In November 2012, Daniele Finzi Pasca presented the surreal Donka: A Letter to Chekhov, combining music, dance, storytelling, acrobatics, and circus arts in paying tribute to Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Finzi Pasca and his Swiss troupe, Compagnia Finzi Pasca (Icaro, Bianco su Bianco), are back at BAM this week, honoring Spanish surrealist and master showman Salvador Dalí. Running May 4-7 at the Howard Gilman Opera House, La Verità is a collaboration between Pasca and his fellow company founders, show cocreator Julie Hamelin Finzi; music and sound designer Maria Bonzanigo, who shares choreography credit with Finzi Pasca; set and prop designer Hugo Gargiulo; costume designer Giovanna Buzzi; and artistic consultant Antonio Vergamini. Pasca also designed the lighting with Alexis Bowles, and Roberto Vitalini did the videos. The backdrop for the mayhem is a re-creation of the mural Dalí made for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1944 ballet, Mad Tristan, for which Dalí also designed the sets and costumes. The anonymous owners of the mural approached Finzi Pasca to use it in a production, and what developed was La Verità, an extravaganza in which anything can happen. “The language of acrobatics, of physical theatre may easily conquer a territory where it is neither night or day, where light doesn’t touch reality but designs it, invents it or reinvents it,” Finzi Pasca explains on the company website. “The language of the acrobats titillates our unconscious, making us see inner landscapes that appear truer than reality. Dalí’s landscapes are set during night or day? The answer: neither; Dalí’s images belong to another dimension, the dimension of dreams.”
Red Bull Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theater
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 8, $80-$100
Red Bull Theater’s wonderfully playful adaptation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic 1777 farce, The School for Scandal, offers a master’s course on the subject of malicious idle chatter. The headmistress of this unofficial institution is Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber), a wealthy widow with an ax to grind. “I am no hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the success of my efforts,” she tells her vitriolic star pupil, gossip columnist Snake (Jacob Dresch), continuing, “Wounded myself, in the early part of my life by the envenomed tongue of slander, I confess I have since known no pleasure equal to the reducing others to the level of my own injured reputation.” Joined by single heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf) and aristocratic gadfly Joseph Surface (Christian Conn), the group discusses the nature of gossip. “For my part, I confess, madam, wit loses its respect with me, when I see it in company with malice. What do you think, Mr. Surface?” the prim and proper Maria asks, to which Joseph replies, “Certainly, madam. To smile at the jest which plants a thorn in another’s breast is to become a principal in the mischief.” Lady Sneerwell chimes in, “Pshaw, there’s no possibility of being witty without a little ill nature. The malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick. What’s your opinion, Mr. Surface?” Joseph again shares his barbed judgment, explaining, “To be sure, madam, that conversation where the spirit of raillery is suppressed will ever appear tedious and insipid.” But the gossip they spread is anything but good-natured teasing, carefully aimed at directly affecting its targets. Referring to the never-seen Mrs. Clackit, Snake boasts, “To my knowledge, she has been the cause of six matches being broken off and three sons being disinherited, of four forced elopements, as many coerced confessions, and two divorces.” One of their current targets is Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker), an older city knight and avowed bachelor who has married the much younger Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes), who is happily going through his money while flirting with Joseph, who prefers Sir Peter’s ward, Maria, who has a hankering for Joseph’s younger brother, Charles (Christian DeMarais), who is drinking away his fortune. The silly dandy and ersatz poet Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo) also has his heart set on Maria. The Surface brothers have been receiving funds from their uncle, Sir Oliver (Henry Stram), who has been traveling the world for sixteen years but at last returns, deciding to test his nephews’ loyalty by appearing in disguise to determine whether they are still worthy of his financial support. And ruling over it all is the master gossip herself, Mrs. Candour (Dana Ivey), who declares without a hint of irony, “Tale-bearers are just as bad as the tale-makers — but what’s to be done, as I said before — how will you prevent people from talking?”
