Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Final Days of the Theatre Festival

There was only one show in competition on Wednesday, a 6 pm show called “Hitler in Love” written and performed by Dumitru Acriş, a 26-year old actor/writer from the Republic of Moldova, which used to belong to Romania and where there is political unrest brewing currently. I read the script that morning and was captivated by its powerful non-narrative look at Hitler’s emotional and psychological relationships with the women in his life with a little bit of “Cabaret” worked into it. He did an amazing job in the show which ended with him pulling white fabric from downstage to upstage and a video montage of all the atrocities of war from WW II to Vietnam to the present day battles in Iraq and Afghanistan which punched up the point that evil dictators have always been among us. It was a powerful ending to a powerful piece.

After that show, I was outside the theatre speaking with the radio reporter, when Acriş, approached me. He had overheard me talking the night before joking about how I don’t like to do dishes, so I always try to beat my hubby into the kitchen to make dinner. He wanted to speak with me about his show and we scheduled a 4 pm appointment for the next day.

At 9 pm, it was Coca Bloos in “Ich bin Ofelia” (after Gertrud Füssenegger) at the small café that is right next door to the theatre. Bloos is no spring chicken, but her performance had the vitality of a woman more than half her age. I got some of it, but would love to see the script. In it she goes from playing Ophelia in “Hamlet” to a character who makes ironic comments. At the end she pulls off this shiny film that has been covering her face and takes off her blonde wig and the dress she is wearing, revealing a simple white shift and her hair up in a black wig cap.

Thursday was the final day of the festival which held two events for most but three for me. At 5 pm was the launch of a book called “Juggler King Ştefan Iordache” by Ludmilla Patianjoglu, a university professor and critic. Iordache was another of Romania’s beloved actors who died just last year. Patianjoglu had written a first edition the year before he died and this second edition was the update. She was also a member of the jury and gave me an autographed copy of the book.

At 7 that evening was the ceremony to award the prizes. There were prizes for best actor and best actress given by a group of young people. They choose Elena Iulia Colan for her performance in “Flowers for Algernon” and Ivan Vidosavljevic for his performance in “Diary of a Madman”.

The jury was to award three prizes: Overall Excellance – The Star and then prizes for best actor and best actress. The Artistic Manager, Gabriel told the jury that they didn’t have to award all the prizes if they didn’t think they were warranted. However, the majority of the jury decided to award all the prizes. I was outvoted on two of the awards being only one person among five jurors. I was probably the only one to take a post-modern view of the work presented.

In theatre history of the past, the many elements that go into making a theatrical piece were viewed in a rather vertical way with the text taking the top position, then actor, and all the rest. When one considers theatre in a post-modern way, it’s a horizontal construct with each element being equally important.

The jury choose “Fitness” performed by Mihaela Teleoacă as the big Star winner. Best actress went to Elena Lulia Colin for “Algernon” and best actor went to Ivan Vidosavljeric for Diary of a “Mad Man”.

My choices were Dumitru Acriş for “Hitler in Love” for the top prize, Ivan Vidosavljeric as best actor for Diary of a “Mad Man” and though being a feminist and wanting one of the women to win, no one for best actress. I really didn’t think that any of the women played with the intensity or truthfulness of either of the two guys mentioned above, nor had they as fully developed any of the other theatrical elements in a post-modern way as the two others had done. It was if most of the women were living on the surface of the work they presented, they had not really sunk into it. If I had been pushed into making a choice for best actress, it would have been a hard decision.

While Teleoacă in “Fitness” exuded remarkable warmth and broke the 4th wall to come into the audience so that we could really connect with her, her performance seemed flat to me, like she was perhaps a little afraid of committing whole-heartedly to her character. The white flat that was used to project somewhat fuzzy images that I didn’t get, even though they were visual, was underutilized. Her director didn’t have her really use all the stage space effectively. The set pieces weren’t all used to good effect. The big theatre that they put her in was far too formal for this intimate piece.

Török in “We Have the Same Story” was really too young to totally understand the material she was using. This gave her performance a surface quality of indicating rather than truthfully living in the imaginary world created by the playwrights. The set was too childish in design which did not work with the material. She is a good actress but seriously miscast in the part.

Colan seemed to take an almost cheap physicality to “Algernon”, playing the character as being physically crippled as well as mentally challenged, when the script does not say anything about the character Charlie being physically handicapped. I think the jury wanted to reward her for being able to hold excruciating poses, which is a very difficult thing to do as an actor. While I love the physicality of European actors as compared to their American counterparts, I think this choice was not grounded in the world of the play. I also think that part of her problem with the piece was that she had no director. Another set of eyes might have seen the beginning as being melodramatic.

The awards ceremony was also pretty dramatic, with Adrian being on stage waiting for Gabriel, then the curtains opening to reveal an empty wheelchair. After about five seconds, Gabriel was flown down to the chair from their fly space above. God knows how they got him up there.

In having drinks with members of the company, I was surprised at how many of them thought that my choices were better than the jury’s choices. I can only think that perhaps this is a generational issue and had their been younger judges, (I was the youngest person on the jury I think), the vote would have been different.

Earlier that afternoon, I finally had time to sit down and talk with Gabriel about trying to get some American actors to enter this competition. We also spoke about trying to find a way to do some sort of collaboration, since we shared a similar aesthetic in the performing arts. Just as I was about to go so that Adriana could help him get washed and dressed for the evening’s ceremonies, they told me I couldn’t leave yet, that they had something for me! Earlier in the week they had given me a wonderful bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir, so I protested that they were being all too generous. This didn’t deter them from giving me an authentic Romanian folkloric outfit of hand embroidered underskirt, blouse, hand-woven material that was wrapped around the outside of the skirt sort of like a Polynesian sarong plus a woven cloth belted that held the outer skirt on.

After the awards ceremony, everyone piled out of the theatre and into the streets where a star with the big star winner’s name – in this case Mihaela Teleoacă - placed on the sidewalk outside the theatre and then about 20 minutes of fireworks to celebrate the end of the festival.

A party was held for the jurors, actors and theatre people after the show with food, homemade wine and vodka. The Romanians are pretty big vodka drinkers. I had been promised that Justin would play his violin for me at some point in time, so as the party wound down, I was brought up to the central hallway that connected all the actors’ rooms where they meet for coffee in the morning and drinks in the evenings. Not only did I get a great concert of different kinds of Romanian music, much like the music on the Transylvanian String Quartet CD (played by the professors he had in college) that Justin had given me earlier, but six hand-painted beautiful Easter eggs.

Then they pulled out a bottle of the homemade brandy that I had tried on the Sunday before at the fish feast. They wanted me to bring it to my hubby as I had told them he would have loved the drink.

Friday was getting to Bucharest day for the jury members who lived there and the performers who were flying back home from there. Although the road was good, this was the start of the Orthodox Easter Weekend which includes Monday. We did stop about halfway through the journey at a delightful restaurant and hotel on a charming little lake. Driving into the city was sheer madness as the traffic there was as bad as it is in New York! Many of the drivers ignored banalities such as traffic lanes, trying to get into a better position. It was rather like a race with no set track or rules.

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