France, Morocco, Palestine, Israel
Phèdre les oiseaux: The Phaedra myth has been told many times. Euripides titled his play Hippolytus, after Phaedra’s stepson, whose rejection of her love seals his doom. The 17th-century French dramatist Jean Racine called his piece Phèdre. Eugene O’Neill took the theme of desire for his headline (and set the story under New England elms).
In Phèdre les oiseaux (Phaedra the Birds), French dramatist Frédéric Boyer is interested in “the terrible song of our own banality.” He imagines the title figure speaks to us in the present day, reclaiming and reframing her own story. The tale’s spanning of time and cultures is matched by the itinerant nature of director Jean-Baptiste Sastre’s staging. Debuting in France in early 2012, the production has traveled to several nations (including a recent U.S. stop in Los Angeles). In each country, the lead actress, Hiam Abbass, plays opposite a different Hippolytus, beginning with Sastre himself in France, and a new chorus (the “birds” of the title) drawn from each community. The Palestinian Abbass, who was raised in Israel and is a longtime resident of France, has delivered the title role so far in French, English and Arabic. For an autumn tour to Palestine and Israel, she will speak the poetic text in Hebrew. (Different actresses have been cast to play the role in Italian and German.) “I don’t feel it’s exported material from French culture,” says Abbass. “It is a creation and a learning process within the community.”
The result is a telling that belongs neither to Greece, nor to France, nor to America—nor even to Phaedra so much as to the audience. “It has been a dream of a lot of actresses to play this part,” Abbass remarks. “I’m lucky to have been offered this part in a modern context.” (Aix-en-Provence, France: through July 2; Tangier, Morocco: Sept. 27; Various cities, Palestine and Israel: October; www.mp2013.fr)
King kong: A new musical extravaganza has stomped onto the boards in Melbourne. The score of this King Kong (not to be confused with the tuner playing outdoors in NYC—see page 16) is overseen by composer/arranger Marcus de Vries, best known for the soundtracks of the films Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. Contributors to the score include Massive Attack’s 3D (aka Robert del Naja), Sarah McLachlan, and the Australian sampling wizards the Avalanches, who have retooled the old standard “Get Happy.” The book is by Craig Lucas; direction is by Daniel Kramer. And the 2,400-pound, 20-foot puppet at the center of it all is designed by Sonny Tilders, who created dinos and dragons for two previous “arena spectaculars” by producer Global Creatures. (Open run; http://kingkongliveonstage.com)
England, Italy, France, Belgium
The Old Woman: Daniil Kharms wrote odd, dark fiction. No odder or darker, perhaps, than his life in Stalinist Russia—which ended prematurely in a prison at age 36. A New York Times reviewer has noted of his stories, “They seem to cower at the suggestion of rising action, to blush at the heightened causality that makes a story a story. They sometimes end, you feel, before they’ve even begun.”
The dilemma faced by the protagonist of Kharms’s “The Old Woman” is that he met a cute girl in the bread line but, meanwhile, a pesky crone has chosen to breathe her last in his home. Surely he’ll be blamed! Our narrator can’t even steal a decent nap.
From Neil Cornwell’s translation:
I shall recline and try to get to sleep. The offensive shouting of urchins can be heard from the street. I lie there, thinking up various means of execution for them. My favorite one is to infect them all with tetanus so that they suddenly stop moving. Their parents can drag them all home. They will lie in their beds unable even to eat, because their mouths won’t open. They will be fed artificially. After a week the tetanus can pass off, but the children will be so feeble that they will have to lie in their beds for a whole month. Then they will gradually start to recover but I shall infect them with a second dose of tetanus and they will all croak.
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Willem Dafoe, and Robert Wilson have united to stage this sly work. The noted actors and director will unveil their adaptation in four European locales: the Manchester International Festival in England, the Spoleto Festival in Italy, Paris’s Festival d’Automne and Antwerp’s deSingel. (Manchester, England: July 4–7; Spoleto, Italy: July 12–14; Paris, France: TBA; Antwerp, Belgium: Oct. 25–29; www.mif.co.uk; www.festivaldispoleto.com; www.desingel.be; www.festival-automne.com)