In his directorial debut, Marc Vietor assuredly guides all the delicious madness, but he has to play second fiddle to Andrea Lauer’s sensational period costumes and Charles G. LaPointe’s outrageous wig and hair design; Dresch’s green reptilian getup as Snake is worth the price of admission alone, as is the way he marvelously squirms and slithers onstage, and Ivey’s wig is like a character unto itself. The excellent cast has tons of fun on Anna Louizos’s set, which folds into drawing rooms in various residences. Ivey and Barber are particularly adroit at chomping on the scenery and spitting out their wickedly delicious calumny. Several characters present asides directly to the audience, which works for the most part except for Stram, whose attempts are hard to understand. The Dublin-born Sheridan, who wrote such other plays as The Rivals, A Trip to Scarborough, and Pizarro and was also a politician who served in the British Parliament for more than three decades, doesn’t hold anything back in this consistently engaging satirical comedy of manners, beginning with the names of the characters themselves; in addition to Candour, Snake, Sneerwell, Backbite, Surface, and Teazle, there are Crabtree, Midas, Bumper, and Careless onstage as well as references to Prim, Brittle, Clackit, Knuckle, Kumquat, and Gadabout. In his diary entry for December 17, 1813, Lord Byron wrote, “Lord Holland told me a curious piece of sentimentality in Sheridan. The other night we were all delivering our respective and various opinions on him and other hommes marquans and mine was this: — ‘Whatever Sheridan has done or chosen to do has been, par excellence, always the best of its kind. He has written the best comedy (School for Scandal), the best opera (The Duenna — in my mind, far before that St. Giles’s lampoon, the Beggars’ Opera), the best farce (The Critic — it is only too good for an after-piece), and the best address (Monologue on Garrick); and, to crown all, delivered the very best oration (the famous Begum Speech) ever conceived or heard in this country.” It is with no mere prattle that I say that Red Bull Theater has done us all a service by resurrecting this play that is nearly as old as our country, which itself has never stopped loving and spreading gossip, which can now go viral over the internet in the matter of minutes. “There’s no stopping people’s tongues,” Mrs. Candour says. “The license of invention some people take is monstrous indeed,” Joseph adds. Thank goodness those sentiments are true, for they result in such a rich and savory treat as The School for Scandal.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, May 7, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates its new exhibition, “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art,” which pairs twenty-five contemporary works of art with historical masquerade pieces to create a dialogue, at its free First Saturday program on May 7. The evening will feature live performances by Ifetayo Youth Ensemble, Jojo Abot, DJ Tunez, Laara Garcia (activating Saya Woolfalk’s “ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space”), and Djassi DaCosta Johnson (performing Brendan Fernandes’s In Touch); screenings of Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning and short films from Wangechi Mutu’s AFRICA’SOUT!; a multimedia book club reading and discussion with Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, and Ibi Zoboi, along with performing arts collective BKLYN ZULU; pop-up gallery talks; a hands-on workshop in which participants can make their own masks and costumes; a talk by Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands associate curator Kevin Dumouchelle on African masquerade around the world; interactive storytelling exploring African myth with Gage Cook; and, for the grand finale, a Vogue Ball hosted by Jacolby Satterwhite. In addition, you can check out such other exhibitions as “This Place,” “Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999–2016,” “Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (to a Seagull),” and “Agitprop!”
CinéSalon: THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS (LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS) (Agnès Varda, 2008)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, May 3, $14, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through May 31
“The whole idea of fragmentation appeals to me,” filmmaker, photographer, and installation artist Agnès Varda says in the middle of her unusual cinematic autobiography, the César-winning documentary The Beaches of Agnès. “It corresponds so naturally to questions of memory. Is it possible to reconstitute this personality, this person Jean Vilar, who was so exceptional?” She might have been referring to her friend, the French actor and theater director, but the exceptional Belgian-French Varda might as well have been referring to herself. Later she explains, “My memories swarm around me like confused flies. I hesitate to remember all that. I don’t want to.” Fortunately for viewers, Varda (Jacquot de Nantes, The Gleaners and I) does delve into her past in the film, sharing choice tidbits from throughout her life and career, in creative and offbeat ways that are charmingly self-effacing. Using cleverly arranged film clips, re-creations, photographs, and an array of frames and mirrors, the eighty-year-old Varda discusses such colleagues as Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais; shares personal details of her long relationship with Jacques Demy; visits her childhood home; rebuilds an old film set; speaks with her daughter, Rosalie Varda, and son, Mathieu Demy; talks about several of her classic films, including La Pointe Courte, Cléo from 5 to 7, and Vagabond; and, in her ever-present