Nov 042015
 

A smart, surreal Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (review)

November 3, 2015 by Rosalind Lacy

A must-see, wacky send-up, Smartphones, is a fast-paced one-act about the fear of life without a mobile phone. Written in English by Spanish playwright Emilio Williams, award-winning director Joe Banno gives it a larger-than-life staging.

Smartphones raises an important question: Shouldn’t our deep involvement in cyber-tech gadgets bring us closer to each other?

No way, warns playwright Williams, who shows us through nonsensical, comic bits, which place his play firmly in theatre-of-the-absurd, how cyber-tech smart phones actually isolate us and drive us further  apart.

It’s a familiar Godot-like plot: Two married couples are trapped in their friend Fedé’s home waiting for his arrival. All four, Amelia (Ariana Almajan), Barnaby (Tekle Ghebremeschel), Chantal (Moriah Whiteman), and Dagobert (Shravan Amin), are so addicted to their smart phones that they text each other non-stop.

Amelia, dressed elegantly in a stylish white sheath, splotched with  an ink-smear pattern, receives tweets that Fedé is “on his way.” But their host never arrives.

The setting in the tiny Mead Theatre lab, designed by David Ghatan, is minimalist : black swivel chairs and leather settee. The frenetic four guests share irrational anxieties, hyped with worry  that their battery-powered phones will lose power. (The fear is known as nomophobia, an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia”.)  Communication could cut off. Not one has a charger. Friends on Facebook are friends Ariana Almajan as Amelia and (back) Moriah Whiteman as Chantal as long as there is battery power.  All appear to be at the mercy of            in Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev) high-tech innovations.

Their melodramatic, exaggerated behavior grows grotesquely odd. Dagobert, overwhelmed by his life and stressed out about his waning cell phone battery, runs off stage and we hear sounds of his self-induced vomiting. Later, Dagobert tells his colleagues-in-waiting he feels victimized. He received a tweet from someone named Miriam, who robs him of friends posted on his Facebook wall.

These trendy millennials are so in love with themselves that deep involvement with anyone else is impossible.  Chantel suggests the two women take a “selfie” together. Amelia says: “You look terrible Look at that double chin.” They see flaws; not depth.

These well-dressed professionals are vastly detached from their children. They participate in the “latest in outsourcing.” Satire is aimed at parents so dehumanized, they send their kids to China to be educated, claiming that the kids really study and work there. After all, computers and high tech apps are sent to China to be assembled. So why not send kids for their education and job experience?

(l-r) Ariana Almajan (Amelia), Tekle Ghebremeschel (Barnaby), Hanna Bondarewska (Maid), Shravan Amin (Dagobert), and Moriah Whiteman (Chantal) in Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev)

Smartphones successfully wires us for laughter. Comic bits abound. Spot-lighted, Amelia and Chantal, text each other, communicating what sounds like gibberish through their smart phones without eye contact. Later, the land-line phone is pitted against the cell phone, the old versus the new. When the land line rings, one of the characters opines: “Nobody answers those phones anymore.” Or: “It’s the telemarketer again!” In a climactic moment during a quiet funeral for a dead cell phone, Barnaby breaks in “Maybe they sell chargers at the Indian store around the corner.”

And then there’s the stunning entrance of Hanna Bondarewska, Ambassador Theater’s artistic director, as the maid. Dressed in a short-skirted, sexy, black  latex uniform with white apron, and spike heels, she rides in on a scooter, gleefully blowing kisses. Freed from household chores by technology, the maid has been outside playing games.

Life without a cell phone is so unbearable that Amelia and Barnaby take turns slipping out the no-exit door, searching for whiskey, vodka or Tequila, anything alcoholic that might be an alternative to their high-tech addiction. Technology, playwright Williams seems to be telling us,  is no longer our servant. It has become our master.

Freaked out by static in their heads, two of the people freeze, arms extended, like string puppets, unable to embrace. “We are all characters to Beckett. (not humans). We’re like characters out of Waiting for Godot or Sartre’s No Exit,” says Amelia, recapping: “Hell is with other people,” the famous line from Sartre’s existential gem. “All of us are part of a piece of art.” to which Amelia reacts with: “I don’t want to be a piece of art. I want Fedé to show up.”

As I left the theatre at the play’s end, I found myself reaching out to others in the audience, speaking, connecting to strangers. I felt like embracing the actors for this profound, refreshing experience.

Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce by Emilio Williams . Directed by Joe Banno . Featuring Ariana Almajan as Amelia, Tekle Ghebremeschel as Barnaby,  Moriah Whiteman as Chantal, Shravan Amin as Dagobert; Hanna Bondarewska as the Maid . Set/Lights Designer: David Ghatan . Sound/Music: Gabriel Dib . Assistant Lighting Designer: E-hui Woo  .  Costume Designer: Lynly A. Saunders . Movement, Production Stage Manager: Michelle Taylor .  Produced by the Ambassador Theater . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.

