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Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

orson welles and william shakespeare

In classics long after, video on March 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

I’ve finally gotten my own latest script to what I’m calling the Scrap Draft (something I invented to go immediately before the more standard Rough Draft, so you can see how much of my creative energy goes into redefining progress…) Point is, before going on with further writers – and you can expect to see series on Sarah Kane and Federico García Lorca soonish, with a full run-through of all of Caryl Churchill‘s full-length plays beyond – I thought I’d retroactively fill a few of the gaps in my series on Brecht. So, hold tight for notes on and lines from Man Equals Man and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny – perhaps even, maybe belatedly, Mother Courage and Life of Galileo since it seems perverse to leave them out.

Plus, because I’d hate to take your time purely for that kind of announcement, see below to watch Orson Welles’ magisterial Falstaff in his own Shakespeare adaptation Chimes of Midnight. I’ve been somewhat obsessing over the great basso profundo recently – ever since catching One Man Band, a documentary of his last years (via the permanently elevated ubuweb site). What I’d worried might be a glum wallow in genius spurned is checked by Welles’ own spirit (“Sour grapes are not my dish,” he used to say, magnificently) and the accounts of his turning the domestic home into a private stage for bardic play are warming (“He made a great Romeo,” smiles final partner Oja Kodar. “He made a great Juliet, too.”)

One final bonus – see sister site Theatre in Pieces for a short video excerpt of Welles’ all-black Macbeth. I spoil you (occasionally).

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a new shakespeare: read double falsehood online

In classics long after on March 18, 2010 at 9:13 am

double falsehood

Subjectiviste is never going to be a newsblog, but if you’re writing about drama and a new Shakespeare play is unearthed, you run don’t walk in that general direction for all too obvious reasons. It seems Double Falsehood (or, The Distrest Lovers) is a revision of Shakespeare’s sadly swallowed Cardenio (in turn based, dizzyingly, on Don Quixote) – written with John Fletcher, who also co-authored the original. For background, The Guardian speaks to the academic whose obsessive work has led to the play’s re-emergence (plus offers a short exchange from the script), The Telegraph make the case for its authenticity (with a scrap of speech).

But! WHY NOT READ THE WHOLE THING RIGHT HERE AND NOW? – GET THEE HENCE!

lines from the golem

In classics long after, quotables on March 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm

This is the last in what’s been a pretty skippy lookover of Jewish theatre, but I’d welcome any additional suggestions in that comment box down there. For now:

the golem

“I am the secret, not of darkness, but of light.” – Golem

Today’s play is another following a mythical spirit, as invoked by H. Leivick (“Slender, white-haired, a figure of austere simplicity, he had spent his life brooding over the problem of human suffering…when he turned from his rabbinical studies in his middle teens, he had already began to quarrel with God over the suffering he could neither understand nor justify.” – Joseph C. Landis, echoing the Jewish tradition of anti-devotional prayers).

The title names the creature in question – The Golem  – a robot-like creature of earth, created as a servant and famed for its (unthinking) defence of its creators. In Leivick’s brooding take, the relationship between servant and master, golem and world, will prove rather more metaphysical, as one would expect of a play containing characters called The Invisible and The Figure of the Uncreated, as well as scenes titled Clay, Walls and Through Darkness.

The first scene is perhaps the play’s most powerful, as Maharal, the Rabbi of Prague sculpting the golem’s body is visited by a ‘shadow’s shadow’: “I have come to warn you: create me not.” The rabbi argues the need for “A people’s champion, a man of might” but is answered by “A servant – to be ruled, commanded”. And without so much as a shazam, Golem is being led into Maharal’s study, and being labouriously instructed in the fundaments of living among people. He is taller than doorways and terrified – possessed by the infant’s existential confusion (“I want to twist / My head from off my shoulders, twist my arms and legs. / Put out the fire around me. / Take away the walls.”)

A giant naturally gathers attention, and this one is particularly thin-skinned, paranoia building with the mob’s questions and laughter – he is childishly dependent on his maker, and infatuated with his daughter (though what this means is closed to him). Maharal’s tactic would now be characterised as tough love, hoping he will grow with his mistakes – “I cannot always be with you. Know / That you came here to be alone.”

