dancer-choreographer Douglas Dunn, with Emily Pope and Paul Singh, photo Garry Platt.

“On Acis” by post-modern choreographer Douglas Dunn starts out classically, to the sounds of opera lieder inspired by the story of Acis and Galatea. Dancers Emily Pope and Paul Singh do playful jumps and turns.

Then Dunn, a comic Cyclops in leather vest and pink skirt, arrives on stage to challenge them with a lighted baton. A good-natured romp with Dunn doing the jokey bits he is known for. This is an Edinburgh premiere.

Yun-Chen Liu and Palmer Matthews, photo Garry Platt.

In “Fine Without Me/You?,” Yun-Chen Liu and Palmer Matthews dance to a French love song, “Je t’écrirai” [I will write to you] by Alain Leamauff.

In this charming piece by choreographer Jin-Wen Yu, their bodies connect, pull apart, come together in spirited moves to a pop rhythm. It is an Edinburgh premiere.

“Unearthing” by Leanne Rinelli, which she performs with Laura Corral, Marina Garbalena, and Michelle Pacillas, is an abstract piece done to electronic music by Apparat. This is an excerpt of a work that premiered in El Paso, Texas, in Nov. 2016.

Leanne Rinelli, photo Garry Platt

The music is “On Oath” by Andy Stott. I liked the angular almost robotic movements, reaching and bending, arms pulling as dancers stretch and arch on the floor. It’s a very fine modern moment in Susana B. Williams’ purposeful and eclectic collection.

Dance Forms, Directed by Susana B. Williams, Greenside Emerald Theater, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/23/17.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Brecht’s “The Good Person of Sichuan” gets cool jazzy staging by Italia Conti Ensemble

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:04 pm

By Lucy Komisar

The Three Gods – Patrick Medway, James Charalambous, Simon Hannon, photo Caitlin Taylor.

Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Person of Szechwan” (Der gute Mensch von Sezuan) is often translated less literally as “The Good Woman of Setzuan.”

Here a group of second-year students at London’s Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts gets the right translation, uses working class Scottish, Brit and Irish accents to establish class,  and does a very good modern interpretation, realism tempered by abstraction.

Three wise men need to find a good person, to prove that there can be one. They come upon a water seller, Wang (Jonny Amies), and ask for a place to stay. The only person he finds to offer them a room is Shen Te, a prostitute (Natasha Calland in first half of the run, Hannah Morrison in the second). She has been trying to survive with what she earns as a “lady of the night.” But with the money she gets from the gods, she buys a tobacco shop from Mrs. Shin (Jessica Hume). And she invites in the poor.

The Family – Louis Boyer as Husband, Hannah Morrison as Sister-in-law, Zoë Hickson as Niece, George Hayter as Brother, Simon Hannon as Nephew, photo Caitlin Taylor.

After being taken advantage of for being too “good,” Shen Te invents a male alter ego, Shui Ta, her supposed visiting cousin.

The back story is about predatory capitalism. Her greedy family takes what they didn’t earn. A carpenter (Patrick Medway) demands $50 for shelves he has built. The “cousin” offers him $2 for the shelves.

Shui Ta does not give handouts the way Shen Te often did. He throws the poor out.

A young pilot, Yang Sun (Cameron Percival) arrives. A hanger manager will give him a job for a $500 kickback. Shen Te falls in love with him. She will give him her money. But he will take advantage of her. It turns out that Yang Sun is selling cocaine.

Hannah Morrison as Shui Ta, Jessica Hume as Mrs Shin, Cameron Percival as Yang Sun, photo Caitlin Taylor.

I’ve seen this play with professional companies. Kristine Landon Smith’s production does not suffer by comparison.

With sets mostly of piled boxes, the actors fit quite well into the Brechtian underclass. The jazz music, a good substitute for the Kurt Weil sound, is scored by Graeme du Fresne, with actors as the band.

The students are skilled and the staging inventive. The production is worthy of Brecht.

