Friday, April 30, 2010

Gala Star - Day 5 - Finale

This was the last day of the Gala Star festival and one that brought you excellent shows and the awards - the young people's award - Award Stefan Iordache, best female actor, best male actor and then the Star Award, where the actor's name goes on a star in front of the theatre!

The first show was "Nebuna Dupa Tine" (Crazy for You) by Emmanuel Adelly performed by Giogiana Elena Popan (no director listed, set by Tudor Lucanu).  As I was walking into the theatre that afternoon, I saw what appeared to be a homeless woman sort of huddling near the door.  I thought this to be strange as one doesn't see homeless people in Bacau as we do in Sacramento.  Sure enough it was Popan as she came sidling into the studio performance space.

A small cafe table and chair had been set upstage.  Popan came in as a homeless woman chatting with several people in the audience then began to take a bottle of booze out of her back pack along with a string of pearls and opera length gloves.  I wished she had taken off her coat too, but perhaps that was because the space is small, there were many people in the audience and I was hot! 

As she began to transform to the woman she once was, she would sing at times - I'm crazy about the boy, dancing and then running around the room.  She'd stop by the table for another swig of booze and lurch over to an audience member, then start singing and running.  My Romanian friend confirmed my idea that the plot of the show revolved around Popan's character's unrequited love.  To end the piece someone (her friend?) came up to her and hustled her off as you would do a homeless person.

Her emotional energy was great and it was another show that I thoroughly enjoyed, although I think it might have been more effective if it had 10 minutes trimmed off.

The final show in competitiono was "Koi" by Shoichi Ozawa as performed by Yoshiyuki Shibata (directed by Den Fujita, set by Masako Saanami).  Although reminiscent of Hemingway's "Old Man & The Sea", this was a more Buddhist version.  Against a series of vertical logs with a fishing net draped across it, a man keeps trying to catch a large koi year after year.  When he is old, he finally catches the fish, but takes pity on it as it is as old as he is, so he lets it go.  Then Shibata performed a delightful little dance which involved animated movements and might have been of the Nihon  Buyo variety which is performed in theatrical entertainments.

After a short interval, while the jury (actors Coca Bloos, Mircea Diaconu and theater critic Saiu Octavian) and the young people's jury made their decisions.  

The Stefan Iordache Award went to Radu Botar for "Bufonul Regelui", best female actor award was won by Giorgiana Elena Popan for "Nebuna Dupa Tine".  Best male actor was a tie awarded to Radu Botar for "Bufonul Regelui" and to Yoshiyuki Shibata for "Koi".  The Star award went to Aaron Braxton for "Did you do Your Homework". 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gala Day 4

Day 4 of the Gala started off with Dan Mirea in a piece called "Dark Light" by Matei Visniec (directed by Dan Vasile, set by N.D. Vladulescu).  A long ramp was built from the theatre entrance up onto the stage which ended in a pile of sand.  Up walks a blind man towing  a large trunk, and from it he pulls out and puts together a telescope.  He is accompanied by a spot light which symbolizes his dog with whom he has a love-hate relationship.  That was the touch of brilliance in this show!

Writer Cristina Rusiecki in the Romanian Cultura blog, describes the show as:
" Luminita worn by blind dog is like insisting the character is just creation of the blind one, a second soul that arguing and get on a good day all day, or code metaphysical equivalent of destiny deaf?  Or perhaps a symbol of faith, of God's direction?"

While the work had the existential angst of  a Beckett play, there was hope in the end, sympolized by a young boy on stage after Mirea exited with his "light" dog.  My first thought was that it wasn't quite fair to include another actor in this show, even if he was a child and I wished the actor had used the ramp more.  But it was a provocative performance.

The next show, Oscar si Buni Roz (Oscar and Bunny Rose) by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt (no director or set designer listed) was performed by Diana Gratiela Fufezan and she was listed as the writer and Vasile Sirli as the translator.  The set was a  comfy armchair up center with a table on a tea set had been put and a wooden block was stage left.

A nurse sitting in the chair begins the story as she tells the audience that she cared for a little boy named Oscar who was dying of cancer.  In the same children's ward was a young girl who Oscar calls Bunny Rose.  It is taken from the book of the same name and is an emotional story of how one young boy lives live to the fullest falling in love with Bunny Rose.  While Fufezan has an appealing charisma on stage, she really needed a director for this piece.  She had no knowledge of blocking, moving in a straight line from right to left downstage, with a few moments spent sitting on the wooden cube.

In just a polo shirt and jeans, there were no costume changes when she changed characters playing Bunny, Oscar and the nurse.  I noticed a small difference in vocalization (but none physically) and thought it was just about two characters until my Romanian friends told me the plot line.  This could have been a much stronger piece had she worked with a director, unless she thought of this as more of a story-telling type performance.