Golem completes missions for his master, but is stricken by a paralysing lack of purpose after – he has consciousness but not will, and his dependence on the Rabbi is deeper and darker than love: “Stay here with me forever in the anteroom. / I will give up my sleeping bench to you / And I will lie at your feet upon the floor.”

This need overrides all else – Golem spills ‘Jewish blood’ and, although it at first looks like this feverish strategem has won his desire, Maharal feeling he can no longer leave him alone, the Rabbi now announces Golem’s last mission. He instructs him to lie down. To close his eyes. “Breathe out your final breath. Amen.” Golem’s obedience, and the ease of his decease make the scene more shattering than any struggle could have.

“How good it was to be mere clay, / To lie, lifeless and calm, / among the sands and stone of the earth / Between eternities.” – Golem

lines from god of vengeance

In classics long after, quotables on March 8, 2010 at 1:20 am

Point one: there’s a title that doesn’t fuck about (“The boldness of its setting in a brothel and its introduction of homosexuality has not given the play a wholly untroubled career…” says Joseph C. Landis). Point two: its author, Sholem Asch is considered the best known Yiddish writer – by those who know, if you follow.

Set in a family home above a brothel – both ran by the father, Yankel – the play concerns his determination to keep his daughter uncontaminated from the vice that bankrolls the household. That its title is not ‘God of Typical Bourgeois Hypocrisy’ gives an indication that such a delicate balance may prove problematic, but Rivelke, the daughter, presents a mannered innocence from curtain-up to feed his hope. As the character quite literally known only as Woman Blind In One eye notes: “I tell you, as though she’d been raised in a synagogue, forgive the comparison – neat, pretty, more modest than all the respectable girls.” As for spiritual insurance:

“Don’t be afraid of your father. I love you. I love you very much. I’m ordering a Torah Scroll today. It costs a lot of money. For you, my child, for you.” (Yankel)

sholem asch

Sholem Asch

The scroll is installed, with no pressure whatsoever from the scribe who copied it for them: “Remember a Torah Scroll is a momentous thing; it supports the entire world…” and Yankel broadcasts his not at all screamingly neurotic dreams for her future, “Leave your father’s house and forget. Forget your father; forget your mother, and have decent children…”

We’re soon introduced to those who live (dig the symbolism) downstairs – a junior pimp and assorted prostitutes. It’s a bruised romantic called Basha who acts a poetic foreshadow, recalling her own father: “He’d kill me on the spot. He’s looking for me with an iron bar… My father is a butcher. Oh, the matches I could have made.” But she rejected her suitor: “He stinks from beef. Brr. They call him Medicine. How could I marry Medicine and every years have another little Medicine. Brr.” Worse, and most hauntingly, is her mother, dead of heartbreak: “I see her at night, in my dreams. She comes in her shroud, covered with thorns and briars because of my sins, and she tears at my hair.”


god of vengeance

In what one might see as a suspiciously prurient setpiece, it’s not long before Basha and friends are dancing in the rain – with Rivelke. Manke, who seems to have long been very close, takes her inside and the two girls play out a dream wedding – with Manke as the groom. They elope. “Had she died, I would have known that I buried a chaste child, an honourable child. But now what am I worth in this world? You’re sinful yourself and you leave behind a sinful generation. And so sin goes on from generation to generation” is Yankel’s predictable judgement, and even though his wife, Hindl, returns her to the home, the reunion is shortly thereafter followed by a self-destructive finale so rich in the infuriating, alienating logic of wounded honour  I can’t personally stomach repeating it (let’s say “Down to the house!” becomes something of a slogan and stage direction). Typically bourgeois after all…

lines from the dybbuk

In classics long after, quotables on March 3, 2010 at 2:03 am

First: yet more apologies for update slowdown – redrafting the play I have in development is taking most available headspace, but I will endeavour to make time late at night to keep this plate spinning. Hits have leaped recently, and I feel a wretch and a half for slacking. So, without further ado…