“The Good Person of Sichuan.” Written by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Michael Hofmann, directed by Kristine Landon Smith. Original score by Graeme Du Fresne. The Italia Conti Ensemble at theSpace, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/21/17.

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

“Women at War” depicts sexism endured by female troops U.S. sent to Afghanistan

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 1:48 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Rebecca Johannsen’s “Women at War” cuts to the heart of the irony of American military women serving in Afghanistan to relate to women in one of the most benighted anti-female countries in the world.

Rebecca Johannsen as member of U.S. Army’s Female Engagement Team, photo Eden Orfanos.

The women in the U.S. Army’s Female Engagement Team, deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013, were supposed to engage with local Afghan women to build relationships (hearts and minds) and also gather intelligence. Advanced Americans, oppressed Afghanis.

The backdrop is three camouflage-garbed figures with heads of balloons on which will inventively be projected moving features. In a corner is a stack of sandbags topped by a pair of boots. The set and costumes are by Mayou Trikerioti.

Johannsen wears camouflage pants, a t-shirt and a pony tail. The voices she speaks are pulled together from interviews with women who joined the U.S. armed forces and found that though they were supposed to be fighting stereotypes, they got caught in them. The American women suffered from sexism U.S. military style: no burqas, but plenty of what underlies them.

Rebecca Johannsen, photo Eden Orfanos.

One soldier is from a small town in Texas. She had no opportunity for education, no option except marriage, kids, drugs, and Walmart.

In training for Afghanistan, males try to break women’s spirit. One woman, trained as a medic, makes a tough climb up a mountain after a soldier there is hit by an IED, an explosive device. A male officer gets angry. How dare she show herself to be better than men?

A male officer has affairs with four or five female officers. Use of power or authority?

Johannsen repeats the story of the soldiers who spied on nude female troops and put their photos on a Facebook page. The balloon faces scowl.

In some villages, people are starving, have nothing. A sensible woman disobeys a captain to bring a man a bandage and an antibiotic cream for his kid. No reason given for the captain’s orders, except he is in charge. The way to win hearts and minds.

Afghani men vent their sexism in all directions. The women soldiers are harassed by them hissing “ch ch ch” at them.

Rebecca Johannsen, photo Eden Orfanos.

An Afghani woman who trained to be policewoman to feed her family is shot and killed. When U.S. authorities at a checkpoint demand that a woman in a burqa show her face and she refuses, the man with her slaps her.

Johannsen is good at bringing these characters to life. My only quibble is her portrayal of soldiers who appear to suffer PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Her depiction of their “losing it” is done via bizarre spastic moves that come across only as weird. But for audiences who don’t know what America’s female military have endured, this is an important play.

Women at War.” Written, directed and performed by Rebecca Johannsen. C Cubed, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/18/17.

“Action at a Distance” is a Swiftian tale of how to profit from military murder

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 9:16 am

By Lucy Komisar

This play is a satiric modest proposal that appears inspired by Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay of how one could benefit from catastrophe. If you recall, Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland, from Being a Burden on their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick.” To deal with the great poverty in Ireland, he suggested that the Irish eat their children.

Dom Luck as Josh, Rosa Caines as Chris, photo Molly-Rose Curran.

Playwright Rory Horne in a modern version suggests an ingenious way of benefiting from civilian deaths in Syria caused by America drones by using data analysis and the Internet. The director is Nina Cavaliero, who here eschews fantasy for realism.

We are in Boulder City where Christine (Rosa Caines) connects via an on-line dating service to Josh (Dom Luck). Josh, out of school for about ten years, is a data analyst for a tech company. He voted for Obama “the first time.” We see a projection of Obama as Josh says, “The government admitted to 181 casualties; it was ten or 15 times that.”

He knows, because nights and weekends, he does data analysis of the drone killing of civilians. He communicates with people on the spot assessing the damage. Collateral damage, otherwise known as murder. He does this for a charity called “Conflict Clarity.” He’s concerned about “what’s being done in our name as Americans.”

Rosa Caines as Chris, photo Molly-Rose Curran.