bangs, walks barefoot along beaches, fully aware that the camera is following her every move and reveling in it while also feigning occasional shyness. Filmmakers don’t generally write and direct documentaries about themselves, but unsurprisingly, the Nouvelle Vague legend and first woman to win an honorary Palme d’or makes The Beaches of Agnès about as artistic as it can get without becoming pretentious and laudatory. The film is screening May 3 at 4:00 and 7:30, kicking off FIAF’s “Creative Encounters” CinéSalon series, comprising five unique documentary portraits. (By the way, the FIAF award Varda won in 2013 was from the International Federation of Film Archives for her work in film presentation and restoration, not from the French Institute Alliance Française.) The festival continues every Tuesday in May with Guillaume Nicloux’s The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, Michel Gondry’s Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Claire Denis’s Jacques Rivette, the Night Watchman, and Chantal Akerman’s One Day Pina Asked…
VIKTORIA (Maya Vitkova, 2014)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway between 62nd & 63rd Sts., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, April 29
Motherhood is not necessarily for everyone, as depicted in Maya Vitkova’s impressive feature-film debut, Viktoria. Vitkova wrote, directed, and produced the darker-than-dark absurdist epic black comedy and intense family drama, which has won awards at festivals around the globe. Irmena Chichikova gives a boldly stark, devastating performance as Boryana, a young Bulgarian woman in 1980 trying to do everything she can — short of having an illegal abortion — to end her pregnancy. Her husband, Ivan (Dimo Dimov), and mother, Dima (Mariana Krumova), are furious with her, enraged at what she is doing. When she ultimately does have a baby girl, the child is born without a belly button, a symbol of the lack of connection between mother and daughter. Boryana is further incensed when the infant is selected as Baby of the Decade by Todor Zhivkov (Georgi Spasov), the real-life Bulgarian president and longtime head of the Communist Party. The state bestows special gifts on the family, but Boryana grows more and more disenchanted with the situation, her unhappiness evident in her every movement and blank stare. Meanwhile, Viktoria, who is played at nine years old by Daria Vitkova and at fourteen by Kalina Vitkova, keeps a close connection to Zhivkov, reveling in being a showpiece for the government; she even has a special phone line that links her and Zhivkov, a kind of umbilical cord between the two. But the fall of Communism in 1989 leads to sociopolitical changes that affect the relationship between Boryana, Ivan, Dima, and Viktoria as they have to find their place in the new world order.
Chichikova is mesmerizing as Boryana, who says very little, her eyes and body emitting a stream of negative emotions that feel like impossible physical weights. Maya Vitkova uses milk as a metaphor throughout the 155-minute film; Boryana is unable to lactate, continuing the disconnection between mother and daughter, and a later scene in the rain takes it to another level. Viktoria is gorgeously photographed by Krum Rodriguez, from sparse interiors to stunning pathways in the woods, while Kaloyan Dimitrov’s piano-based score maintains the dour mood without becoming overly melancholic. The first half of the film is sardonic and bitterly funny, but as time marches on, the tone becomes more serious but no less absurd. Based on actual events, Viktoria is rather long and fades to black several times in what could have been mysteriously poetic finales, but the ultimate denouement has its own pure beauty. And in a touching end credit, Vitkova dedicates the film to her mother.
This past December, we raved about National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s utterly delightful revival of the long-lost 1923 operetta The Golden Bride (“Di Goldnene Kale”) at the company’s new home at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production is back by popular demand this summer, running July 4 through August 28. You can get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the show on May 4 when the Museum of the City of New York presents “Vintage Theater on a Modern Stage: The Golden Bride,” being held in conjunction with the exhibition “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway,” which continues through July 31. The event features a discussion with musical archaeologist Michael Ochs, codirectors Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner, musical director Zalmen Mlotek, costume designer Izzy Fields, and NYTF executive producer Chris Massimine as well as select songs performed by Rachel Policar, who stars as Goldele, Glenn Seven Allen (Jerome), Jillian Gottlieb (Khanele), and other cast members, followed by an exhibition viewing and reception. The Golden Bride has many similarities to Fidder on the Roof, which is currently playing at the Broadway Theatre; in a fun coincidence, both shows have been nominated for Outstanding Revival of a Musical by the Drama Desk. In addition, Wasserman and Didner are up for Outstanding Director, battling it out against Spring Awakening’s Michael Arden, The Color Purple’s John Doyle, American Psycho’s Rupert Goold, and Fiddler’s Bartlett Sher. (On June 19, MJH is hosting a Fiddler on the Roof sing-along, consisting of a screening of the Oscar-winning 1971 film and appearances by members of the current Broadway cast; attendees are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite character.) If you register for “Vintage Theater on a Modern Stage: The Golden Bride,” you will also receive a free ticket to a preview of The Golden Bride.