- Posted: 6:17 PM, November 16, 2012
One word: go.
I was lucky to attend the dress rehearsal for "Roman Tragedies" yesterday afternoon (right before the Kathie Lee Gifford musical "Scandalous," which made for an interesting double bill). Even though I caught just the first two hours of the five-and-a-half-hours epic, it was enough for me to enthusiastically recommend the show to fans of in-your-face theatrical experiences.
Van Hove edited together Shakespeare's "Coriolanus," "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra." Then he staged them in sleek, aggressively modern fashion on a huge set packed with sectional couches and video screens flashing live feeds of the actors along with current-events footage (I caught a glimpse of Obama stepping down from Air Force One). Some of the information scrolling by on an LED tape was deadpan amusing: "375 minutes until Cleopatra's death." "Four minutes until Coriolanus' death." "The sound during the war scenes will be very loud" (an understatement).
The audience is invited to wander on stage, buy drinks and snacks, comment on the action live from a bank of computers. It was weird to watch people who found themselves seating in the middle of a heated argument between Roman consuls look away from the action: Since the play is in Dutch, the New Yorkers were watching the screens to read the translations instead.
The whole thing is not just kinetic but insightful: As with his stagings of "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Hedda Gabler" and "The Little Foxes" at New York Theatre Workshop, Van Hove's approach can make you rediscover classics you thought you knew.
I haven't seen "Donka," but got some background info from director Finzi Pasca a few days ago. Pasca has his own company , based in Lugano, Switzerland, and also works with others, like Cirque du Soleil and Montreal's Cirque Eloize -- for which he's directed three shows, including the wonderful "Rain," which played the New Victory Theatre in 2005.
The idea for "Donka" came from Valery Shadrin, director of Moscow's Chekhov festival . "At the beginning I said no," Pasca recalled, "but Shadrin wanted to give me the opportunity to talk about Russia, about the soul of a writer and its importance in the theater. 'The Notebook of Anton Chekhov' was very important to me: There are a lot of small details, three, four phrases that create a small story or the feeling for a character."
The show borrows from Chekhov's life, stories and plays, though you should still be able to enjoy it if you don't know anything about him.
"Like dance or music, acrobatics is a language," Finzi Pasca said. "They create images that we don't necessarily understand, but that make us feel something. For example, Chekhov went on a long trip to Sakhalin, in Siberia, to see what happened in that huge Russian prison. I used the Cyr Wheel" -- an act in which the performer rotates inside a large, heavy metal hoop -- "to represent a sense of eternal movement."
Finzi Pasca's next shows continue to borrow from high and low. "My next project is called 'La Verità.' A foundation asked me to use a huge backdrop that Salvador Dali painted in New York [in 1944] for the Metropolitan Opera. I will use this backdrop to tell a story about Spain, about Tristan and Isolde, about the love between Gala and Salvador Dali, the relationship with Picasso. This will open in Montreal in January. Then I'm doing the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi."
It's safe to say, this last one is unlikely to travel to BAM.