SMARTPHONES  October 20 – November 15, 2015
Ambassador Theater at Flashpoint, Mead Theatre Lab
916 G St NW, Washington, DC 20001
55 minutes
Tickets: $20 – $40
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets

About Rosalind Lacy

Rosalind Lacy MacLennan, who hails from Los Angeles, has enjoyed writing for DCTheatreScene since 2006. A 20-year journalism veteran, with newspapers such as the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, the Butler Eagle in Pennsylvania, the Suburban Newspapers of Northern New Jersey, Rosalind won a MD-DC press award for the Montgomery Journal in 1999. Since Rosalind’s heady days training and performing professionally in summer stock out of New York City, Rosalind has taught drama in high school, directed and acted in community theaters, and is the proud mother of three young adults. Still an avid theater nut, Rosalind is a former board member of www.Footlightsdc.org, and an aficionada of Spanish theater.

 

Oct 272015
 

DCMetroTheaterArts

‘Smartphones–a pocket-size farce’ at Ambassador Theater

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

by  on October 25, 2015
saw this show last nite. LMAO. 2 funny. OMG. u G2G.

So might read a hasty text from a self-absorbed hipster about Smartphones, the ridiculously delightful farce now playing at Mead Lab Flashpoint. Presented by Ambassador Theater in a brisk and bracing production directed by Joe Banno, Smartphones is a hilarious comedy of bad manners about our era’s inner Narcissus, whose vain reflection now stares back from a handheld screen.

Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.

Spanish playwright Emilio Williams writes with tongue drolly in cheek, except when stuck out and blowing a raspberry. Two young married couples—Amelia and Barnaby, and Dagobert and Chantal—meet up in the home of their friend Fedé, who is absent but expected imminently. The husbands are friends from high school; the wives, from college. And in an endlessly silly meta-theatrical joke, their wait for Fedé echos Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (except now and then they receive “On my way” texts from him and follow his Facebook and Twitter feeds). Also skewering their self-referential, selfie-satisfied social world is a meta-joke hyperlinked to Sartre’s No Exit (except one or another will now and then run out to buy a bottle of booze).

Fedé’s cleaning lady, Marie (Ambassador Artistic Director and Founder Hanna Bondarewska, decked out in a latex maid’s getup and yellow rubber gloves), opens the show lip syncing an operatic aria and amusingly flouncing about and flirting with the audience seated round the stage. The stark, simple set (designed along with the flashy lighting by David Ghatan) features four leather swivel chairs, a black-upholstered table, and an anachronistic green plastic telephone perched upon a red pillar.

The couples enter and banter, and each spouse carries a constantly consulted smartphone. The landline rings auspiciously but they let it go—because “nobody answers their phone anymore.” Obsessed with their  wi-fi’ed online lives, at one point the two women text a convo in the dark, their faces lit solely by their smartphones. It’s one of googobs of clever bits. There’s also a running joke about “spotty coverage”—to which they all say “ewww!” Episodically they all spaz out in weird green light and loud static, as if in dreaded disconnection from a signal—meanwhile their disconnection from one another fazes them not at all.

So outrageously and hilariously shallow are the four of them that they speak earnestly about the benefits of outsourcing their children to China for adoption. “There are things in life that a horoscope can’t prepare you for,” one of them laments. Suddenly a text message comes in. Is it from Fedé? “Oh no, it was just my fridge. I’ve got an alert that we ran out of margarine.” Banno’s program note aptly characterizes Smartphones as “‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ as if written by a blogging Oscar Wilde.”

Ariana Almajan brought a very funny Valley Girl inflection to Amelia. Moriah Whiteman played the ditz Chantal with incouciant fizz.

Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev. 

And Shravan Amin gave Dagobert bumbling charm. Because Bruce Rauscher had become unable to perform as Barnaby, Tekle Ghebremeschel stepped in and played the role on book. I can attest he did well, and the last-minute substitution did not detract the slightest from my complete enjoyment.

Smartphones is one of the smartest, sharpest satires I’ve seen. It’s also one of the shortest—the subtitle’s “pocket-size” doesn’t lie. And in its refreshing brevity is the soul of its conspicuous wit.

YW.

Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.

TICKETS ONLINE

 

Oct 242015
 

Shravan Amin as Dagobert and Moriah Whiteman as Chantal in “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” (Valentine Radev)

By Celia Wren October 27 at 2:48 PM

Is Google making us stupid? Maybe, maybe not. But the wired lifestyle has certainly dimmed the acumen of Amelia, Barnaby, Chantal and Dagobert, the principal characters in Emilio Williams’s “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” The four narcissists are so distracted by their mobile gadgets that they can barely carry on a conversation, let alone discern the web of sexual intrigue that complicates their every move.