Josh tells Chris that an internet gambling site is using his data, with people betting on how many people will be killed in the next attack. And he has figured out how to game that to raise money for Conflict Clarity.

He looks at TV news to make informed decisions. He maps the movements of attacks. He sees where the militants are going. He uses information about population density, past attacks and the plotted paths of missiles. There’s an offensive in eastern Aleppo. Medical facilities will be gone in a week. Short odds.

He is exhausted from all the hours. Chris, 29, is a plumber but hasn’t gotten work in a while, because she is being undercut in price. Her mother Dolores (Nina Cavaliero) has cancer but fell through the gaps in Obamacare. Chris gets Josh to teach her how to do the betting and take over the task.

They have to use encrypted systems. “How a you tell if you’re being watched?” she asks. “Devices are mis-functioning.

Rosa Caines as Chris photo Molly-Rose Curran.

As she gets confident, her bets go up. She writes the numbers on the floor in chalk. Results are spewed out of a printer. She takes a piece of the profits for her mother’s medical care. (Dolores plays only a small role, in which she is curiously hostile towards her daughter. It distracts.)

Another strike, casualties unconfirmed. But a family of seven, husband, wife — elementary school teachers — and five kids died. Chris is pleased, “I won 90 bucks.” Safe bets are Aleppo, Mosul, Raqqa.

Later she becomes distraught, “Dead children. That is what you are making money from.” Replace internet gamblers with arms companies and private military contractors. And the members of Congress who receive their campaign contributions.

Caines and Luck are good in their roles, and the premise is clever. It takes a while to get to that — the opening internet dating part goes on for about 15 minutes too long – I wondered if I was at the wrong show. But otherwise this young playwright (he seems in his 20s) is at the start of an interesting career.

Action at a Distance.” Written by Rory Horne, directed by Nina Cavaliero. Argonaut Theatre Company at Zoo Southside, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/18/17.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

George Mann’s “Odyssey” is a dazzling masterclass in acting

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 7:56 am

By Lucy Komisar

George Mann as Odysseus, photo John Rankin.

George Mann’s performance in “Odyssey,” the Homer classic, is a tour de force. Directed by Nir Paldi, who co-authored the adaptation with Mann, it is stunning, overwhelming, brilliant. Mann’s voice takes on the sounds of a musical scale, like a many-stringed orchestra. His movements are striking physical theater. He creates time and space peopled by a cast of dozens. He gives a masterclass in acting.

There is no set, just Mann on the stage, with subtle lighting and sometimes a fully lit theater.

Dressed in black pants that reach his shins, t-shirt and sneakers, his Odysseus tells us how he has spent ten years fighting in the Trojan war and nine years fighting to get home, detained by a collection of mishaps and evil creatures.

Meanwhile, his wife Penelope is besieged by 118 suitors who insist she marry one of them, but she will not do so till she knows her husband is dead.

The gods want to help Odysseus return. Athena tells his son Telemachus to sail to speak to the kings who fought alongside his father to find out where he is.

George Mann as Odysseus, photo John Rankin.

How do you mime a spirit god from Mt. Olympus? Mann’s fingers flutter robustly to call up the god Hermes.

Wooshes represent the women feeding soldiers lotus leaves to keep them entranced and prevent their leaving.

Odysseus’s meeting and ingenious defeat of the monstrous one-eyed Cyclops is a sci fi thriller. Mann brandishes his arms and hands in bloody sword play.

Then he turns into an old man, a beggar, and with the help of Athena wreaks gory vengeance on Penelope’s suiters.

Over the course of an hour, you feel as if you’ve watched a cast of hundreds in a film which could not be more creative, intense and dramatic than this one-man show.

Odyssey.” Written and adapted by George Mann and Nir Paldi; directed by Nir Paldi. Theatre Ad Infinitum at Pleasance Ten Dome, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/16/17.

Friday, August 18, 2017

“Todd and God” is quirky comic satire about man and God (who is a woman)

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 7:51 am

By Lucy Komisar

Richard Marsh’s witty offbeat rhyming verse tells of a copy writer chosen by God to save the world. It is very smart and very funny. And full of fantasy, including these “production” photos, of scenes not actually in the play.