Gala Star Day 3

Ciprian Mistreanu performed an original work which is described on his website as:  "Welcome to museum-prison Rahova!  Today we present the brutes!  Four sentenced to hard labor for life in prison Rahova jailed for crimes they confess to regrets or as something on the agenda. Four sentenced to hard labor for life in prison for Crimes or I Something on the agenda.

Pity, disgust, compassion, or perhaps a perverse sort of admiration. Pity, disgust, compassion, or perhaps perverse sort of admiration. Deep disgust and censure. Deep disgust and censure. Fear and rejection. Fear and rejection. Listen to your story. Listen to your story." (directed by Catalin Chirila). 

The setting in the small studio theatre was very simple a chair in the middle of an area roped off by red velvet cords and posts.  In this elegant setting, Mistreanu was dressed in a tuxedo-like costume with his hair slicked back and a three day growth of beard.  It seemed like he was supposed to play three different characters with small costume changes, but it seemed that he was only playing three characters.
I never saw much difference either vocally or physically.  I fault the director with this.  It was also far too long at 90 minutes.  And it wasn't only the language barrier, as several other of my Romanian actor friends had similar comments.  However it was commendable that he was doing original work.  Perhaps a re-write is in order.  I'm not the only one who felt that way, as I checked out other Romanian blogs as well.  So it wasn't just the language.

Next up was Radu Botar in "Bufonul Regelui" (Fool King) based on William Shakespeare and Victor Eftimlu.  This was a masterful physical and emotional performance in which he took various scenes from Shakespeare's plays ("Hamlet","Twelfth Night", Falstaff  from "The Merry Wives of Windsor", "Henry IV", "Romeo and Juliet", "How You Like It", Shylock from "Merchent of Venice; plus a text from a great, ancient Romanian playright: Victor Eftimiu, from his version of "Mephisto".

Botar wanted the piece to speak to both the past and the present.  This is probably one of the best solo shows that I've seen where the actor is also the director and playwright.  He tells me the idea came from the spirit of Yoric in Hamlet, who he thinks is Clown of Kings.  And in his words the show deals with "the political lies and the end is an invitatition"  for the public to speak out and say NO. 

He started the show by speaking from within a box which could be thought of as a coffin that was placed up left where the theatre had a trap.  Then the box opened and there was a hand, then a skull, then Botar.  It was obvious this was a very well trained actor in physical theatre as there was a great plasticity to both his body and face.   Botar has amazing energy and I was throughly enertained without knowledge of the language.

Gala Star - Day 2

I did have an advantage with Braxton's show - I understood the language.  This year because of budget cuts (yes, even here in Europe) the festival lost two days and two judges.  This boiled down to me not being able to get the scripts in English.  I was an honored guest this year because of my efforts to try to get American actors to come and perform.

However, I must point out that I have been to many a performance in a foreign language and when you have good actors on stage and a good director, you will be thoroughly entertained.  One friend of mine told me that she once watched an entire movie in Hungarian and loved it, so it can't just be me.

The wonderful thing about my dear theatre friends in Bacau is that after every performance, one of the Engish speakers would come up to me and tell me the story and how it was created.  Many of the performers will theatricalize stories, parts of novels and pull material from other plays, sometimes combined with poetry.

The first performance was Radu Largeanu in "281" by Paul Goma & Radu Gyr (set by Filip Odangiu, directed by Odangiu & Diana Aldea).  The audience gathered backstage in a semi circle around Largeanu, who was dressed in a Bogart-style trench coat and hat.  He led the audience further back stage through a black passage way, lit by white votive candles and white writing on the walls.  We emerged into a small playing space surrounded by bleachers.  Largeanu was clearly an imprisoned man and as an actor he made good use of the grid that was flown down.  At one point, he began to literally climb the walls, as the set included small blocks for him to use.  Near the end of the 80 minute piece he lit more white votive candles on other blocks nailed to the back wall.

Roxana Pascariu has a description of the show on her blog here.  I was moved by the actor but Pasariu knew the language, so perhaps the actor wasn't being true to the script or maybe the directors were trying to put their spin on the text.  It was moving and I'm bummed that I didn't have even my little camera with me to take photos of the set, which I considered very effective.

Odangiu also directed and did the set design for the next piece, "The Temptation of St. Anthony" performed by Eliza Tuturman. She walked through the audience with her hair slicked back in what could be seen as a man's suit.  She used the set of gauzy lengths of material which almost looked like some kind of futuristic Arabic dwelling to great use as she did the costume changes needed for her to play all the characters in this play by Gustave Flaubert.  While I think that she did a better job on some of the characters than others (noteably the belly dancer representing Lust and St Anthony himself), the costume changes took too much time and broke theenergy and flow of the show.