Spanish playwright Williams doesn’t limit himself to spoofing cellphone addiction in this strenuously waggish one-act, which the Ambassador Theater has mounted (in English) at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint: “Smartphones” nods to such cultural touchstones as “Waiting for Godot,” “No Exit,” the films of Luis Buñuel and classic farce. It’s an ambitious conflation of social satire, antic comedy and highbrow allusion, but the result sometimes feels labored. And the deliberately exaggerated acting style in director Joe Banno’s production can be exhausting to watch.

Still, guffaws regularly erupted from the audience at a recent performance of “Smartphones.” It was a show-must-go-on moment: With a medical condition sidelining Bruce Alan Rauscher, who had been scheduled to play Barnaby, actor Tekle Ghebremeschel performed the role, script in hand, while Ambassador Theater’s artistic director, Hanna Bondarewska, shouldered Ghebremeschel’s previous role — the Maid. Both replacements (who will likely continue in the parts) did a fine job: Ghebremeschel is on the way to pinning down Barnaby’s self-congratulatory, sexist personality. And Bondarewska seemed wholly at ease as she fluttered around the stage in what appeared to be a vinyl French maid outfit.

Even the script in Ghebremeschel’s hand could be seen as apt: “Smartphones” contains meta-theatrical touches, including voiced stage directions. The story line nods to “Waiting for Godot”: Dagobert (Shravan Amin) and Barnaby, and their respective wives, Chantal (Moriah Whiteman) and Amelia (Ariana Almajan), have gathered at the home of their friend Fedé, who has yet to arrive. As they wait — and wait — the couples chat, bicker and trade confessions, but above all interact with their cellphones, checking Facebook and Twitter, taking photos and at one point looking up the line “Hell is other people” on Wikipedia. (The line is from “No Exit.”) In a whimsical conceit that reflects the characters’ handheld-device addiction, periodic bursts of static make them flail, as if they were suffering from fits.

Channeling these personalities, the actors often employ melodramatic or mannered intonations and movements, underscoring the absurdity of the characters’ over-amped reactions to minor issues. (A battery is losing charge! A telemarketer is calling!) The gleefully hammy sound cues work to the same end. The effect is perhaps all the more pointed because of the undramatic and indeed minimalist modern-apartment set. (David Ghatan designed the set and lights, and Lynly A. Saunders the status-signaling costumes. The sound design, credited to Gabriel Dib, draws on the one created for the world premiere of “Smartphones” in Chicago. The Ambassador production is presented in partnership with the Spanish Embassy and Spain Arts & Culture.)

Such studiously marshaled production elements notwithstanding, “Smartphones” comes across as less piquant than “Medea’s Got Some Issues,” the Williams play that appeared in the Capital Fringe Festival in 2014. This script may appeal to a broader audience, however: These days, familiarity with Greek tragedy is less common than cellphone dependence.

Wren is a freelance writer.

Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce By Emilio Williams. Directed by Joe Banno; assistant lighting designer, E-hui Woo; sound adaptation and movement, Michelle Taylor; music, Gabriel Dib. About 60 minutes. Through Nov. 15 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. Visitwww.aticc.org. Tickets: $20-$35

 

Oct 212015
 

‘Sex, Lies and Nomophobia’ in Emilio Williams’ ‘Smartphones’ at Ambassador Theater Opening Tonight

by  on October 20, 2015
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Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce – produced by and Ambassador Theater in partnership with the Embassy of Spain and Spain arts and Culture, directed by Helen Hayes Award recipient Joe Banno – opens at The Mead Lab Flashpoint on October 22, 2015.

Oct 20 - Nov 15, 2015 At Flashpoint 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC 20001 www.aticc.org Graphic Design by Lukasz Pinkowski

Doesn’t existence seem totally absurd at times and life too restrictive? Don’t we wish we were free of social norms and do as we like? Aren’t we our own worst enemies at times? Emilio Williams*, the author of Smartphones, asks the same questions yet as a dramatist has the opportunity to dream our dreams and nightmares on stage. In Smartphones, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the avant-garde playwright takes his privilege to the absurdist limit. Mixing the Absurd, Ridiculous and the Surreal with a layer of ‘digital madness’, he brings human shadows and insecurities to light, making us reflect on life and to laugh, nervously at times, in the process.

Emilio Williams is a dramatist who uses his medium like a magnifying glass, bringing into focus complex aspects of our psyche challenged by today’s fast-paced existence. Just like his influences – Beckett, Ludlam, Moliere, and Bunuel, he is acutely aware of what is difficult, awkward and absurd in life and chooses to talk about it using humor, farce and parody. “Nothing is more radical than humor” says Williams, whose multi-dimensional plays combine laughter with existential themes and a pertinent social satire. Smartphones, his only play that takes part in one set, one room and in real time, is also a great example of Williams’ reaction against conventions of the Realistic Theater.