the dybbuk

Hanna Rovina as Leah'le in The Dybbuk

Just incredible; transfixing – and there’s no shortage of other images out there if you want to look for yourself – ‘The Dybbuk’ is almost certainly the best known Yiddish play because it reaches across cultures to capture the imagination (a fitting metaphor, as we’ll see). ‘The premiere, at the Elyseum theatre in Warsaw, did not take place until December 9, 1920 [it had been written in 1914], at the end of the traditional thirty-day mourning period that followed [author] S. Anski‘s death…’ (Three Great Jewish Plays, ed. Joseph C. Landis)

Anski had written: “From the Old Testament to the present, the central idea of all Jewish creativity is: physical force is not the force that wins… The physically stronger is defeated because he is spiritually weaker.” As his anti-hero, Khonnon, of the play notes: “The Holy Scrolls stand huddled together, calm silent. And in them are concealed all the secrets , all the veiled allusions, all the mysterious combinations from the six days of creation unto the end of the generations of men.

This relatively short, meticulously-ordered play begins in an old synagogue ‘with blackened walls’, where scholars and students gossip, debate and deal with those calling for their help. An elderly woman whose daughter ‘has been lying speechless, struggling with death’ is interceded for by a minyan (ten men praying) before a local noble arrives to celebrate the betrothal of his daughter. Khonnon, who has been terrorising his less kabbalistic brethren with dangerous insights (“There is no need to wage war against sin. Elevate it!“) falls into something between an emotional breakdown and a religious ecstasy when he hears – “So they were useless! All the fasts, all the ablutions, all that harrowing of flesh, all those spells…” – and swoons through visions to death.

“I saw his grave in a dream. And I saw him too, and he told me about himself…” (Leye)

We skip ahead to the wedding in question, where the bride, Leye – according to custom – paces the graveyard to invite her dead relative along. But that’s not all she finds: “There lived a young man who had a lofty soul and a deep mind. A long life lay before him. And suddenly, in an instant, his life was cut off, and strangers came to bury him in strange earth. What happened to the rest of his life? To his words that were silenced, to his prayers that were cut off?” And so she invites Khonnon, too.

At the altar, in a demonic set-piece that breeds shivers even now, Leye tears the veil from her face and ‘cries out in a strange, masculine voice’: “You buried me! But I have come back to my destined bride, and I will not leave her.

More Dybbuk

The rest of the play is almost a rabbinical procedural, as holy men seek to free the bride. The dialogue between Reb Azrielke and Khonnon (a Dybbuk, as I imagine you’d gathered, is a possessing spirit) has great power not through the wailing over-contrast of melodrama, but a kind of measured gravitas – Azrielke is sympathetic to the lost soul, especially as it becomes clear the two had been secretly in love. But Khonnon – speaking through Leye – is not to be reasoned out. “Wandering soul, I feel great pity for you, and I will try to release you from the destroying angels. But you must leave the body of this girl” is answered with “There is no more exalted height than my present refuge and there is no darker abyss than that which awaits me. I will not leave!

He is forced to leave. The rabbi shows mercy regardless, and revokes the exiled spirit’s excommunication. He rushes out to hurry the bridal company along, demanding they carry out the ceremony at once. Leye, left safe and sleeping in a magic circle, wakes alone – except for the voice of Khonnon, emenating from the darkness around. There follows an indescribably tender duologue. Leye: “Your hair was soft and it glistened as with tears, and your eyes were sad and gentle… But you went away and my light was put out and my soul withered… Then you returned and in my heart bloomed a life of death and a joy of sorrow. Why have you forsaken me again?” Khonnon: “I broke all barriers. I surmounted death, I defied the laws of the laws of the ages and generations…

“Return to me my bridegroom, my husband. I will carry you, in death, in my heart; and in the dreams of night we will together rock to sleep our unborn babes…” (Leye)

She steps out of the circle as this world’s bridal party finally arrive and folds to the floor, already gone. “Too late,” says Reb Azrielke, with sadness leavened by sympathy, as both souls depart.