Richard Marsh as Todd touches the finger of God, according to Michelangelo, photo David Monteith-Hodge.

Todd (Marsh) is a mild-mannered fellow in his 20s, in jeans and black-rimmed glasses, a copywriter for alumni magazines.

He is in a difficult relationship with Helen (the voice of Marsh), his superior wife, a pediatric surgeon. Todd and Helen are atheists, though Helen seems more insistent about it.

One day Todd is approached by God (Sara Hirsch), who explains, “God is a woman. I make life and I take it.”

As proof of her power, he demands a bacon sandwich delivered by an owl, and gets it.  (The owl has something to do with Harry Potter.) He is impressed. God quickly advises him to ditch segueing into such traditional ideas as heaven and hell: “Actually, they’re both made up. Most of that stuff, and Original Sin was invented by St Augustine. It’s basically Biblical fan fiction.”

Richard Marsh as Todd is in the hand of God, photo David Monteith-Hodge.

He starts questioning her, “Why all the evil?” “Free will.” But God adds, “Here’s the thing – every time I’ve done religion so far, it’s gone a bit wrong….Beat me then and beats me still. How you make war from ‘thou shalt not kill’. I almost regret giving out free will.”

Now Todd wants to start a religion. He has altered his LinkedIn profile to ‘Messiah.’ Helen worries he will become neurotic like her father, a “sweary vicar (also played by Marsh),” whose religion pushed out his wife. Todd’s response to a heckle: “It’s not a cult, it’s a boutique religion.” But Helen leaves him. God says, “It’s hard, dating a messiah. That’s why Jesus stayed single.”

At one point, when Todd tries to contact God, he gets a response: “I’m afraid I can’t take your prayer right now. Leave a message after the angels.” (Sings heavenly choral notes) Then, “I’m just messing with you! I’m always here. I am always here.” My favorite line is God singing “Kumbaya, me, Kumbaya.” “Kumbaya, Lord,” get it?

Todd goes to the zoo and announces, “I am the Chosen One, the leader of Fools. Religion 2.0.” He climbs into the lions’ den. [Biblical, right?] The lions lick him. God declares: “Be strong, my son, you have God in your bones. And half the world is up there with their phones. You’re not here to take your life – You’re here to win back your wife.”

Surviving the lions puts him on TV. He faints and ends up at Helen’s hospital. She will tell him, “You’re the first person ever got famous by being inedible.”

Todd will find himself. You’ll have to see the rest of the show to find out what happens. But that is a mitzvah. (And I’ve left out some of the best parts all the way through. This is just an amuse bouche.)

Marsh in fact is an atheist, whose grandfather was a preacher. Hirsch is an atheist Jew. Their take on God is rather affectionate if not traditional. She is actually a pretty nice deity. And suppose you wanted to change the world, what would you do? No answers here, but the messianic impulse is subtly quaffed. No matter, you will appreciate the very fine actors, Marsh and Hirsch, Coleman’s tongue-in-cheek direction, and the play’s sublime wit.

“Todd and God.” Written by Richard Marsh; directed by Dan Coleman. Pleasance Dome at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/todd-god#overview  August 2017. 8/17/17.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“Borders” a gripping drama of Syria’s liberal opposition and often feckless western press

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 6:41 pm

By Lucy Komisar

It’s 1998. The 6-year-old Syrian Christian draws. Her father wants her to be an artist. There are secret police in her playground.

Sebastian, an idealistic photojournalist just out of university, accompanies a reporter who has gotten an interview with a man hiding in a cave. He takes photos of Osama bin Laden. Sebastian is 21 and wants to change the world. He has some minutes of celebrity through his photos of bin Laden, but he can’t make a go of serious photojournalism, can’t sell his pictures.

Avital Lvova as the Syrian graffiti artist, photo Steve Ullathorne.