“Your comedies tend to be silly but not stupid” said William’s friend once, and the author liked the comment. In case of Smartphones silly and serious go together. After all the play is a tribute to and a parody of the Theatre of the Absurd, as well as an example of William’s avoidance of literalness of theater realism. Also, true to the Theater of the Ridiculous Manifesto and its canon of ‘the free person,’ Smartphones’ personas are free to act in a spontaneous and silly way whilst not compromising seriousness of the matter. “The free person, as distinct from an authoritarian phony or the civilized adult, is erotic, socially self-assertive, playful and imaginative” (Brecht: 117) and so are the play’s characters….TO READ MORE

TICKETS ONLINE

 

Sep 222015
 

Washington, DC, September 20, 2015

–For immediate release—

In Partnership with the Embassy of Spain and SPAIN arts & culture  

Ambassador Theater Presents

SMARTPHONES, A Pocket-Size Farce

By Emilio Williams

…One of the funniest and cleverest pieces of absurd theater…

Produced by Hanna Bondarewska

Directed by Joe Banno, Helen Hayes awarded director

Music/Sound by Gabriel Dib

Set & Lights Design by David Ghatan

Costumes by Lynly Saunders

Production Stage Manager Michelle Taylor

Featuring:

Ariana Almajan, Moriah Whiteman, Shravan Amin, Tekle Ghebremeschel and Hanna Bondarewska

WHERE: Mead Theatre Lab at FLASHPOINT

916 G Street NW, Washington DC

WHEN: October 20 – November 15, 2015; Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Matinees: Saturdays & Sundays at 2:00 pm

Oct. 20, 21 Previews at 8 pm; Oct. 22 at 8 pm, Opening & Reception follows

Press Night: Sat, Oct. 24, 8 pm; Special Q&A after the show with the author, Emilio Williams, director, Joe Banno and actors

TICKETS ONLINE: $20 – $40 Online: http://www.aticc.org/home/category/get-tickets

For 16 + Audiences

Media/Press: please e-mail us to reserve your tickets!

Welcome to the World of the Absurd and the Ridiculous and get ready to reflect on your own, in Emilio Williams’s quirky pocket-size farce ‘Smartphones’. Two couples addicted to social media and self-gratification get too close for comfort stuck in a house of their elusive friend, who may never arrive. While waiting for Fede and pestering their smartphones to ‘death’, the group begin to lose their cool. The lies are exposed, masks dropped, secret desires revealed in this fast paced comedy too ridiculous to be true, or is it?

The Team of Ambassador Theater is thrilled to present the play, Smartphones, by a Spanish playwright and director Emilio Williams. Williams’ plays have been produced in Spain, Argentina, France, Estonia, the United Kingdom and the United States (including productions and performances in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles). His most recent comedy “Your Problem with Men” was produced by Teatro Luna in Chicago, and has traveled to New York City, Los Angeles and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In 2012, his one woman show “Medea’s Got Some Issues” received “Best International Show” at United Solo Festival, Off Broadway, New York City. That same year, his comedy “Smartphones – a pocket-size farce,” received its world premiere at Trap Door Theatre in Chicago. The book was published as part of the anthology New Plays from Spain by Siegel Center. In 2010, his “dramedy” “Tables and Beds, an unromantic comedy“was selected among 80 plays from 12 countries as the winner of the 4th Premio el EspectáculoTeatral. Emilio has degrees in journalism and in film and video. In the 1990’s, he worked for CNN in Atlanta and Washington. He worked for The Johns Hopkins University between 2001 and 2011. In 2011, he moved permanently to Chicago, the city where his father was born. He currently works for The University of Chicago developing the international business of its healthcare enterprise.

Ambassador Theater’s mission is to build international cultural awareness, provide a high standard of international repertoire based on close relations with the diplomatic and cultural representatives of different countries in the United States, and provide international interactive educational programs for the youth of the District of Columbia, the D.C. Metro area, and around the United States.

Contact: Hanna Bondarewska, Artistic Director

(703) 475-4036; HannaB@aticc.org

or Eliza Anna Falk, Literary Director

(703) 618-1160; eliza.falk@aticc.org

ATICC is a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization. For more information, visit www.aticc.org

Contact: Hanna Bondarewska, Artistic Director

(703) 475-4036; HannaB@aticc.org

or Eliza Anna Falk, Literary Director

(703) 618-1160;

eliza.falk@aticc.org

Washington, DC, September 20, 2015

–For immediate release—

In Partnership with the Embassy of Spain and SPAIN arts & culture

Ambassador Theater Presents

DC Premiere of

SMARTPHONES, A Pocket-Size Farce

By Emilio Williams

…One of the funniest and cleverest pieces of absurd theater…

Produced by Hanna Bondarewska

Directed by Joe Banno, Helen Hayes awarded director

Music/Sound by Gabriel Dib

Set & Lights Design by David Ghatan

Costumes by Lynly Saunders

Featuring: Ariana Almajan, Moriah Whiteman, Bruce Rauscher, Shravan Amin, and Tekle Ghebremeschel

