Category Archives: Pop Culture

God’s Dice

The premier play by David Baddiel, just opened at Soho Theatre, leads with this blurb:

What would happen if someone was able to prove, scientifically, the existence of God?
When Edie, a student in university lecturer Henry Brook’s physics class, seems to do exactly that, his universe – including his marriage to celebrity atheist author Virginia – is rocked.

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/gods-dice/

Hmmm, okay. Buy a ticket.

Alan Davies as Henry and Alexandra Gilbreath as Virginia

The show is not bad, but plays a little fast and loose on the science end of things. Not being religious, I cannot speak to how well it treats that side. Regardless, it is a good yarn. Henry, Alan Davies, is a teacher of sub-atomic physics — quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory, etc. — and Edie, Leila Mimmack, comes up to him after a class to ask him a question about belief. She’s a Christian, a fact she leads with, brandishing an intellectual carapace to ward off what she assumes will be his scientific arrogance against believers. Her question, when she finally gets to it, has to do with why she should believe in the wild assumptions of quantum mechanics rather than the mythology of her religion.

What ensues, then, is a bizarre bit of maths, in which Henry seeks to prove that it would take 2.5 joules of energy for Jesus to produce 100 litres of wine from water. This is a great deal of silliness, in that the entire calculation is based on the assumption that all that wine is is water with some small percentage of alcohol (it’s all chemistry — how much carbon, oxygen, hydrogen) and there’s no mention of tannin or flavour or anything else. This is a thought experiment gone haywire.

But, and this is the real stretch, this demonstration of using maths to prove that a biblical “miracle” might have happened, is enough to launch Henry and Edie into writing a book, God’s Dice, full of such wild calculations and “proofs.” Meanwhile, Henry’s wife Virginia, Alexandra Gilbreath, is a world renowned Atheist, and author of five books skewering religion. While she tries to be supportive of Henry, she is suspicious of Edie’s motives, and can’t help mocking this endeavour.

Ultimately, the book gets published, and during interval a counter on the backdrop shows us how many “followers” it’s gaining on social media. You see, a new religious movement is forming around this book, a “new” religion freed from the old ways, or so we’re told, by Edie, as she takes the helm of this new faith. She insists it isn’t a cult, by the way.

Okay, so Pawn you might be thinking, Why were you even at this show when you seem incredulous of so much of the plot? Well, you know what? It’s a really good play! The script, while venturing into wild misapplications of both science and theology, is well written and compelling. The acting is first rate, especially Alan Davies as Henry and Alexandra Gilbreath as Virginia. Her role has the widest range, as she must swoop from extreme top-of-her-game self confidence (with no small measure of arrogance) to the slouching in a sweatshirt, swilling wine, fearing social media attacks, losing hold of her marriage, professional life collapsing, being heckled during TED Talks reality of the second act. Gilbreath pulls this off with aplomb. Her performance is at once sympathetic and gripping, which is surprising since, at the top of Act I, we didn’t much like her.

The set, by Lucy Osborne, is a marvel of simplicity and effective as hell. What start out as multi-panel white boards, which slide up and down like sash windows, serve as projection surfaces and screens. They are used to great effect through out the show, being played upon by Ric Mountjoy’s able lighting and Ash Woodward’s video.

God’s Dice plays through 30 November 2019 at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean St., Soho. email box1@sohotheatre.com, or call 0207 478 0100

Heroin(e) For Breakfast

Rarely does theatre make Pawn angry, but this piece did. Heroin(e) For Breakfast is winner of the Holden Street Theatre Award, Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award, and sold out at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Philip Stokes wrote this in 2009, and this production is a re-staging with updates, tho few were needed, one imagines. Stokes also directed this production.

A festival piece, the stage is simple — a desolate apartment shared by Tommy, Lee Bainbridge, and Chloe, Kristy Anne Green. At curtain we find Tommy slouching on the couch, watching telly and scratching his balls. In saunters Edie, his young (too young) girlfriend, half naked. She walks between him & the telly, raising his ire, before seducing him into a quick shag, which, from the looks of it, neither of them particularly enjoy. Tommy, when he’s not shagging Edie, is spouting off about how great of a revolutionary he is, how misunderstood, how he’s going to change the world, etc.