“Borders” is the fourth in Henry Naylor’s Arabian Nightmares Series inspired by the catastrophes of the wars in the Middle East. It is the interweaving monologues of two artists, in which one, a Syrian (a vivid Avital Lvova), identified as Nameless, uses art to fight for political liberation and the other, the Brit Sebastian Nightingale (the intense Graham O’Mara), trades photojournalism to take pictures of celebrities.

The story shifts between the two on adjacent stools, each delivering monologues that graphically paint the politics of the surroundings. Naylor’s dialogue is journalistic in its authenticity, and theatrical in its effect. Director Michael Cabot uses two actors to create a cinematic production that makes you think you are there.

The young woman will become a courageous graffiti artist risking her life to spray-paint slogans denouncing Assad. Graffiti artists in fact played an important role in the Syrian uprising. During the Arab Spring, some children who wrote “You’re next Dr. Bashir” on their school wall were tortured. Protests fuel the war. Her parents are seized. She wants to avenge her father. She protests, “Not Sunni, not Alawite, Freedom is what we all want.”

Graham O’Mara as Sebastian Nightingale, photo Steve Ullathorne.

She joins the revolution. Activists are shot dead. She is imprisoned, she describes a woman hung by her arms, then the women are released as not so much of a threat. At a park, she paints under a statue: ‘The Assads: Your Local Family Butchers.” She senses Art’s power.’

The photographer goes on British TV to talk about bin Laden.  When he says he was “dull,” which is what western journalists who interviewed him reported, his agent protests that won’t sell. So he declares, “I met a Supervillain. He didn’t have a freeze ray or laser gun. He just had an idea and a 50 billion bank account.” He recounts that “Eamonn [Holmes, a prominent British TV news host] almost orgasms on the spot.”

Farah marries. (We learn her name is Farah only at the end, as she represents all such women who are anonymous to the West.) She suffers barrel bomb attacks, her husband is jailed and tortured. She is threatened by the arrival of foreign jihadis. One who is also spray-painting against Assad orders her, “Cover yourself, whore.” And spits. She sprays paint in his eyes like Mace. She says, “He screams, face dripping red, I run, leaping over rubble. Bullets crack.”

Sebastian becomes the official photographer of a live music event. Clinking ice in a glass, he thinks about a refugee he once tried to save in a small boat.

Avital Lvova as the Syrian graffiti artist, photo Steve Ullathorne.

When Farah becomes pregnant, she decides to join some 5 million Syrians fleeing the war for Europe. But the West that provoked the war now has borders. It’s the Mediterranean, 2017.

At a party for a show about his work, Sesbastian runs into a print journalist who remarks, “You’re a celebrity, now.”
“Yes.”
“One “of them.”’
“So. What are YOU working on?”
Messenger: “Syrians in the Mediterranean.”
“Oh, is that still going on?”
“More than ever. 600,000 at the last count.”
For those who follow British journalism, Messenger is modeled on John Pilger.

Messenger tells him: “He fucking won, you know. He wanted the division of the communities and he got it. We did it for him. We built walls. We built borders. Round our hearts. Round our minds. All these desperate people, asking for our help – homeless, and tortured – and we all start voting – the Americans, the Brits, the French – we all start voting for them to fuck off and drown.”

Graham O’Mara as Sebastian Nightingale, Avital as Farah, photo Steve Ullathorne

Later, Messenger phones Sebastian: “Got you a gig. A UN fact finding mission in the Med. Patrol boat seeking refugees..” Sebastian is about to say no.
Then: “It’s with Angelina Jolie.”
“Yes yes yes.”

An old fishing boat loaded with refugees is sinking. Farah is six months pregnant and can’t swim. The stories converge. Sebastian is still a photo-journalist, still looking for the money shot. And now refugees are trending.

It’s Naylor’s ironic morality tale. Suddenly you make the connection between the courage of the brave pro-democracy fighters and the westerners with other priorities who left them to sink and suddenly return to share glory on their “rescues.”

O’Mara is terrific as Sebastian, scraggly, sophisticated, full of intellectual fury. Lvova is moving as the Syrian, almost naïvely direct. An important play for our times.