WHERE: Mead Theatre Lab at FLASHPOINT

916 G Street NW, Washington DC

WHEN: October 20 – November 15, 2015; Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Matinees: Saturdays & Sundays at 2:00 pm

Oct. 20, 21 Previews at 8 pm; Oct. 22 at 8 pm, Opening & Reception follows

Press Night: Sat, Oct. 24, 8 pm; Special Q&A after the show with the author, Emilio Williams, director, Joe Banno and actors

TICKETS: $20 – $40 Online: http://www.aticc.org/home/category/get-tickets

For 16 + Audiences

Media/Press: please e-mail us to reserve your tickets!

Be prepared for the Absurd and the Ridiculous, as well as moments of thoughtful reflection, in Emilio Williams’s quirky pocket-size farce ‘Smartphones’. This modern surreal play deconstructs relations between four egocentric individuals addicted to social media and self-gratification. Two couples and their precarious worlds get too close for comfort stuck in a house of their elusive friend, who may never arrive. While waiting for Fede and pestering their smartphones to ‘death’, the group begin to lose their cool. The lies are exposed, masks dropped, secret desires revealed in this fast paced comedy too ridiculous to be true, or is it?

The Team of Ambassador Theater is thrilled to present the play, Smartphones, by a Spanish playwright and director Emilio Williams. Williams’ plays have been produced in Spain, Argentina, France, Estonia, the United Kingdom and the United States (including productions and performances in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles).

His most recent comedy “Your Problem with Men” was produced by Teatro Luna in Chicago, and has traveled to New York City, Los Angeles and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In 2012, his one woman show “Medea’s Got Some Issues” received “Best International Show” at United Solo Festival, Off Broadway, New York City. That same year, his comedy “Smartphones – a pocket-size farce,” received its world premiere at Trap Door Theatre in Chicago. The book was published as part of the anthology New Plays from Spain by Siegel Center. In 2010, his “dramedy” “Tables and Beds, an unromantic comedywas selected among 80 plays from 12 countries as the winner of the 4th Premio el EspectáculoTeatral. Emilio has degrees in journalism and in film and video. In the 1990’s, he worked for CNN in Atlanta and Washington. He worked for The Johns Hopkins University between 2001 and 2011. In 2011, he moved permanently to Chicago, the city where his father was born. He currently works for The University of Chicago developing the international business of its healthcare enterprise.

Ambassador Theater’s mission is to build international cultural awareness, provide a high standard of international repertoire based on close relations with the diplomatic and cultural representatives of different countries in the United States, and provide international interactive educational programs for the youth of the District of Columbia, the D.C. Metro area, and around the United States.

ATICC is a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization. For more information, visit www.aticc.org

Jul 092015
 

Type: Theatre
Pay: Paid
Union: Non-Union

Audition/Casting Date(s): Thursday, July 16
Start/End Time: 2:00 PM – 6:45 PM
Location: Ambassador Theater at FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street NW, Washington DC 20001

Please e-mail your photo/resume at ambassadortheater@aticc.org
PLEASE REGISTER ONLINE through Eventbrite

Breakdown/Description:
Ambassador Theater is holding a casting call for We Won’t Pay Won’t Pay by Dario Fo. The play will be produced at the FLASHPOINT, Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC.

The production will be directed by Joe Banno, a Helen Hayes Award-winning director and former artistic director of Source Theatre Company, who has staged productions at Folger Theatre, Theatre J, American Century Theatre, Wolf Trap Opera, and dozens of other companies in the DC-area and around the country.

Won’t Pay Won’t Pay: Performances: Oct. 22 – Nov. 15, 2015
ROLES  – Antonia ( Wife of Giovanni, an attractive, mid-age woman), Giovanni (Husband of Antonia), Margherita (friend of Antonia), Luigi (husband of Margherita), State Trooper (Older Man)

About: …the comedy of hunger…

...The characters are hungry for dignity, justice and love…

A comedy/farce in two acts in which the characters… are driven by their collective hungers to break free from the constraints in which their poverty has confined them…

Author: Dario Fo

“who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden” Nobelprize.org

An Italian avant-garde playwright, manager-director, and actor-mime, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. A theatrical caricaturist with a flair for social agitation, he often faced government censure.

Dario Fo wrote over 70 plays, coauthoring some of them with Rame. Among his most popular plays are Morte accidentale di un anarchico (1974; Accidental Death of an Anarchist) and Non si paga, non si paga! (1974; We Can’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!). As a performer, Fo is best known for his solo tour de force Mistero Buffo (1973; “Comic Mystery”), based on medieval mystery plays but so topical that the shows changed with each audience.