Part I of why I got angry was the audience. Many smaller venues in London are experimenting with, or have flat-out instituted, so-called Relaxed Performances. In some cases these are specific show times/dates, in other cases it’s all performances. In a relaxed performance, audience are allowed to do all of those things which they’re not allowed to normally. The original intent was to allow autism-spectrum viewers access to traditional theatre in a setting which would not disrupt. Now it basically means Hey, we’re loose.

The Bunker, Battersea Arts Centre, and others have these. All shows at The Bunker are relaxed, and many at BAC. This show was at Pleasance, and wasn’t advertised as Relaxed, but almost as soon as the show started, so did a stream of whistles, cat calls, and other outbursts from some audience members. If that wasn’t disruptive enough, the resultant procession of ushers trying to sush, warn, cajole, these unruly audience, who must have though they were in an Edwardian-era music hall. Finally, after opening a bag of crisps, and proceeding to crunch them, the offenders were banished, entirely or just to the back row is unknown to me.

The show, meanwhile, is descending into further decrepitude. Chloe, Tommy’s roommate and ex, has shown up, and is picking fights with Edie when not complaining about Tommy. Tommy goes off to the store for breakfast goods and heroin. Oh yeah, that. We’ve been warned that this is a show about wasting youth and drugs.

In this case, Heroin(e) is also a person, or appears that way; a large brash blonde struts into the flat and in crass fashion by turns insults and seduces the occupants, until finally, with a vampire’s kiss to their inner elbow, enters them.

Along the way, racial slurs and other epithets are hurled — Paki, the “N” word, slag, whore, towel-head, etc. — without the slightest flinch. These people are horrid and completely uninspiring of compassion. Part II of my anger.

The play ends with a pile of overdosed corpses, and that’s well enough done for me. The programme tells us that King Brilliant Theatre, a producer of this show, “…was founded in anger in the summer of 2018 as a positive platform for working-class actors with the theatre industry. King Brilliant works in engaging with communities and young people in a language they understand and through work they respond and connect to…” Right o.

Pawn continues to enjoy the ready stream of Edinburgh shows coming down to London stages shortly after the festival closes, and will keep coming to the showcase presentations put on by venues like Pleasance, Bunker (soon to close and hopefully pop up elsewhere), The Yard and others. Sometimes, like tonight, what you get can be unpleasant.

Brexit-o-ween

I like my sex like I like my Brexit; hard and fast.

Street saying around Britain

My sex is like Brexit; glacial and unresolved.

Reality around Britain

The whole point of the schedule of Pawn’s current visit to London was to be here for the (latest) deadline of the UK’s execution of its Article 50 withdrawal declaration; Brexit. Brexit deadlines have figured in most of the last several such trips, ever since Pawn’s June/July 2016 visit, during which the ill-fated Brexit vote itself occurred, to such disastrous results. As with previous such deadlines, however, this one, too, has passed without resolution.

I shan’t go delving into the latest hubbub; there’s news channels and such for that. Suffice to say that politicians have learnt there are, in fact, limits to their powers. As for the whole Brexit topic, let’s leave it at this: British divorce from the EU is a worse policy decision than George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but the ultimate effect upon the UK will be more like Bush’s policy’s effect upon Iraq than like its effect upon the USA. While it’s easy to see the Brexit vote as nothing more than the clear expression of the people’s will (it was a referendum, after all) it’s closer to the Bush’s fiasco than that. Bush lied to his own government, his own people, and to the governments and people of US allies in order to win his way. Brexiteers did the same.

Okay, so what does one do when the Brexit ball is kicked down the road? One goes to look at art, that’s what. So on Brexit-o-ween, Pawn proceeded down to Bankside, burrough of Southwark, and Tate Modern. Current shows include Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, and what I’ve been referring to as a bafflingly comprehensive retrospective of Nam June Paik, the pioneering video artist. The former is big, bold, audience pleasing, and, due to massive phone-weilding crowds, unsatisfying. The latter is smaller, in the scale of its individual pieces, if not its scope, and, blessedly, less cluttered with the zombified masses of people mesmerized by the image in their phone rather than by the actual art in front of them.