Borders.” Written by Henry Naylor, directed by Michael Cabot. Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/15/17.

Monday, August 14, 2017

“Woman on Fire” tells thrilling story of militant British suffragists

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:23 pm

By Lucy Komisar

This is a moving paen to the bomb-throwing and window-smashing militant British suffragists. A powerful play written and directed by John Woudberg and vividly performed by Claire Moore, it will set every feminist’s blood boiling in anger and pride at what Edith Rigby, a heroic woman who forswore the advantages of being a doctor’s wife, suffered and achieved in the British struggle for the vote. Suffered means being beaten and force-fed in jail hunger strikes, which today one recognizes as torture.

Claire Moore as Edith Rigby, photo John Woudberg.

Rigby’s appearance is bourgeois, as Moore wears an upsweep, green velvet jacket and long purple skirt. Her father was also a doctor, though with ten children life wasn’t always easy, and she was sympathetic to the poor. Early on she was a breaker of rules. Her story starts when at 16 she is the first woman in Preston, Lancashire, to ride a bicycle. A scandal. Does this remind you of Saudi Arabia banning women drivers?

Moore performs this piece as she might recite a dramatic poem. She tells how Rigby marries Charles, 13 years older. He understands that life with her won’t be “a walk in the park.” When Charles demands she do his bidding, because he pays the bills, she shrewdly leaves the household and finds a job as housemaid, so she can pay her way. He drops the demand.

She is concerned about young women working in the mills and asks about their pay, hours and working conditions. She starts a school for working girls. Rigby explains, “Injustice weaves its thread through these girls lives, these women in waiting whose potential chokes and dies. Girls, sharp as tacks, who never will be teachers. Born-leader-girls who never will lead – girls of social-conscience, who can’t become MP’s.” Moore makes Rigby come alive and also plays many parts, taking the voices of neighbors and others in the drama.

Claire Moore as Edith Rigby, photo John Woudberg.

In the early 1900s, Rigby joins the women’s movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst. When at a demonstration she is knocked down and beaten, Moore tells us that she is “forged in flames” and must go to jail or die. She organizes in town and brings people to a march of 3,000 through Hyde Park to parliament. Men heckle, “Darling do you wish you was a man?” She replies, “No, do you?”

Women, led by the fearless Pankhurst, sing “Rise up women” to the music of “Glory, glory hallelujah.” Mounted police knock them down, beat them, jail them. When they leave prison, hundreds welcome them.

In the play, Moore recites her elegant lines, “What makes a little girl of principal, become a lurking shadow in the night? A breaker of rules? Of windows? A breaker of heads?…..Knowledge!”

The movement grows to 300,000 activists. They challenge Prime Minister Asquith at dinner parties, they smashed windows, chain themselves to the PM’s residence at Downing street. They declare they are political prisoners and fast. King Edward recommends they be force fed, which is now defined as torture. It’s done through the mouth, nose, anus, vagina. So, this torture is also rape. Police grab their privates, twist their breasts. The women suffer broken heads and limbs. Two die from injuries. The upper-class notion of chivalry towards women is a gruesome joke.

Still, they persist. In 1912, they set letter boxes ablaze. Rigby throws black pudding at a Labor MP, is arrested, goes on hunger strike. The women set off a bomb at a railroad station and fight their police assaulters with clubs.

Edith Rigby 1872-1948.

Rigby says, “If Boudicca and Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth and Nightingale can’t prove women’s worthiness to vote then women must be seen to break the law!” (Boudicca was queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60.)

Are they condemned for their violence? She responds, “Men’s causes have drenched the world in blood.” (Men’s goals had been to obtain resources and markets, not anybody’s freedom.)

At the start of World War I, the women suspend the fight for the war effort. And when it’s over, a 1918 law gives the vote only to women over 30 with property. So, denying women the vote was not just about gender, it was about class. Perhaps working class women lacked upper class sympathies. It was another ten years before women could vote on the same terms as men.

Rigby retires to Wales where she dies in 1948 at 76. She was an extraordinary person, and this play should contribute to the public attention she deserves.