FOR YOUR AUDITIONS:
Bring your photo/resume and be ready to read from the script ! You may also present a monologue.

Audition Address:

FLASHPOINT, Mead Theatre Lab

916 G Street NW

Washington DC 20001

Contact Information:
ambassadortheater@aticc.org

 

Jun 082015
 
VAL_2580
BWW Reviews:  A Mesmerizing, Memorable TRAP At Ambassador TheaterIt’s easy to misunderstand the avant-garde: we come to the theatre expecting a normal story told by actors who are easy to follow, with sets that are exactly what they appear to be. And when a production deviates from the norm we tend to squirm, flip through the program and hope the intermission comes soon so we can split for the bar down the block. 

Why can’t they just give it to us straight? Because for many of us life is irreparably complex, our experience shattered by tragedies and burdens that typical audiences cannot begin to imagine. In order for the artist to tell that story and do it justice, nothing about it could possibly be normal.

Consider Samuel Beckett, who spent years in the Resistance during World War II roaming the desolate, war-torn French countryside waiting for his next contact-an experience echoed in his masterpiece Waiting for Godot. Now consider the life of another artist whose country’s existence has hung repeatedly in the balance, a man who experienced Nazi occupation, bore witness to the Holocaust and then endured over forty years of Communist dictatorship. How can you express the psychological devastation of all those years, combined with the artist’s indomitable will to rise from the ashes again and again? To stage this experience as if it were normal would render it ridiculous.

Ambassador Theater, with their production of Polish poet Tadeusz Rózewicz’s masterpiece The Trap, has introduced Washington audiences to another theatrical genius of Beckett’s stature. Like Beckett, Rózewicz fought the Nazis; unlike Beckett, Rózewicz did not have the luxury of spending the rest of his career writing as he pleased in the democratic West. Instead he had to navigate the treacherous waters of Soviet rule, where literature became a battleground and attacks needed to be carefully staged indeed. Through his collaboration with artists like the great director Tadeusz Kantor in Krakow, Rózewicz developed theatrical techniques that reflected his own life and enabled his audiences to think deeply about what they were living through.

The Trap was inspired by Rózewicz’s love for the Czech author Franz Kafka; but because Kafka was Jewish, and because works like MetamorphosisThe Trial and The Castle anticipated the nightmares of Nazism and totalitarianism which came soon after his death (he died in 1924), his works were banned throughout Eastern Europe. Kafka was forbidden at the very moment when people needed his artistic vision the most.

It is easy to see why Rózewicz found a kindred spirit in Kafka, someone who understood what the future held and who could give voice to the suffering that plagued so many for so long. What makes Kafka even more compelling is the way his suffering was largely self-imposed; imprisoned by his need to write and struggling with ailments that would send him to an early grave, he tried desperately to live but was plagued by self-doubt. A self-doubt so deep that he asked to have his writings burned after he died; (fortunately for us his best friend, Max Brod, refused to do so).

The Trap traces key elements in Kafka’s life-his domineering father, his sympathetic (and mischievous) sisters, his serial engagements to women, his affairs, etc. Rózewicz’s masterstroke is the way he weaves the much darker future-the rise of Nazism, his sisters’ death in the Holocaust, and the long Soviet occupation-with the troubled ‘present’ of Kafka’s time.

Rózewicz creates a space in which past, present and ominous future occur simultaneously; Franz, the Kafka character, is accompanied throughout the show by Animula (“little soul,” played affectingly by Alexander Rolinski), a young boy who accompanies Kafka and witnesses everything. We’re free to interpret Animula as we see fit – is he Kafka’s pure soul? Is he Kafka as a boy, a reminder of lost innocence? Does he represent the child-like vision of the artist? Whatever we choose to see in him, his presence haunts much of what follows.

Meanwhile a small phalanx of Soviet-era, trench-coated secret police (costumed by Sigrídur Jóhannsedóttir) move in and around the stage, performing set changes and quietly reinforcing our sense of paranoia. Kafka’s paranoia was primarily personal, but would soon become a defining experience for the generations that followed. These police also greet you in the lobby, conducting you upstairs to the theatre in stiff, formal fashion-a reminder that even in the pre-internet age, privacy in some places had already disappeared.

Leading the cast is Matthew Payne, who as Franz captures the anxiety and exuberance of the artist. His delivery is rushed at times, and is of a piece with a young man who suspects that his end is near, but who has a world of words to communicate. Colin Davies, as the Father, rules the stage as the petty dictator of Franz’s household, (Kafka fans will remember he wrote an epic diatribe against him). Davies’ forceful performance calls to mind Steven Berkoff, whose interpretations of Kafka are themselves legendary.