One thinks Paik would have preferred it this way, and, for all I know, Eliasson would too?

Pawn witnessed the Paik first, and then the Eliasson, so here’s some snaps of each, in that order. But first, in the spirit of a day “…not spent, but well used up…” (in the words of Gilbert and George) in the pursuit of art, let’s start with a piece of simple graffiti found along the Shoreditch High Street, by Boxpark

The face, dummy, not the scrawl!

Now the Paik…

TV Buddha, 1974
TV Garden, 1974-77
Exposition of Music: Electronic Television exhibition poster, 1963
Robot family, father & mother
Richard Nixon television address, on a timer, first one image is distorted, then the other.
One Candle, (Candle Projection) 1989
Sistine Chapel 1993, shown for the first time since inclusion in German pavilion of the Venice Biennale of that year.

Ed Ruscha has adorned the Artists Rooms, and here’s his 2017 rumination on the US flag:

Ed Ruscha 2017

And now the one photo I took from the Olafur Eliasson exhibition, In Real Life. This exhibit was so totally clogged with people staring into their phone’s camera screens, that it was almost impossible to navigate the space, let alone enjoy any of the artwork. Also contributing to the claustrophobic effect of that was the fact that the hall was crawling with school children. Involving kids in the arts from a young age is to be applauded, but in this case there was far less supervision than required, and kids were slamming into artworks, slapping them (and each other) and careering about the galleries.

So this one photo I took? It’s of Din Blind Passager (your blind passenger) 2010, realized here in a long hallway, running almost the entire length of one of the exhibit hall’s walls. This hallway, narrow enough that one can reach out and touch both walls, has air- and light-lock rooms on each end, is filled with incredibly dense theatrical fog, and illuminated for almost its entire length in a vivid amber colour. Near the far end of the tunnel, the lighting changes to a very bluish white. One can generally only see about 18″ in front of oneself. Pawn took this single photo within this hall, of the unknown woman walking ahead of me:

And, of course, no visit to Tate Modern would be complete without whatever the hell they’ve decided to put in the Turbine Hall. Here it is Kara Walker’s turn. And this completes our tour…

Wokeness or not?

This is a bit of a Catch Up post, in that the events described herein occurred Saturday last, but I am only just now getting around to writing them down.

Saturday was a full day for Pawn with a matinee of Shuck ‘n’ Jive, at Soho Theatre, in Soho, and an evening performance of Dirty Crusty, at The Yard, in Hackney Wick. And it actually turns out to be a pretty good double bill.

Shuck ‘n’ Jive is a piece by Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong and Simone Ibbett-Brown, about two young black women named Cassi & Simone, played by Tanisha Spring and Olivia Onyehara, respectively. Directed by Lakesha Arie-Angelo, the two performers are on a single set, between two risers of seating, on a long, narrow stage. At each end of the stage are set walls, studded with props which will be used during the show, as well as a pair of video screens which grant us visibility into the character’s text messages.

The plot is simple enough; Cassi & Simone are frustrated in their intersectional lot in life. They are black in a white-dominated society, and they are women in a male dominated society. Not only that, but they are artists in a society which doesn’t deem that too important, providing a third axis to their intersectionality. We are voyeurs on the wall of their auditions, which inevitably devolve, at least in their minds, from Ophelia’s soliloquys into minstrel show rags.

They’re fed up, and they’re not going to take it any more! So, in Howard Beal meets Mickey Rooney, they’re going to put on a show, and most of the rest of out show is watching Cassi & Simone plan how to put together their ground-breaking new show about black women artists putting on a show for unappreciative white producers, and audiences.

So, how well does it work? Pretty good, if you ask me. There’s a little preachiness now and then, but the diverse audience at this Soho matinee seemed appreciative of even that. One of the show’s best bits, which pops up now and then, is a Game Show divertissement called Fine When We’re Friends in which a racial- or gender-insensitive or ignorant phrase is read aloud, and contestants must identify whether this would be generally acceptable, acceptable from a friend, or not acceptable at all. Overall there’s a very optimistic aire to this piece, well performed by the high energy duo of Spring & Onyehara, who’s bubbly energy and, at times, wide-eyed enthusiasm, infects the viewer.

