Much Ado About Some Things

July-August 2014

Events   Literary News
Arms and the Man in Canada
Apr. 4-Oct. 18; Niagara-by-the-Lake, ONT: Two soldiers vie for the heart of the same woman after the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885 in the George Bernard Shaw comedy. Set in Bulgaria, the play satirizes romantic notions of war and heroism. For performance details, click here.

The Crucible at the Old Vic
June 21-Sept. 13, London, England: Richard Armitage stars as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s American drama about the Salem witch trails of 1692-93. Click here for more details.

Gold-Rush Comedy in Utah
June 24-Aug. 30; Cedar City; UT: Utah Shakespeare Festival resets Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, about two sets of twins separated at birth, in the California Gold Rush of 1849. Also debuting is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibiity, about the marriageable but impoverished Dashwood sisters. For more details, click here.

Miracle Workers at Indiana U
July 5-27; Bloomington, IN:
The Summer Festival of the Arts alternates Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, about disguise, romance, and miraculous reunion, with William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, about deafblind Helen Keller and her relationship with her teacher, Annie Sullivan. For more info, click here.

Romeo Meets Juliet at the VA
July 8-26; Los Angeles, CA:
Watch sparks fly when Romeo and Juliet find true love and tragedy at the Veterans Administration’s Japanese Gardens in West Los Angeles. Click here for more details.

RSC’s The Rape of Lucrece
July 9-12; London, England: The Royal Shakespeare Company presents Camille O’Sullivan in a one-woman performance, involving storytelling and song. Watch as she enacts the Bard’s poem about the rape of an ancient Roman noblewoman, assuming the roles of both female victim and male ravager. For more details, click here.

Holocaust Novel Transformed
July 10-13; New York, NY: Houston Grand Opera brings The Passenger, an English adaptation of a Russian opera, to Lincoln Center. The production is based on a novel by a Polish-Catholic survivor of Auschwitz death camp, Zofia Posmysz, who drew on the experience of a fellow inmate. For details and brief video excerpts, see the article to the right. For tickets, click here.

Lear in Central Park
July 22-Aug. 17; New York, NY: Delacorte Theater’s free Shakespeare in Central Park presents John Lithgow as Lear in the tragedy of father-daughter betrayal. Click here for more details.

Ragtime at Washington U
July 25-26; St. Louis, MO: Three families (African American, Eastern European immigrant, and  white Protestant) struggle to make sense of life in America at the turn of the 1900s in a musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s award-winning novel.
Click here for tickets.

Moby Dick at Stanford U
July 17-Aug. 10; Stanford, CA: Stanford Repertory Theater stages Orson Welles blank-verse adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The adaptation adds a frame story: A theater company rehearses the tale of Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale. For details, click here.

Nashville’s As You Like It Update
Aug. 14-Sept. 14; Nashville, TN: Nashville Shakespeare Festival performs the  Bard’s comedy about a deposed duke, his banished daughter, and the true love that she finds in Arden Forest. Legendary songwriter David Olney plays the part of Amiens, introducing his own tunes into this update. Inspired by 1930s shows, the production resets the play in the Great Depression. Click here for more info.

Short Prose at U Houston
Aug. 31 deadline; Houston, TX: University of Houston’s Gulf Coast literary journal welcomes entries for the 2014 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose. The contest is open to prose poetry, flash fiction, and micro-essays of 500 or fewer words. Win $1,000 and publication in the journal. For more details, click here.

  Literary Finds: Neruda Poems and News about His Death
An unwrapped gift has been left to fans of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). More than 20 unpublished poems have been discovered among papers stored at the Pablo Neruda Foundation in Santiago, Chile. Spanish publisher Seix Barral plans to publish the poems in Latin America later this year, in Spain in early 2015. So far, they've impressed readers as mature pieces of excellent quality (dating from the 1950s and ’60s). Spanish poet Pere Gimferrer finds them “full of Neruda's richly imaginative use of language and imagery”; some are “apparently passionate love poems while others are songs to simple objects, along the lines of Neruda's Odes” (Guardian, June 19, 2014). Here's a newly released extract: “Reposa tu pura cadera y el arco de flechas mojadas / extiende en la noche los pétalos que forman tu forma” (literal translation: “Rest your pure hip and the bow of wet arrows / Extend into the night the petals which make up your form”).