It would be a very long review to list all the fine performances in the supporting cast; but well worth mention is Madeline Burrows who shines as Ottia, Franz’s ever-cheerful sister; Burrows also has a chilling pre-show role as TV journalist/interrogator in the theatre lobby, a spectacle in which she questions a caged Franz. Morganne Davies and Ariana Almajan likewise light up the stage as Felice and Grete, two of the most important women in Franz’s life. And Benjamin Koontz gives a solid performance as Max, Franz’s close friend, his anchor in reality and-by virtue of receiving his papers for burning-Franz’s de facto literary executor.

Director Hanna Bondarewska has assembled an inventive creative team, who give us a vivid glimpse of the Polish avant-garde. Set designer Carl Gudenius has filled this bare, experimental space with trapezoidal projection screens and, most intriguingly, ominously-shaped oblong boxes. In this world, things are never really as they seem; when standing the boxes appear to be wardrobes and fireplaces, and when laid flat they can be beds, benches, dinner tables – and yet the inescapable image of the coffin is there as well. Bondarewska and Kathy Gordon choreograph scene changes to forefront the ever-changing nature of life in Kafka’s Prague, accompanied by composer Jerzy Satanowski’s haunting score; Satanowski incorporates a variety of instruments and themes, which comment on and aid the momentum of each scene.

Gudenius’ scenic flats become the locus of a series of fascinating projections, designed by Riki Kim; alternating between abstract figures, barbed wire and blossoming flowers (often shown as photographic negatives), Kim’s work heightens the sense of alienation and fragmentation experienced by the characters onstage.

The Trap is a rarity for Washington; a glimpse of an avant-garde movement whose techniques were forged in the crucible of two world wars and decades-long Communist dictatorship. The result is a fascinating evening of theater, and one that artists in DC would do well to study.

Production Photo: Matthew Payne as Franz, with Madeline Burrows as Ottia. Photo by Valentine Radev.

Advisory: the show includes brief nudity, dramatizations of the Holocaust, and is more appropriate for audiences 16 and older.

Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes, with one intermission.

The Trap plays at the XX Building (a former church), 814 20th St. NW. Tickets at:

http://www.aticc.org/home/category/get-tickets .

 

© 2015 Copyright Wisdom Digital Media. All Rights reserved.

 

Jun 022015
 

‘The Trap’ at Ambassador Theater

by  on May 31, 2015
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The gaunt and haunted figure of Franz Kafka obsessed the renowned Polish poet, novelist, and dramatist Tadeusz Różewicz (1921-2014). His two-act play The Trap—part expressionistic, part realistic—poetically thrusts Kafka’s anxieties and nightmares front and center. First published in 1982, The Trap as translated by Adam Czerniawski is now getting its U.S. premiere in an imaginative and fittingly Kafkaesque staging directed for Ambassador Theater by Hanna Bondarewska.

Abigail Ropp (Elli), Emily Gilson (Vallie), Alexander Rolinski (Animula), Colin Davies (Father), Melissa Robinson (Mother), Matthew Payne (Franz), and Madeline Burrows (Ottla). Photo by Valentin Radev.L to R: Abigail Ropp (Elli), Emily Gilson (Vallie), Alexander Rolinski (Animula), Colin Davies (Father), Melissa Robinson (Mother), Matthew Payne (Franz), and Madeline Burrows (Ottla). Photo by Valentin Radev. 

In the lobby a short pre-show scene plays out: Inside a cage labeled “Hunger Artist,” the actor who will play Franz (a lean and anguished Matthew Lindsay Payne) rants about why he is starving: as a political rebuke those who overconsume. (Kafka did himself write a story called The Hunger Artist, and Różewicz loosely based a play upon it.) Nearby stand ominously authoritative figures in long black trench coats and dark glasses who usher us into the theater.

More of a fan’s fantasia on Kafka’s life than a fact-based biography, The Trap is an ingenious amalgam of lively sketches and punchy scenes. Among them are episodes from Kafka’s childhood with his overbearing Father (a fearsome Colin Davies), incidents from his serial courtships with women to whom he could not commit—Felice (Morganne Davies), Grete (Ariana Almajan), and Jana Slowik (Abigail Ropp), and badinage with his best friend Max Brod (a robust Benjamin Koontz). (It was the real Max Brod whom Kafka made promise to burn his writings upon his death but who, recognizing their worth as literature, preserved them instead. Were it not for Brod’s posthumous betrayal, we’d have bupkis of Kafka.) Flash-forwarding in time, The Trap also shows scenes evoking the Holocaust and imagining Kafka’s family being caught up in it (though their lifetimes were actually earlier).