So is this a minstrel show itself? Perhaps, but one with a point, and acid point.

Next up was Claire Barron’s Dirty Crusty at The Yard. I mention the playwright before the title as Ms Barron has earned top billing, with her earlier successes, Dance Nation, You Got Older, I’ll Never Love Again, and Baby Screams Miracle. Barron’s work has won her Obie awards, Pulitzer nods, Drama Circle nominations, etc. Girl got game.

This production, directed by The Yard’s founder and Artistic Director, Jay Miller, stars Akiya Henry as Jeanie, an aimless thirty-something, Douggie McMeekin as Victor, Jeanie’s neighbour and old friend, and Abiona Omonua as Synda, a dancer and instructor at a local youth club.

Photo by Maurizio Martorana

Plot? There is no real high mission on this tale of a woman finding herself in the middle of her life (in her eyes, she’s pretty young if you ask me) and feeling as though she’s just been drifting sideways, with no forward movement. She doesn’t really like her friends; lives like a slob; wants sex but not love; and feels like she’s getting out of life exactly what she’s putting into it; Nothing.

After skipping out on a party, she runs into Victor on the way home. Not having seen each other in some time, they realize they’re now neighbours. It’s not really giving too much away to reveal that they quickly decide that they want to fuck a lot, but not get too attached. Yeah, right. We all know how that goes. Meanwhile, Jeanie stumbles across Synda practicing her ballet steps through the windows of the kids club. They strike up a discussion and soon Synda is teaching Jeanie rudimentary dance, and considering her for a role in a small performance piece.

So these three people, in various combinations, bounce off of each other and impinge upon each other’s dreams and fears. That Jeanie and Synda are both black is, perhaps, totally ancillary to the story, but having just seen Shuck ‘n’ Jive, perhaps Pawn was sensitized to this fact. Victor is white, yet there is no real racial tension implied or expressed. Perhaps just colour-blind casting at it’s best?

I shan’t go in to much more depth. This is a somewhat aimless play. until it very much isn’t, but to reveal the ways and means of that would be to reveal too much. I liked this show, a lot. The performances were top notch across the board. Henry, as Jeanie, has perhaps the heaviest lift of all, as aimlessness can be so hard to portray, but she does so with viscious passivity. Omonua is somewhat a cypher as Synda, but comes into her own later in the show. McMeekin deserves special note for his affable willingness to do whatever is required of him by this script, and his director’s whims, and to do so gamely.

Shuck ‘n’ Jive closed its run at Soho Theatre following Saturday evening’s performance. Dirty Crusty having only just opened last Thursday, runs through 30 November at The Yard, Queen’s Yard, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN; Box Office Line is 0333 320 2896.

Catch-up Photographs II

Here’s some more snaps, mostly from Pawn’s birthday.

From an exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood
From an exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood
V&A Museum of Childhood

Following the visit to Museum of Childhood, Pawn reprised a stroll up Cambridge Heath to Vyner Street, first taken a decade ago. Where once there were scads of art galleries and artist studios, now evidence exists of just a couple of each.

Artist studio on Vyner St. The door was open, and a friend of the artist, at work with a sanding block, invited me in.
A sign of the times, from Vyner St.
Creative graffiti along the roadway,

Last evening took Pawn and friend Miss R to dinner and a show, at Barbican. The show, as shown below, was works by composer Steve Reich, and a film, to a score by Reich, by Gerhardt Richter.

The first piece, Runner, was compelling and classic Reich. Richter’s film, with Reich’s score, was dense yet dreamy. It was like William Morris wallpaper was having illicit sex with an Egyptian scarab & a flapper’s beaded dress, in the eye of a kaleidoscope. You know what I mean. Like a huge oriental rug which just couldn’t decide how it should look, so keeps trying on new ones. Like that.

Catch-up Photographs I

Here are a few snaps from the first couple days of the trip, in no particular order.