The discovery adds to recent news about Neruda. Though he reportedly died (Sept. 23, 1973) of advanced prostate cancer, controversy surrounds the exact cause of death. Last fall, after the Communist Party filed complaints that he may have been murdered, officials exhumed and examined his body. Some suspected right-wing general Augusto Pinochet of ordering Neruda’s death by poison; the examination, however, showed no signs of foul play. Neruda died just twelve days after Pinochet’s military coup; he would have probably been a powerful voice of dissent against the Pinochet regime. A left-wing intellectual, the poet was both an anti-Fascist and a fervent supporter of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose death, in 1953, inspired an ode by Neruda. His poems treat not only external and political matters, but also deeply internal subjects. There's one, for example, on the death of a dog (“with his shaggy coat / his bad manners and his cold nose”). But Neruda is best known for his love poetry (“I love you as one loves certain obscure things, / secretly, between the shadow and the soul”). He would handwrite his poems in a composition book in green ink, creating verses full of interconnections to his personal life. In an interview, Neruda responded to the question of whether his art and life were closely linked: “Naturally. The life of a poet must be reflected in his poetry. That is the law of the art...” (The Paris Review, Spring 1971). In view of this law, what more, we wonder, will these newly discovered poems reveal about the Chilean writer?

Flag of Chile; Pablo Neruda.

Reading Lists Revamped in Britain
News Flash Schools in England and Wales have revamped reading lists for 2015, excluding major foreign authors. Cut from syllabi are works such as A. Miller’s The Crucible and J. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, stirring controversy there, much as the dropping of Charles Dickens has in the States.

Voyage into Auschwitz in 2014
One-two-three, one-two-three—everything in The Passenger turns on a waltz. We're speaking of life, death, and memory, haunting, inescapable memory. The work is a post-World War II dramatization of experience in the Auschwitz death camp. A Polish-Catholic survivor, Zofia Posmysz, wrote a radio play (1959) that became a novel (1962), then a film (1963), and finally a Russian opera (1968, score by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, liberetto by Alexander Medvedev, English adapation by David Pountney). But the opera was suppressed, not performed in any language until 2010, not produced in England until 2011, not presented in the United States until 2014. In January, the show premiered in Texas, winning high acclaim as a deeply humane tale, told “without bombast or sentimentality” (WSJ, 29 Jan. 2014). Now Houston Grand Opera is bringing it to New York.

The staging is worthy of a postmodern novel. There’s a split-level set: on top, the deck of a stylish luxury liner (circa 1960); on bottom, the surreal world of Auschwitz death camp (circa 1944). The story unfolds through an interplay of the two levels. At the center are two young women: Liese, a former SS overseer, and Marta, a Polish Catholic prisoner. Presently Liese and her loving husband, Walter, West Germans, are voyaging to his new diplomatic post in Brazil. Liese suffers a sudden shock. She's taken aback at the sight of a lonely-looking woman by the ship’s railing. Could it be Marta? No! She died at Auschwitz, or did she? A flashback carries us down a level into the WWII past, where Liese appears in SS uniform, pledging obedience to her superior at Auschwitz. Then it’s back up to the ocean liner, where she divulges the secret of her SS past to a surprised, newly anxious Walter. Bribing a steward for details on the mystery woman, Liese panics at news that the woman reads Polish and, later, at her asking the orchestra to play a certain waltz, the same one favored by the Commandant in Auschwitz. Shrinking back to the edge of the deck, Liese slips down into the dismal past, to the climax of her experience with Marta at the camp. We’ve borne witness to various incidents there: a roll call of prisoners; the death march of Marta’s friends; Marta’s reunion with her fiancé, Tadeusz. A prisoner too, he is a renowned violinist. Liese tries but fails to manipulate him; then he defies the camp Commandant too. Ordered to play the Commandant's favorite waltz, Tadeusz segues from it to a piece of his own choosing (Bach’s Chaconne in D minor), at his peril. An epilogue features a postwar Marta singing about never forgetting and never forgiving. At no point in the story is she ever definitively confirmed as the ship's mystery woman.

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