For a variety of reasons, that evening's big show at 9 pm was the only one I saw durning the festival.  But what a great show it was!  Alexandru Repan and Mircea Diaconu starred in "Enignamatic Variations" by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. As I watched the interpersonal power shift from one character to the other.  Without the language you know that one of the characters truly wanted something from the other, then a subtle shift, then an emotional shift.  The character Repan played was the Famous Author (who was dressed to look like Ernest Hemingway in his later years to my eyes).  He was being interviewed by The Journalist about his latest book which was a love story and very different from his previous work. 

But all was not what it seemed as it was slowly revealed that the Author had an affair and still corresponded with the woman.  Then the Author learned that the Journalist was not really a member of the 4th Estate but the husband of the woman with whom the Author had his affair.  Then another twist was revealed when the Faux Journalist told the Author that his wife had died and he was actually the one replying to the Author's letters.

For those who have worked in theatre with me, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that I would love to see a copy of the script in English and then cast two women in the roles.  I see no reason why two women could not have the same emotional experiences as the men did on stage!

Unfortunately I was recharging my camera that day and I don't have any set or production photos.  But the next day Aaron and I walked around Bacau and I have this photo of a piece of public art and some graffiti that we saw next to it.  Wonder if it's a comment on the sculpture?

It reminds me emotionally of the "281" show.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gala Star - Day 1

As usual I saw remarkable performances and theatrical concepts at Teatrul Bacovia's Gala Star One Man Show Festival and Competition.  I thought that their poster this year was one of the best too!  But before I get into the performances, I'd like to make something perfectly clear.  To my way of thinking there is a big difference between stand-up or storytelling and a solo show.  If you're going to do a show, no matter how many people are in it, you really need to pay attention to costumes, props, set and lighting so it is a complete theatre piece.

Of course if you're traveling around the world to do the show, one must think more on the minimalistic side, which I did when we took Dancing with Desire: A Poetic Fandango with the Erotic and the Bawdy to the Edinburgh Fringe back in 1996.

Perhaps it's my horizontal, "post modern", approach to the performing arts.  I think that acting directing, set, costumes, script, lighting, props are equally important in making a work of art that has a harmony to it.  When I direct if I don't design a piece of art that shows my vision for the piece, I will pick another work by another visual artist.  I ask that all designers look to it as a palette for color schemes and the visual/emotional resonance I would like the work to evoke.  Yeah, call me crazy but it works for me.  Although I have had designers bitch about it

OK, enough of my rant about theatrical aesthetics.  Teatrul Bacovia Artistic Director and Manager of the Festival Gabriel Dutu decided that they would do a little something different this year.  Instead of just someone coming onstage to announce the name of the show, performer, director, etc., he created this improvisational bit where Justin Ciuche - wonderful violinist, composer and sometimes actor for the company -  would improvise some music that would bring the audience into the world of the performance.

He and the actor who did the introductions (I feel horrible because I didn't get his name, sorry) would squabble or play around at who was more important to the production.

Now, down to the details.  I'm really sad that there wasn't a chair left in the small studio space at the theatre so I could see Roman Stefan Marin perform Molloy by Samuel Beckett (directed by Dorin Boca).  Would been  interesting to see how it was cut.

The next performance was on the main stage was Did You Do Your Homework written & performed by Aaron Braxton, an actor from LA directed by (Kathleen Rubin).  This is based on his experiences as a teacher in low-income neighborhoods which brings a message of the value of education (like Bill Cosby did a few years ago) to all communities, not just the African-American ones.

Braxton's performance really dissolved my ideas about Euro and Amer actors.  I really thought that Euro actors were far more physical than their Amer cousins.  He transformed himself both physically and vocally into high school kids, wanna-be gang-bangers, parents and school officials among others.

In speaking with him before the show, he told me that he was a little worried that people would not understand the English script.  I reassured him that most Romanians since their 1989 revolution begin to learn English in the 4th grade.  And while some folks may feel shy about speaking it for fear of misusing grammar and such (I wish native speakers would have such cares!) that he probably would be understood.

As I watched, the laughs were coming in the right places and in some unexpected places, which is also true of humorous material in the US.  Homework is not a comedy however, there is a dark side to the piece and probably one you might see and hear about on the news.  The audience gave him a standing ovation - everyone!  I think they liked it.

I'll have more photos at the Flickr site probably by tomorrow.  Some of these you just don't want to miss - like a wonderful shot of Dutu, his beautiful wife Adriana and their most adorable baby Sara; along with more photos of Braxton's performance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More on the Villages Site

Time to catch up on the blog and all  the different structures at the Villages Historic Site.  I wasn't able to take a photo of all the information on all of the houses as we strolled through this Romanian National treasure.  I was fascinated by the detail on the top of the roof.  I wonder if those little spikes on the very top are to drive away the evil spirits from old legends?  They also remind me of some 19th century buildings in Paris in a way.