Juliette is experiencing a bit of a revival. A new musical, Juliette, has recently opened on the West End. Here, Juliette and some workmen strike simpatico pose 21/10/19

The show Pre-Raphaelite Sisters just opened at National Portrait Gallery. These are from my Monday visit.

Sophie Gray, 1857, by Sir J. E. Millais
Christina Georgina Rosetti in a Tantrum, 1862, by Dante Gabrielle Rosetti
Night Sleep
Portable paint box, circa 1850
From Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels

A show Pawn loves to see is the annual Koestler Arts show of art by British inmates, domestic and abroad. This year’s edition, Another Me, was great. Here’s just a few snaps:

“Angie” by Ali, HM Prison Long Lartin
“Innocent Man” by Eddy, HM Prison Glenochil
“Seated Woman” by Eddy, HM Prison Glenochil

The space formerly occupied by the Hayward Gallery’s pop-up for time-based media, Infinite Mix, is now a multi-purpose exhibit and event space, known of as The StoRE X, sponsored by The Vinyl Factory. Here’s a few from their current installation presentation, Transformer.

“New Era,” 2018 Doug Aitken
From “Blindly Touching The Flood,” 2019, Harley Weir & George Rouy

Manifesto! The Velvet Reunion!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, but it’s also the commemoration of the student uprising of 1974, a full 15 years earlier, and a communist crackdown which followed on the heels of that.

So I went to the National Gallery, and caught my tram, the number 17, suitably enough, on 17 Listopadu, (17 November) street, so named for the more somber commemorative event.

A plaque there reminds us, in English & Czech

This, combined with my early morning hectoring (see a couple of posts down), served to jog my brain’s connective tissues and I suddenly realized why there were no performances at area theatres, etc. this evening.  The Velvet Reunion is today!  That explains those temporary stages I saw being put up in Wenceslas Square yesterday!

Doh!

So I caught my tram up to the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the more modern portion of the Czech National Gallery collection (it’s scattered about among several museums, the main one of which is closed for renovations until 2019).  This building, about a century old, is a functionalist marvel, and pretty darn cool.  Makes a good museum, too.

Turns out that this being the Velvet Reunion day, admissions to national museums is free.  Cool!  Still have to pay for the temporary exhibit I want to attend, but at 150 CK (about $6.50) I don’t mind one bit.  Less than the cost of a matinée at your local movie theater.

And that’s a bargain, since what I’m going to see is the Julian Rosefeldt film Manifesto, as it was intended to be seen, on thirteen separate screens, in one large room, all going at once.  Splendid!!

Those of you who were lucky enough to see this during the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, or on DVD (Netflix has it, which is how I saw it, thanks to X) you already can imagine where this is going.  For those of you who know not of which I speak, allow me to summarize.  Actually, allow the mystically translated words of the National Gallery serve that purpose:

The 13-channel film installation Manifesto pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artist manifestos, ultimately questioning the role of the artist in society today. Manifesto draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, and the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers. Passing the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant, Sol LeWitt, Jim Jarmusch, and other influencers through his lens, Rosefeldt has edited and reassembled thirteen collages of artists’ manifestos.

Performing this ‘manifesto of manifestos’ as a contemporary call to action, while inhabiting thirteen different personas – among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, a newsreader, a factory worker and a homeless man – Australian actress Cate Blanchett imbues new dramatic life into both famous and lesser known words in unexpected contexts.

In the anteroom of the gallery is an exhibit of manifesti (what is the plural of Manifesto?), many of which are featured in the film.  Here’s some unartful snaps of them; pardon the glare:

No, I didn’t read them all.  But, the photos are actually pretty hi-res, so I probably still can.  I did enjoy listening to the Czech-lish descriptions of them all from the multi-lingual tour guide who’s group was lagging a little behind me as I browsed.  It was especially fun to hear him explain such concepts as Fluxus, Dada and such in the context of today’s “Fake News!” world (his citation, not mine).

