REVIEW: Being Harold Pinter (Belarus Free Theatre)

  
  

Fiercely good.

  
  

Yana Rusakevich, Yana Rusakevich and Aleh Sidorchyk of Belarus Free Theatre - 'Being Harold Pinter' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

  
Belarus Free Theatre presents
  
Being Harold Pinter
  
Adapted and Directed by Vladimir Scherban
at
Goodman / Chicago Shakes / Northwestern Univ
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $20  | 
more info

Performance Schedule

     

January 27-29
Goodman Theatre

Feb 4-6, 11-13
Northwestern University

Feb 17-20
Chicago Shakes Upstairs


Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Somehow, in the midst of bleak Chicago winter, a spirit of rebellion has startled the Chicago theater community from its near-hibernation complacency. Yet, I shouldn’t say “somehow.” The Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the League of Chicago Theatres and Northwestern University have joined forces to shepherd that spirit of rebellion here from New York City’s Under the Radar Festival. But the originators, the guardians of that spirit, the theater company for whom political drama is very definitely NOT an intellectual exercise, the Belarus Free Theatre, has arrived and they have spiked a reawakening to the impact of art speaking truth to power.

'Being Harold Pinter', adapted and directed by Vladimir Scherban of the Belarus Free Theatre.Since BFT has only just eluded the iron grasp of the Belarusian government to come to these shores and, since its founding in 2005, nearly every one of the company has been subjected to imprisonment and/or police harassment due to their “peaceful political and theatrical activities,” they are sure to be the darlings for many Americans in a self-congratulatory mood about the blessings of our democracy and its First Amendment protections compared to Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko. To be sure, for the moment, the US is not quite in dire straits equal to the citizens of Belarus–but two years into Obama’s administration neither do we stand on the moral high ground we once occupied. Bradley Manning endures solitary confinement without trial or sentence; within Chicago and Minneapolis the FBI invaded the homes of anti-war activists.

Thus, what a thoughtful and delicate balancing act the Belarus Free Theatre performs for our delectation. It’s not enough to acknowledge how skillfully they interweave notable sections of Pinter’s plays with the direct, eyewitness accounts of the torture and political persecution of Belarus’ citizens. Rather, Being Harold Pinter sits first and foremost upon the foundation of Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech—a speech that excoriates the United States for its illegal invasion of Iraq, its maintenance of Gitmo and its Cold War manipulations in Central and South America.

But most of that is left out of director Vladimir Scherban’s adaptation. Perhaps it is because they are our guests but, more likely, Being Harold Pinter is neither crude agitprop nor is it a collage of Pinter’s words and selected scenes. Scherban takes very seriously Pinter’s view on the role of the artist and the role of the citizen, a discourse that frames every scene yet shift-shapes with each dramatic moment. Perhaps more powerfully than anything else, through Pinter’s own inquiries into the nature of truth, coupled with scenes of interrogation pulled from his plays Ashes to Ashes, Old Times, The Homecoming, One for the Road, The New World Order and Mountain Language, Sherban and his seeringly consummate cast unveil Pinter himself as a Grand Inquisitor in his own way.

     
Yana Rusakevich and Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren. Maryna Yurevich, Pavel Haradnitski and Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Nikolai Khalezin, Maryna Yurevich and Yana Rusakevich in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren. Maryna Yurevich, Yana Rusakevich, Nikolai Khalezin in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As for execution, they are fiercely good. Using minimal props loaded with significance, the cast tosses off Pinter’s dialogue and glides through scenes I’ve witnessed actors in this town clod-hop their way through. That the Belarus Free Theatre would engage Pinter’s sadomasochistic power plays as a reflection on what they endure from their own prevailing KGB seems like a no-brainer. But what they also reveal is Pinter’s mind going through its own non-stop interrogation. That is the diamond to be found in the middle of all the suffering, degradation and carnage. What they depict of Pinter is a soul in unrelenting pursuit of what is true and the dangerous struggle to present that truth and render it in a way from which audiences cannot escape. Finally, they ground Pinter’s drama with real life accounts from the tortured of their country. The BFT plays for keeps and they should not be missed.

As for their future, the Belarus Free Theatre is still a band on the run. According to Roche Schulfer, The Goodman Theatre’s Executive Director, their visas were set to expire close to the end of the New York festival but so long as they could find more gigs to perform, they would not have to return to Belarus, where they would surely meet with more persecution. Their manager is currently in Washington D.C., consulting with the Secretary of State’s office about asylum. Meanwhile, they’ve booked more performances in Hong Kong and London after Chicago.

By the way, here’s another small Chicago connection: in 2005 the BFT produced a play by Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis, which is currently enjoying a remount during Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Festival. Their production was banned in Belarus and they had to continue it underground.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
      
  

Scene from Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

     
     

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Last chance to see new musical "Not Wanted on the Voyage"

 

Not Wanted on the Voyage

…an epic new musical.