Ambassador Theater is known for importing edgy and important European dramatic literature to DC, and The Trap is its biggest production yet; usually the company’s runs are in smaller venues. The set designed by Carl Gudenius consists of large trapezoidal panels on casters and heavy wooden boxes that, along with other furniture, the actors heave and maneuver into different positions to set each successive scene. The angular, expressionistic flexible playing spaces created thereby are impressive and visually striking—though the scene changes themselves at times seemed to take longer than the scenes in between. These pace-slowing intervals did, however, have an upside: They provided opportunities to appreciate the exquisite incidental music that was specially scored for this production by Jerzy Satanowski.

An eminent Polish composer with whom Bondarewska has collaborated before, Satanowski has created an extraordinary musical environment that like the play is also an imaginative amalgam—piano, cello, percussion, and assorted other effects evoking bubbling and circuses and a world of wonder all its own. Rarely during a play do I think to myself, as I did during The Trap, that I wished I could listen to its music cues again and again.

Alexander Rolinski (Young Franz) and Matthew Lindsay Payne (Franz Kafka). Photo by Valentin Radev.Alexander Rolinski (Young Franz) and Matthew Lindsay Payne (Franz Kafka). Photo by Valentin Radev. 

What this mounting lacked in momentum it more than made up for in layers of momentous meaning. Among them is the luminous performance of Alexander Rolinski, who plays Young Franz as well as a character identified as Animula, which means “little soul.” The boy has but one scene with dialogue, sick in bed cared by his nanny Josie (Ariana Almajan).

But during many other passages this little soul moves about, unseen by other characters, as if in silent witness to the inner torment of the elder Franz. In Rolinski’s expressive face can be read a fascinating perspective on the play we are watching: It is the point of view of the inner child who necessarily stays alive in every great artist—and who is here made transparent through the inner life of a exceptionally promising young actor.

Another rich layer of meaning in The Trap is the puzzling and provocative relationship between Różewicz and Kafka, which I found myself pondering all evening. Is Różewicz somehow playing Boswell to a Johnson here? Is Różewicz appropriating and riffing on another artist’s life as if to extoll it but actually to undermine it by insinuating himself into his subject’s aura vicariously? Is Różewicz actually putting Kafka in his place, thereby ennobling himself?

These speculations were prompted by the odd way the character of Kafka is written in the script of The Trap. Pretty much everyone in Kafka’s life bluntly calls him out on his character defects. Not only does young Franz get damagingly critiqued by his distant and judgmental father (who in a biblical nightmare scene that Franz dreams plays Abraham about to slay his son). Franz also gets dissed by the several women he courts who (somewhat unaccountably) fall in love with him, as well as his best bud Brod, who (somewhat unaccountably) is genuinely fond of him. They all have his number dead on: Franz can’t relate to reality; he’s got lousy social skills; he doesn’t reciprocate their regard for him; he’s a self-obsessed downer and a drag. Basically the script offers little in the way of redeeming features for its central character, unless you remind yourself, Oh right, the historical figure this dude is based on wrote some amazing shit. The upside of this textual vacuum is that it thrusts a provocative dynamic between author and main character front and center. The downside is that the play as written offers an audience little reason to care about the main character or what happens to him.

Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I overstate this case in order to point out that the role of Franz as written is a heckuva challenge for an actor. That actor has to overcome the script’s negativity about the character and portray someone we’ll enjoy the company of long enough to hang with for a couple hours. Matthew Lindsay Payne rises to the challenge commendably. His agile performance is characterized by lots of sudden tone and mood swings—like, really abrupt, as if he’s switching among multiple personalities. This has the salutary effect of conveying Kafka’s inner conflicts while at the same time opening opportunities for the actor to bring to the role his own personable, attractive, and charming qualities—all of which the historical Kafka sorely lacked.

This production is large scale also in the size of its cast, which besides those named above includes Ariana Almajan, Madeline Burrows, John Brennan, Marlowe Vilchez, Emily H. Gilson, Peter Orvetti, and Ed Klein (who gave a particularly shattering turn in a brief barbershop scene).

Colin Davies  (Father), Alexander Rolinski (Young Franz), and Melissa B. Robinson (Mother). Photo by Valentin Radev.Colin Davies (Father), Alexander Rolinski (Young Franz), and Melissa B. Robinson (Mother). Photo by Valentin Radev. 

Sigridur Jonnesdottir’s costume designs, especially for the women actors and the boy, were really lovely to look at. (I did not observe the multimedia projections designed by Riki Kim, which I’m told were not working the night I saw the show; Michael Stepowany’s lighting also seemed to be operating uncertainly. I have no doubt that will all be fixed.)

Franz Kafka looms over world literature; the mark he made is both indelible and enigmatic. By putting this writer’s troubled persona front and center—as seen through the eyes of a poetic writer distinguished in his own right—The Trap offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on this fascinating figure. And Ambassador Theater’s production plays the compelling and complex portrait to the hilt.

Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes, including one intermission.

The Trap plays through June 21, 2015 at The Ambassador Theater performing at XX Building at the George Washington University – 814 20th Street, NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them online.