Now into the main gallery.  The darkened room is quickly filled with light from a large projection screen, which is filling with licks of flame as the first of the manifestos is spoken in voice over by Ms Blanchett.  I am drawn not to sit before this screen, however, as I want to get a sense of how the whole thing is laid out.  I enter further into the space.  The walls are all blacked out, as are the pillars.  All that’s not black are the screens and the benches before them.

The screens are scattered around the space, and not too close together.  Not all of the screens have sound on all of the time.  Some have sound throughout, but others only have sound at the “golden moment” (as I’ll call it). Back to that shortly.  Each screen is showing a segment in a loop.  All of the loops are the same length, and all have just the right kind of beginning and ending that they loop seamlessly, more or less.  I hadn’t recognized this when seeing them all strung together into a sequence, in the film.  But it becomes quite clear when you’re watching one and all of a sudden realize that you’ve come around full circle.

You can generally hear some sound from other screens around you, but it’s not intrusive.  Some of the characters voices carry more than others.  The high-strung, severe choreographer, for example, can be heard just about anywhere in the space, as can the vagrant with a megaphone atop the ruins.  The mother saying grace (sort of) is fairly quiet, as is the woman saying a eulogy.  But then the Golden Moment arrives.

This moment comes about 2/3 of the way through the loops, I think, but it’s not really clear to me that all of these loops start and end at the same moment; just that they’re synchronized with each other,  That much is clear.  At this moment, every screen is taken up with a close up of Blanchett’s face, who is staring straight into the camera, and speaking in a high-pitched, almost robotic voice.  Each iteration of Blanchett is speaking words which belong with that incarnation’s manifesto, but there is an almost unison effect between them.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the only time when all of the screens have audio, so it can be quite arresting when the stock trader you’ve been watching in relative silence suddenly is starring straight at you and barking out some pith.

I spent over an hour in this space, wandering about, standing and watching, or sitting on a bench.  I loved the entire experience!  The multi-lingual tour group from the outer exhibit found their way around, and tended to sit, as a group, before each screen, whilst the guide flitted about stage whispering to them in different languages.  I noticed one couple, man and woman in their 20s, just sat side-by-side in front of the puppet maker screen for at least four or five loops.  They were enthralled with it (easy to understand).

What a great way to spend part of my Friday!  I love this stuff.

There was a lot more to see in the museum, and I did thoroughly enjoy my visit.  Didn’t even drop any dough in the gift shop, because it wasn’t a gift shop, it was a book shop, and I don’t read Czech! 🙂

More photos from the day later.

O Egg
GREAT EGG!
OUTSTANDING EGG!
BONJOUR!

Lord Adonis Has His Say

From the Guardian newspaper this morning comes this story, with a term I’ve never heard before:

Philip Hammond is being urged to earmark £7bn for new transport links in the “brain belt” spanning Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes in next week’s budget, and persuade local authorities to build the first new towns in half a century.

Brain Belt, that sounds like something a neurosurgeon installs to knock back the intelligence of an overly smart fellow.  Donald Trump had one installed sometime in the mid-80s.

17 November — Commemorate The Velvet Revolution

In an ironically Big Brother-ish twist, this was the greeting I received from the local ISP when I tried to surf to the Washington Post this morning:

You have attempted to visit a foreign site!

Today, just one click, but before 1989 it was difficult to look beyond the border.
The arbitrary abandon of the Republic was punished freedom for up to five years. If you did not shoot a border guard right when you tried.

Freedom is not a matter of course.

That is why we November 17th commemorate Velvet’s anniversary Revolution, and we are glad that we can bring you free communication with the whole world in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Learn more about November 17

I want to continue freely

Yikes!  That last line contained a link to escape this freedom-loving portal page.

Okay then, commemorate I shall.  But first, some coffee!

A Hedda Of A Different Color

I’ve just come from seeing the Divadlo Dlouhé’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Heda Gablerová.  This is the first time I’ve gone to see theatre in a foreign language without some sort of translation services — supertitles, subtitles, assistive technology (audio or visual) — and it was kind of a trip, but more so for how the piece was presented than for the language barrier.