 

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Not Wanted on the Voyage is a provocative new musical about an ordinary family faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Secrets lie just beneath the surface in this darkly funny, modern re-imagining of the Great Flood – the first time the world ended.  Broadway writers Neil Bartram and Brian Hill have teamed up with award-winning director Amanda Dehnert to create an epic production, complete with rain, fire, magic and a soaring, eclectic score.  Here’s just a taste:

Produced by the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University’s Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston (map)

 

 

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The production needs to invent a fantastical, timeless world in which this modern story can take place,” says award-winning director, Amanda Dehnert.  “Illusion and spectacle create moments of surprise and connection for the audience, and they allow us to realize the more epic moments of the family’s voyage in thrilling, visually innovative ways. 

Illusion consultants Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow advised on the design of magic elements performed by actor Andrew Howard who plays family patriarch and self-proclaimed amateur magician, Dr. Noyes.  Steinmeyer, the acclaimed illusion designer who developed the concept behind David Copperfield’s landmark illusion in which he made the Statue of Liberty disappear, has long-advised Dehnert on the use of magic in her theatrical productions.  New York-based magician Jeff Grow, traveled to Chicago to teach Howard how to perform an elaborate magic act within the show. 

Working with Jeff was thrilling,” says Howard, a recently graduated senior at Northwestern.  “The technical skill that goes into even the simplest tricks was surprising, exciting and incredibly challenging.  But now I can produce a light bulb out of thin air, and you can bet I’ll be using that at parties. 

The illusion design elements combine with a revolving platform stage amidst projections, soaring vocals, and stunning backdrops. The production makes use of onstage rain and fire, and Eugene Lee’s barn wood set sits in a moat of water.   

The production is epic” says AMTP producing director, Heather Schmucker.  “We make it rain in the theatre, we burn down a barn, and we have a magic show within the show. Not to mention the age-old theatre saying, ‘Never work with animals or children.’ We’ve got both.” 

 

 

     
       

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Wednesday Wordplay – Oprah and South Park

Inspirational Quotes

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
            — Charles Darwin

We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.
            — Agnes Repplier, Americans and Others, 1912

I love life…Yeah, I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like…It makes me feel alive, you know. It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. So I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness.
            — Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Raisins, 2003

There’s no easy way out. If there were, I would have bought it. And believe me, it would be one of my favorite things!
            — Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, February 2005

People who are ‘ready’ give off a different vibe than people who aren’t. Animals can smell fear; maybe that’s it. The minute you become ready is the the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about ‘becoming’. Suddenly it’s about ‘doing’.
            — Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
            — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1890

If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.
            — Benjamin Franklin

God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
            — Mother Teresa

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
            — Robert Southey

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.
            — Robert Fritz

 

 

Urban Dictionary

Aside: Working at Northwestern University, I know all about this phenomenon. 

college morning

(noun) 1. Afternoon.

College Student A: "I don’t have the money right now, can I pay you back tomorrow?"
College Student B: "Sure, just come by tomorrow morning."
College Student A: "Okay!"
THE NEXT DAY, 9 AM
College Student A: "Hey, I have your money!"
College Student B: (waking up) "Goddamn it, I meant COLLEGE MORNING."

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

Chicago theater openings and closings this week

show openings

Bonbs Away! Bailiwick Repertory

Boys Life Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plaza Suite Eclipse Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Visionfest 2009 LiveWire Chicago Theatre

 

show closings

Bye, Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater 

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction 

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Barbecue 16th Street Theater

Macbeth First Folio Theatre

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex With Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

Trignity Donny’s Skybox

Tupperware: an American Musical Fable The New Colony

Viva Che Latte Donny’s Skybox

What the Weird Sisters Saw the side project

Chicago theater openings this week

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BABY Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

BAD TOUCH AND GOOD LIARSAnnoyance Theatre

A COUPLE OF POOR, POLISH SPEAKING ROMANIANS Trap Door Theatre

EURYDICEUniversity Theater at University of Chicago

GHETTONorthwestern University Theater

LA CAGE AU FOLLESBoho Theatre 

THE PODCASTAnnoyance Theatre

UNCLE VANYATUTA Theatre

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Special Ticket Offers

Half Price tickets to Hedwig and The Angry Inch at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street.  American Theater Company is offering a 50% discount for tickets for the following performance this weekend: Saturday, May 23 at 11 p.m. and Sunday, May 24 at 3 p.m. Call the Box Office at 773.409.4125 or visit www.atcweb.org and use the code "chicagoplays".

Babes With Blades offers pay-what-you-can admission to Macbeth on Thursdays through May 21.  Enter a Scotland wracked by treachery and possessed by supernatural forces – a kingdom where loyalty is fatal, ambition is madness, and no motivation is pure.  For tickets call 773.880.0016 or visit www.BabesWithBlades.org

Northwestern University’s 78th annual Waa-Mu show opening this weekend

78th Annual Waa-Mu Show a Musical Page Turner

 

Waa-Mu 2009: One for the Books,” Northwestern University’s 78th edition of the Waa-Mu show, will feature original songs, dances and comedy sketches based on the timeless tales of princesses, the adventures of Curious George, the trials of Holden Caulfield, and the poetry of e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman.

Under the direction of School of Communication Theatre Professor Dominic Missimi, this year’s Waa-Mu show will feature special guest appearances by such beloved fictional characters as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, the elusive Waldo, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Tarzan and Jane and many others. Missimi has directed Waa-Mu for the past 16 years, not including the two additional years he co-directed the show with former theatre faculty member and longtime Waa-Mu director Tom Roland.

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