Woman on Fire.” Written and directed by John Woudberg and performed by Claire Moore. TheSpace, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 2017. 8/14/17.

“Part of the Picture” are paintings of oil rig disaster victims Occidental Petroleum tried to suppress

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 12:37 pm

By Lucy Komisar

You probably never heard of the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. It was the world’s deadliest oil rig calamity. Occidental Petroleum, the American company which ran the North Sea oil platform with faulty maintenance and safety practices, is happy about that. It tried to bribe a painter who had been on the rig documenting the workers and their conditions.

Coming on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy that killed 167 workers, that is the story of this play, written and directed by Tom Cooper based on interviews conducted by the Glasgow Bletherbox theater company. The music is a good collection of late 70s pop, Scottish music and work songs. The story is of the moment.

Charlaye Blair as The Artist, and Ross McKinnon as Jim, photo Tim Morozzo.

Painter Sue Jane Taylor wanted to document the lives of workers. She got permission in 1987 for a week’s visit to the Piper Alpha oil rig, the biggest platform in the North Sea. Portrayed by Charlaye Blair as The Artist, she is open faced, naïve, full of hope and enthusiasm. She puts on a gray protective suit, the men are in orange coveralls.

We see her with workers who tell of their lives. A plumber, Jim (Ross McKinnon), soft and tough at the same time, deals with the fact there are 220 men and one shower and one toilet. Systems maintenance crews work on a platform which is aging. Jim says that says that the platform built for oil is now used for gas and is top heavy.

The result is accidents, fires, gas leaks that you don’t hear about on “the beach.” No complaints or you get NRB, “not required back.” Taylor remarks on the smell of chemicals from the oil.  She returns to London and makes prints of the workers’ photos. She books a showing of her exhibit of oil workers in Scotland.

Brian James O’Sullivan as the oil company flack, with Charlaye Blair as The Artist, photo Tim Morozzo.

Then a loose valve on a gas pump is sent for repair. The new shift is not informed they can’t use pipework that had a temporary cover and no safety valve. And the system is not shut down. (Occidental might lose profits.) She had remarked how the oil people were showing off new money and flashy cars.

Gas leaks out under the platform, explodes into flames everywhere. The sprinkling system doesn’t work. Life rafts don’t inflate. Some workers jump, some make it to a safety vessel. Others wait in the dark for rescue. 167 men die. Collateral damage. Some 68 survive.

So what does Occidental do? Apologize and promise to indemnify the workers and families and institute big safety changes? The play documents how an Occidental flack calls the artist to his office and attempts to bribe her to pull her exhibit. He says, “We don’t think it’s wise your exhibit should go ahead under the circumstance. We’ll compensate you very generously.”

She says, “They’re trying to buy my silence.” She gets a lawyer write a letter to Occidental turning down the offer. The survivors and bereaved want the exhibit to remember them, and it opens.

Later, a public inquiry documents the safety failures. But Occidental is never charged or held accountable. Corporations rarely are. Killing people is a crime, except if it’s done by a powerful corporation. Occidental sells its North Sea assets to the French company Elf, earning $640 million from the deal.

Cooper’s play, moving and vivid, is important to remind people of how corporations think they can buy people off. They couldn’t buy the artist off. But they apparently had no problem buying off law enforcers who should have filed charges of manslaughter, at the least.

How do you keep workers’ history alive when most people don’t want to read accounts of past sorrows and struggles? One way is through theater. This play is soft, not didactic, but its quietness has an effect. Excellently performed by the cast and smoothly directed by Cooper, it’s a good addition to the theater of labor.

Part of the Picture.” Written and directed by Tom Cooper. Score written and performed by Brian James O’Sullivan. Bletherbox at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/13/17.

 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

“Foreign Radical” asks audience to profile selves in era of enhanced interrogation

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:20 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Aryo Khakpour as Hesam, photo Robert Dewey.

In “Foreign Radical,” set in the age of surveillance aimed at catching terrorists, border controls become an immersive game show. The first dark space you enter has an Arab (Ayro Khakpour) naked, leaning over a table. There is Arabic writing on a wall; the emoji is a skull.