I know Hedda Gabbler very well.  I stage managed a production in college, lo those many years ago, which entails memorizing the entire script (not just one part).  I’ve seen film versions of it; saw Milwaukee’s own Theatre X present it 35 years ago, saw a production in Amsterdam the summer of 2016 (supertitles).  I know the story, so wasn’t really lost in the words.

This lovely little theatre is just a 6 minute walk from the flat, so easy-peasy.  I got there early, paid less than $15 for my ticket (320CK) in the 6th row, center.  The stage was stark.  One set, a sitting room, with an exposed lavatory upstage right and another upstage left.  There was a table mid-stage, some “pit group” type seating downstage right and a patio lounge chair downstage left.  A Lexan (Perspex, Plexiglas, what have you) wall defined the back of the stage, a large projection screen above it.  A digital clock displayed in the top corner.

Another Lexan wall divided the stage left from right, about two thirds of the way over from stage right.  The table pierced this wall, half on each side of the stage.

I already got the metaphor.

Ibsen is famous for a couple of things.  One is for being the first playwright to focus on total realism in his text and settings, his characters and their lives, even in the realization of his productions; sets, lighting, costumes, etc.  All was to be as real as possible.  The other is that he almost exclusively wrote about the sorry lot of women.  His leading characters are women, both in Hedda Gabbler and The Doll’s House.  Like his fellow Swede, August Strindberg, he saw great unfairness in the roles society allowed women to hold, and he pushed back against these in his plays.

Hedda is a fierce creature, she grew up the pampered pet of her strong and important father.  Now she is married off to a bumbling professor of philosophy and bridles at the restrictions of married life.  She has always been the one in control with the men in her life (and there have been, continue to be, a few) and just cannot stand the wifely role of subservience and home life.

The smaller, side of the stage, the right, from the audience’s perspective, was for Hedda.  The large space was for everyone else.

In the production I saw in Holland last year, a similar effect was created by the brilliant set design which was a triangular prism defined by three huge vertical blinds.  A prism which was a prison.  All the characters besides Hedda could walk in and out of this space, but she was forever held within it.

So yeah, I got the metaphor.  It seems nobody can handle Ibsen without steeping the whole thing in metaphor.  Well, hang on, there’s a ton of it here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the men in this Czech production are all presented as effeminate buffoons.  They’re like a middle-aged, cross-dressing version of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers of the old comix.

As for Hedda, while she starts out in a shift, she’s soon wearing pants, and for the remainder of the show.

The production design is like David Lynch collaborated with Eddie Izzard, with a little R Crumb thrown in for effect.  There’s the strange omni-present lady upstage, behind that Lexan wall, who serves as a narrator of sorts, a few times during the show, while changing from a “slutty nurse” outfit to sailor duds and then nun’s habit.

Hedda’s relationships with all and sundry are played with the wall always, well almost always, between them.  Whether it’s an intense lesbian S&M scene with Tea Elvstedová, the fiancée to her former lover (and husband’s protégé) Eilert Løvborg, played across the table.

Or the flat out (or flat up) sex scene between her and that same ex-lover

By the end of things, however, all of these men are stripped of their feminine finery, either literally, in the case of  Eilert, or have changed in to (mourning) suits, like Tesman, Hedda’s husband, or Judge Brack, the gadabout.

You see, Hedda, trapped in her marriage, pregnancy, society…feeling powerless, exercises what power she has by preying on and playing with those around her.  She ruins who she can, but ultimately is ruined by them and herself.

The downstage stage lift provides near tectonic effect, and a final resting place.

This was a splendid production all around.  The costuming was cartoonish, almost too much so, but grew more and more somber as the evening progressed.  The performances were brilliant, and I can say that without having understood more than “yes,” “no” and “please” (“ano,” “neh” and “proseem”).  Lucie Trmíková was downright bewitching as Heda, and I could have watched her all night long.  Robert MikluÅ¡, as Eilert was amazing.  The rest of the cast shone just as bright.

The visual effects — videotext scrolling by, with various language’s versions of the seven deadly sins; snow falling; big, bold comic book style “Bang” and such — not so great, but certainly not a defect.  The lighting was effective without being intrusive, which could have easily happened.  The set, all metaphor as it was, worked well.