The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

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.  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.”
“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.


“Ramy: in the Frontline” dramatic true story by singer-activist in Egypt’s Arab Spring

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 10:20 am

By Lucy Komisar

Ramy Essam telling his story.

Ramy Essam became an iconic figure of the 2011 Egyptian mass protest that toppled dictator Mubarak but lost to military power. This autobiographical show is his powerful and moving story. And it’s very good theater.

Ramy sits on a chair strumming his guitar or at a desk streaming video on a screen. He wears high sneakers and a casual long-sleeved shirt. His beard and hair are long, black and curly. He is calm, almost nonchalant, as he describes how his life turned around when he took his guitar to the protest in Tahrir Square, saw the violence, was jailed and tortured.

He was a street guy, a body builder, caught up in violent masculine culture, until his sister got him to change direction. At a small cultural center, he heard songs about freedom and equality and social justice.

Ramy showing map of Tahrir Square.

And then, at 22, he took part in Egypt’s Arab Spring. He tells the story effectively in narrative, video and song.

He shows black and white videos of police beating and torturing men and women. Teeth were knocked out, faces bloodied. He says, “They filmed themselves and applauded themselves.” He says he lost five friends.

Ramy showing videos of protest and attacks.

He founded a group on Facebook that called for a protest demonstration January 28, 2011, “the Friday of anger.” Demands were for “bread, freedom, social justice” — an end to police corruption and for a minimum wage. They shouted “down, down Mubarak,” the dictator for 30 years.

Days later, he says, “I found myself standing on the roof of a car” on the street of the party of the dictator…And then I said: Let’s attack it.” The group set fire to the empty building.

Ramy shows video of himself singing at Tahrir Square protest.

He shows a video of him performing at Tahrir Square, where he sang to thousands. He has aged a lot. He was much younger in face and demeanor six years ago, but even then brash with songs of satire: “Bow your head, bow it, you are in a democratic home.”

On February 1, 2011, Mubarak stepped down. There were celebrations. Ramy says, “People didn’t understand the problem was not Mubarak but the military system. We had the power but lost it.”

When the crowds chanted, “Down, down the military system,” they were arrested. Ramy was among 200 taken March 9th when police attacked a sit-in. With some irony, defiling Egypt’s great culture, they took people to the courtyard of the Egyptian Museum. Ramy tells how he was beaten, tortured.

Ramy recalling day he was arrested.

He recalls, “They also cut my hair. With a piece of broken glass. They just got more and more stupid. They even electrocuted me. My face was bleeding, and it was very swollen. I was almost naked. My body was covered with wounds and blood.”

He says, “One can say that the revolution failed 100 %. We didn’t achieve our goals. Not yet. Many things are even worse now.”

His hope is with the youth. He says, “We planted a seed in the next generation: They are different than us. They are not chained in their minds, they are not brainwashed, they don’t believe in the state media, they are free. I’m sure that the new generation will make the change together with us.”

He says, “I get hundreds of letters from young people talking about a better future for everyone. I’m sure they will one day take the next step of the revolution.”

He left Egypt 2 ½ years ago and went into exile in Sweden and Finland, but he plans to return “to try to finish what we started.” He says, “The only thing dictators can’t stop is art. They can’t kill my music.”

Ramy: in the Frontline.” Written and performed by Ramy Essam, directed by Maria Lundström. Viirus Theatre at Edinburgh Theatre Festival Fringe, Aug 2017. See Ramy and some of his video here. 8/13/17.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Public’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” trendy take on Bard’s 16th-century comedy

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 3:30 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Annaleigh Ashford as Helena and Alex Hernandez as Demetrius, photo Joan Marcus.

Annaleigh Ashford as Helena and Danny Burstein as Bottom shine in Lear deBessonet’s funny, inspired by teen movies, jazzy staging of Shakespeare’s comedy about dueling lovers. But the rest of the cast glitters almost as brightly.

We know this will be a cool production when we meet the Duke (Bhavesh Patel) and his fiancée Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (De’dre Aziza). He is in-your-face smart, and she is sensually on the mark.

The younger couples have some difficulties. Egeus (David Manis) the blue pinstriped father of Hermia (Shalita Grant) wants her to marry Demetrius (Alex Hernandez). But she loves Lysander (Kyle Beltran). To complicate matters, Helena (Ashford) loves Demetrius, but he loves Hermia.

Richard Poe as Oberon and Kristine Nielsen as Robin Goodfellow, photo Joan Marcus.

Trying to work out the romantic complexity, the youths flee to the forest, which is inhabited by fairy king Oberon (Richard Poe), his wife Titania (Phylicia Rashad), Robin Goodfellow, a puck, (Kristine Nielsen) and sprites in white nightdresses and PJs. They dance to terrific pop rock and jazz by composer Justin Levine.

The production is modern in spirit without being altogether modern in dress. The boys and girls seem working class. Hermia, quite nonplussed, is given the choice of death or a single life if she doesn’t accept to wed Demetrius. Her response is teenage shriek. Helena seems a little flaky. They are like coeds, with wide skirts, straw hats. The “swains,” Lysander and Demetrius, appear in colorful street clothes.

Kyle Beltran as Lysander, Kristine Nielsen as Robin Goodfellow, Shalita Grant as Hermia, photo Joan Marcus.

But into the magical forest. The set is three tall trees laden with heavy clumps of leaves. Oberon is annoyed that Titania has adopted a “changeling” child (Benjamin Ye), so he arranges for Puck to sprinkle dust on her that will make her fall in love with the first creature she sees. And, in generosity, the same for the Athenian lover, who he assumes to be Demetrius, who should then see Helena. This is achieved by a squirty flower.

Phylicia Rashad as Titania, Danny Burstein as Nick Bottom, photo Joan Marcus.

Well, Titania awakes to see Bottom transformed to an ass. And Puck anoints the wrong Athenian. (Did Shakespeare originate the sitcom?)

This is a very physical production. Some actors arrive whizzing down a slide set in a tree trunk. Helena hangs on Demetrius’s body. Ashford does brilliant comedic turns with her face and body language. Her shtick pushing off suiters is a classic. Grant as Hermia shrieks a lot in typical teen sit-com mode. She jumps onto Lysander’s back, hangs on his leg. Then there is a campy fight threat between the two women. Of course, all will be straightened out.

Puck and Oberon watch Shalita Grant as Hermia and Alex Hernandez as Demetrius, photo Joan Marcus.

Burstein makes the secondary role of Bottom a star of the show. But I’ve loved seeing him in any role, from Tevye in “Fiddler” to the entrepreneurial sailor in “South Pacific.”

Another highlight is Marcelle Davies-Lashley as the smart jazz singer in glittery gold dress who does numbers between scenes.

From the moment the iconic Kristine Nielsen as Puck appears in her trademark quirky manner, till the grand finale when a young fellow sails across the stage with a sign that says, “Please stand for the brides,” and the audience does, the Public Theater production is a smashing delight. You wish Shakespeare could have seen it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Lear deBessonet, choreographed by Chase Brock. The Public Theater at the Delacorte, Central Park West and 79th Street, New York City. 212.539.8500. The video. Opened July 11, 2017; closes Aug 13, 2017. 8/12/17.

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