Two recent events at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts (BAM) sounded excellent on paper: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is universally praised as is the work of dance choreographer Pina Bausch. However instead of reflection and inspiration, the never-ending productions (five hours and three hours each respectively) became endurance tests, challenges to the viewer to just stay awake. I took to staring at the lights at stage left, studying the shadows of the players wandering about, and then studying the back of my hand, the veins bulging over my knuckle, the dry edge of a cuticle, and then chewing the inside of my mouth with a feverish intensity, so much so that it became bloody and sore, the only thing keeping me awake.
The highlight of both evenings, in fact, was the dinner break, where we patrons were given the unique opportunity of picnicking on the floor. After that, it was back to our moderately comfortable seats and the grindstone of keeping my head propped up and my eyes on the prize: the time to go home. Only an hour and 25 minutes to go…almost an hour, almost there…
I have been obsessive with saving ticket stubs for over thirty years – a time frame that seems to parallel my rock collection. This isn’t to say I’ve saved every one of them, but I still have the stub from my first concert, The Who at Maple Gardens in 1980. There have been a lot of hockey games…a clear and intense obsession with The Grateful Dead…NCAA basketball…and more recently many shows at BAM, Carnegie Hall and the Met. Some events I remember better than others. Some I completely forget.They’re just pieces of paper, some just printouts, but still it’s good to remember where most of my money has gone.
The Trisha Brown Dance Company performed four pieces at BAM last night, including two New York premieres. I know very little about dance and lack the vocabulary to describe the movements and style; but I do know when it works, when the energy makes sense. It is like music in how it opens thoughts from the day-to-day into something skulking deep within. The dancers spun, flipped and dashed, and I found myself thinking back to my first book, The Sacred Whore. As I told agents time and again back in 1988, “It’s the story of a group of prostitutes who kidnap a college basketball team so that they can air their views on what is wrong with America on primetime television.” The first draft was 720 pages and had 15 major characters.I eventually got that down to 282 pages and five main characters. It’s a chaotic, action-dependent, socio-political piece that stumbles and ultimately fails, but I still am interested in the premise. It opens on the back roads of Oklahoma, women climbing out the back of an 18-wheeler truck like refugees. They’ve been kidnapped by a pimp who wants to address the hypocritical morality of the nation with a hair-brained kidnapping scheme. I was standing in a Paris apartment when I thought of this, a mannequin sitting in the dark beside the bed. Prostitutes transported across the country by a truck. What about that? It seemed like something, I didn’t know what, like the moment some months later, halfway through the book, when a character I had expunged from the text, Chantal, decided to return. She did that on her own. I want back in. She was like the woman on stage last night at BAM, dancing with a camera on her back. She was self-realized, something out of nothing. I thought about that coming back over the bridge.
Roman Tragediesis a six-hour Shakespearean marathon presented in Dutch. As the director himself, Ivo van Hove, admits, this is a daunting prospect. “When we opened in 2007 [at the Holland Festival], I told the guy working for me who does the international tours: don’t invite anybody to come and see this. They will hate it.” He was wrong about that. Not only has van Hove merged these three tragedies – Coriolanus, Julius Caesar& Antony and Cleopatra – with a willingness to pare, stripping the imagery and language to its stark and brutal core, but he has also staged the piece in a manner so dynamic as to convince the viewer it’s all quite modern. Most innovative of all is the audience’s freedom of movement – not only allowed throughout the theater but also onto the stage itself. As gimmicky as this might sound, it actually works. We were reticent to move at first, enjoying our front row mezzanine view, watching the audience rush for ideal places, but we did finally head down – 2 1/2 hours into the production – to the back corner of the stage.We found ourselves suddenly amidst the conspirators during Antony’s famed eulogy. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.The energy was genuinely intimidating; Brutus was so upset that a small woman jumped behind me to avoid being hit.
Brutus absorbs the impact of Antony’s speech.
The members of this theater company, Toneelgroep, are dedicated to their craft; they throw themselves into the characters with a passion for the psyche of their roles, seemingly unconcerned for the trappings of costume and setting. But the staging really is the thing, using TV monitors, on-stage cameras, digital photographs of each character as they die – reminiscent of the last images of modern day tyrants such as Ceausescu, Hussein and Gaddafi.Not to be forgotten are the giant video screen, scrolling news stream as well as the thunderous roll of percussion and light. It is, without doubt, a memorable work. And if you don’t have time to get something beforehand, remember that they serve drinks and snacks right on stage.
It’s cold today, bright and cold on Saturday, November 3.We have our power back in the building; however that’s not the case for many of those to the east and south of us. Generators are still the norm.There isn’t so much water being pumped out now. The level is going down in the Battery Park underpass as well. Some stores are trying to open…if only half. And I’m happy to report that there was finally another animal at the Dog Run.
Biba finds a friend.
There are shades of normalcy coming back to the neighborhood, so much so that we have decided to venture out tonight, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to see Grupo Corpo at BAM. It will be a long, cold walk, perhaps something worth reporting.