In 2014, the US changed its requirements for putting individuals on a terrorism watch list. They no longer need “concrete facts” or “irrefutable evidence”, just suspicion. Get on the list, and you get enhanced surveillance and screenings at airports. In 2015 U.S. security added half a million people to the watch list.

You will learn why this matters when the host (Milton Lim), snazzy and slick in a white tux, orders the audience/participants into quadrants of a set where they will be interrogated and self-profiled. They will be moved to use the same vague standards to decide whether a suspected terrorist, ie. a Muslim, (Khakpour), should be subject to enhanced interrogation.


Audience and Milton Lim as The Host, photo Lise Breton.

You exit to another space with disco music. You learn how spies stole the keys to Edinburgh Castle. (A bit of a local joke) And that there is now a secret government rulebook for labeling you a terrorist, no evidence required. It’s the U.S. National Terrorist Watchlist guidance for 17 agencies. The host asks, “Who wants to bag some tourists? I mean some terrorists.”

But, it’s not about you, right? Then the show makes you profile yourself. In rooms divided into quadrants, people who answer yes or no to questions are directed into defined boxes. Do you belong to a political party? Did you work on a political campaign? Have you signed a petition critical of the government? Have you defaced corporate or public property to make a political statement? Atheists to one side: a lot. Did you donate to a nonprofit? A big group. So, this is the liberal Edinburgh Fringe. It is not going to set up the left against the right.

The quadrants, photo Dylan Toombs.

Do you change your online password? Have you watched porn on the internet? Based on the self-selection, the game show host picks one guy as the most radical. And, by the way, are you aware that you no longer have privacy, that all this is being spied on, ascertained, by the surveillance police?

We move to another room, where there is a small box and a book to look into. A text says, “We started killing people, then they started killing us.” Then through gauze we see the Arab. “He pasted a picture from Abu Graib and a photo of a bloody girl in Manchester.” Irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not required

Another room is a border crossing, and we see the Arab again. He screams, “You demand my hate and you have it.”

We are asked if we would report someone with jihadist views. Some would. Others begin to think how they could be targeted themselves.

Audience examining lock box, photo Cande Andrade.

An audience member who knows Arabic is part of a group that searches the suspect’s suitcase. He reads some articles that turn out to be printed from the internet. He declares the guy is not a radical. He explains the subtleties of documents from Iran that don’t support the Islamic terrorists. No one else would know.

But the rest of the audience isn’t sure. A middle-aged white guy says it’s not so terrible if someone has to wait a few hours to be interrogated at an airport. I asked how he would feel if all Tories were subject to that. I should have said far-rightists. The audience votes, and the suspect is on the ground.

Aryo Khakpour as Hesam, Milton Lim as The Host, photo Robert Dewey.

In an eerie coda, we enter a room where the suspect is in a chair, dressed, facing us and holding a mike. He says, “In the future, no one will be able to travel. If they once knew someone.”

The Host asks, “Would you be willing to give a urine sample for a drug test so that you could cross a border? Would you be willing to be strip searched so that you could cross a border?”

It’s not a show you leave saying “this was a great show” or “what a great plot” or what terrific actors. Though Lim and Khakpour are fine. But that’s not the point. In fact, the plot is not very subtle. It’s really a sort of parlor game. You are the actors and you make the plot. You leave understanding how flimsy are the standards for choosing “terrorists.” And how with the right color skin or name, you could be a target.

On the other hand, there really are terrorists. They do blow up planes and people. You sure don’t want to be on one of those planes. How should security agencies spot them? Do we want to end all surveillance? Maybe the net is cast too wide, but where should the limits be? Officials confronted with citizens angry at this wide net should come up with better solutions. All the evidence is that they don’t care and they won’t.

Foreign Radical.” Written by Tim Carlson. Director by Jeremy Waller with Tim Carlson. The Theatre Conspiracy. Canada Hub in association with Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. August 2017. 8/13/17.

 

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