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Global Theatre News for February 2014

Theatre news from France, New Zealand, South Africa and more.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Aún no consigo besar: “After a very disturbing week and with lots of personal worries, I took drugs to forget… When I woke up, I tried to light a cigarette and didn’t understand why it wouldn’t stay between my lips. That’s when I saw the pool of blood and the dog beside it.” Frenchwoman Isabelle Dinoire spoke these words in 2006 at a press conference, shortly after receiving the first partial-face transplant in history.
The previous spring, Dinoire had overdosed on sleeping pills. While she was unconscious, her dog had chewed away her mouth, nose and chin. Today, her countenance is scarred but whole. Argentine playwright Diego Bagnera has written Aún no consigo besar (meaning “I have not yet managed to kiss”) about Dinoire, fictionalizing her alongside the characters of her daughter, a psychiatrist, a surgeon and a journalist. In Bagnera’s account of Dinoire’s first post-op public appearance, she keeps her back entirely to the audience, both provoking and rebuking its curiosity.
Director Heidi Steinhardt’s intimate staging of Aún no consigo besar reopens at Buenos Aires’s El Ópalo this month, following its successful run there in the fall. Steinhardt has said she was inspired to bring the play to Bagnera’s native city after seeing the premiere he directed in Madrid. (Opening Feb. 22; elopaloteatro.blogspot.com)

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
The Market Theatre: Johannesburg’s iconic Market Theatre recently hired its first black full-time artistic director, James Ngcobo, who succeeded Malcolm Purkey in August. Ngcobo, a well-known writer, actor and director of Zulu ethnicity, was a seven-year-old in KwaMashu township, near Durban, when the Market opened in 1976 some 350 miles away and made its mark as a theatre of protest against apartheid.
The first project Ngcobo directed as Market A.D. was Athol Fugard’s 1959 drama Nongogo. (The director explained the selection in an interview with arts news website B Sharp Entertainment: “We don’t see love stories done by black actors.”) His 2014 season announcement includes Paul Slabolepszy’s Pale Natives, last staged at the Market in 1994, along with several newer works from across the country. Among those is Missing, written by and starring John Kani, one of the Market’s most venerable artists. (It also plays Feb. 27–March 29 at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Center.) Another Ngcobo pick is Did We Dance, written by the Baxter’s director, prominent scribe Lara Foot, about a 1917 South African naval disaster. Ngcobo also plans productions of Zakes Mda’s satire of corruption and greed, The Mother of All Eating; a play called A Human Being Died That Night, based on the 2003 book by Truth and Reconciliation Commission committee member Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela; and choreographer Gregory Maqoma’s Four Seasons.
Meanwhile, this month, Ngcobo directs American writer/director George C. Wolfe’s lampoon of racial stereotypes, The Colored Museum. In the 1980s, the play electrified audiences at New York’s Public Theater, where Wolfe would himself become the first black artistic leader a handful of years later. According to the Market’s website, “This play represents the Market Theatre’s curiosity about the diaspora, the history of those who ended up in faraway places and had to evolve to take on board the new soul that they called ‘home.’” (The Colored Museum: through Feb. 23; www.markettheatre.co.za)

REIMS, FRANCE
L’Encyclopédie des Guerres: France’s Comédie de Reims hosts the latest monthly installments of a peculiar lecture-performance hybrid, the title of which translates to The Encyclopedia of Wars, begun in 2008 by Jean-Yves Jouannais. Free of charge to the public, the series is loosely inspired, in its sprawling ambition if not its subject matter, by Gustave Flaubert’s posthumously published novel about a pair of naïve autodidacts, Bouvard and Pécuchet.
During each session, Jouannais freewheels for 90 or so minutes through military history, from antiquity to World War II. He has organized his talks alphabetically by evocative keywords—such as abeille (bee), étoiles (stars) or fanion (pennant)—that he fleshes out with found text, music and imagery, and shapes according to his personal preoccupations.
The most unusual aspect of L’Encyclopédie is that Jouannais is not a trained historian. His field is art; he is a critic, editor and curator by profession. And yet, according to a blog post by Milan-based culture magazine Kaleidoscope, Jouannais has remarked of the project, “I finally have found what will keep me busy for the rest of my life!” (Feb. 12, March 19, April 16, May 21; www.lacomediedereims.fr)

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand Festival: Well-traveled international theatre artists, including Canada’s Robert Lepage, the U.S.’s Denis O’Hare and Russia’s Dmitry Krymov, figure on this interdisciplinary arts fest’s 2014 program—with Needles and Opium, An Iliad and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It), respectively. A New Zealand company, MAU, is also on the roster in early March—not just with its most recent touring success, Stones in Her Mouth, but also with the debut of its newest and soon-to-be-touring show, The Crimson House. The former production, previewed this past fall at Los Angeles’s REDCAT before it premiered in December in Belgium, combines oratory, choral music, ceremonial dance and aggressive lighting design (including a harsh beam that shines for an extended time into the audience’s eyes) and features an ensemble of 10 Māori women drawing on their culture’s chants and rituals to comment on the state of the world. Reviewers of the L.A. run of Stones were divided on the effectiveness of that severe lighting, but were mesmerized one and all by the powerful presence of the women themselves. As for The Crimson House, it promises to draw connections between divine omniscience and Big Brother, investigating power, surveillance and conscience in the modern world. (Feb. 21–March 16; www.festival.co.nz)

ANTWERP, BELGIUM AND TOULOUSE, FRANCE
Onomatopee: Like a snowball gaining size as it rolls downhill, a series of “polycoproductions” (as Dutch actor Matthias de Koning calls them) has been building momentum for more than a decade, bringing together members of Dutch actor-centric ensembles Maatschappij Discordia, Dood Paard and the now-defunct duo Kas & de Wolf, as well as Flemish companies tg STAN and De KOE. In pairs, trios and larger groups, the actors have created new work, jumping off from such texts as Denis Diderot’s Paradox of Acting, André Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s My Dinner with André and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. They work without a director, relying on rehearsal and conversation to find consensus on every detail of the show.
De Koning says these extracurricular projects are a chance to “confront your style of dramaturgy,” noting, “I find it very important to make steps outside your company with each other and to go back to your company.”
Five actors from this cohort—de Koning, Gillis Biescheuvel, Peter Van den Eede, Willem de Wolf and Damiaan de Schrijver—came together in 2006 to create a new project titled Onomatopee (Onomatopoeia), which they toured through 2008. Now Onomatopee’s quintet has reunited for a new French-language version of the originally-in-Dutch production. The translation is intended to open new touring possibilities for the show, as well as to play with the atmosphere of the piece.
And what is it, exactly, that they have created? Five waiters burst through a wall “and serve up a cacophonous echolalia,” as one publicity blurb puts it. Alternate descriptions promise “an Existential Choreography” or “a Dramatized Poetry Evening in Five Acts.” A video trailer suggests that the waiter jackets come off, the walls come down, and language disintegrates into something more primal. (Antwerp: Feb. 19–21; Toulouse: Feb. 26–March 6; www.stan.be)

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