To the right is a carved details from this house.  What craftsmanship!  Imagine someone trying to have artisans work on houses that are built now.  I suppose if you had buckets of money, it could be done.  But for the everyday person like thee or me, don't think so.

The details on the top of this gateway into the estate of a well-do-to farmer in Gorj county is reminiscent of the other house.  These details almost remind me of flames.

This is a special sort of dwelling from the Danube Delta region of  Draghiceni from the 1800s.  It is dug into the ground so that you step down into the house!  The reason for this is that this area is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.  Since it's partially earth-sheltered, it is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  The winds are also fierce in this region and you'll see the aerodynamic shape of the roof and why Justin refers to it as a Hobbit House if you go to the Flickr site.

If that link doesn't work, you can copy and paste the following into your browser -

I will post the rest of the photos from the Villages Site as well as some others from modern day Bucharest!

This is the interior of the hobbit house.  I think I got one very good shot of a small chair.  You can really tell how much smaller the people were back then as the chairs and stools all look like they would only fit children.

La revedere prietenii mei as they say here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Villages Historic Site

With the extra day in Bucharest, Justin suggested that we go to this amazing historic site created in the 1930s where they went to rural areas of Romania to bring authentic examples of village housing to a beautiful site near the Danube river.  This house dates from 1815 and is from the Carpathian mountain region.  The roof is larger than the house and made of straw that was tramped down by foot.  The density of the material meant that rain and snow would easily slide off.

 To the right is a 19th Century house built in a "Frankish Style" from the Banat area of Romania.

I'll post more photos on the Flickr site maybe tomorrow.  There is an especially strange looking "hobbit house" that was built in the 1800s but is based on the basic Neolithic mud huts which housed people for centuries.

Now we come flying back to the 21st Century!  After walking around this wonderful historic site, we decided to go to a nearby park to sit on a park bench and have some beverages.  I see this scene:

What have we got here?  Looks like some TV people assaulting a group of middle-aged women.  So I had to take a picture of them!  Little did I know that they saw me and we became their next victims, er, contestants. 

The walked over to us and began speaking Romanian until I said Hi.  Then the host of this little quiz show on the biggest TV station in the country (who apparently is also a weather man) switched to English.  Because I was from out of the country, I couldn't participate, but I could help Justin with the questions, which if we answered correctly would get us a prize - a toaster!

The first question was:  Which film did Roman Polanski direct, The Piano or The Pianist.  I had recently seen an incredible film by Jan Campion called Bright Star about the poet John Keats and remembered that she has also directed The Piano.  So we picked The Pianist and it was right.  The next question was:  Where is the headquarters of NATO?  Damn, this really stumped us,  but the city of Brussels came to mind and Justin thought it was a fair guess.  The host now starts telling us the the Belgian people have no sense of humor but that they invented beer and french fries (who knew?).  Finally, the host explodes with: You're Right!  Of course Justin and I play the game as TV contestants acting over-elated about winning.  Here he is with the toaster.

So, for the net four hours we walked all over Bucharest carrying that damned toaster - no wonder people were giving us funny looks!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bucharest Before Bacau

After a long flight from San Francisco, we landed in Frankfurt, an airport that I've never been to before.  I must admit that I do prefer the Munich airport instead, but perhaps that's because I got confused and ended up waiting in the wrong line and almost boarded the wrong plane!  I finally found the right gate and boarded the flight to Bucharest.

After another two hours in the air, we landed.  My next confusion centered around where to pick up my luggage.  After getting some help, I walked over to the carousel to find it devoid of bags, but a few were being scooped up by airport personnel and there was my suitcase so all was well in the end.

Waiting for me was Justin Ciuche (left), the wonderful violinist from Teatrul Bacovia along with another of the theatre's actors named Stefan (I hope that I'm spelling his name correctly).  Because Aaron Braxton, the only American actor in this year's festival was cening oming in just two days from then, we went to the apartment that Gabriel Dutu and his wife Adriana have in the the city. 

That evening, we met friends of both Justin and Gabriel's who suggested that we go to a Lebanese restaurant called Beruit. 

Had fabulous food there - hummus, tabbouleh and some fried raviolis stuffed with a minced meat mixture.   The Romanian friends were wonderful dinner companions and were generous with speaking English - or Englaza (phonetic spelling) as they say here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Back to Bacau

I'm going back to Bacau, Romania on April 13th for the Star Gala, Europe's only solo show festival and competition running from April 16th to the 20th, presented by Teatrul Bacovia.  While I'm getting excited about seeing my friends back there, I've got much to do in the following week.  One of the things that I found time for this week was to create a new piece of artwork for my Power Series, based on photos that I took there last year.  Some special people are going to get prints of this.  I call it Romanian Power and the text on it translated into English reads: "The power of Romania lies in its artists".