This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

TICKET ALERT: FORCE MAJEURE / THE SQUARE DOUBLE FEATURE WITH RUBEN ÖSTLUND

FORCE MAJEURE

A close-knit Swedish family is about to face a serious crisis in Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure

FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Östlund, 2014)
THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund, 2017)
Scandinavia House
58 Park Ave. at 38th St.
Tuesday, February 20, $20, 4:00
212-847-9740
www.scandinaviahouse.org
www.magpictures.com

After three skiing films and two documentaries, Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund experienced near-instant success with his fiction work, which has included five features and two shorts since 2004, earning him numerous international awards. Scandinavia House will be honoring the Styrsö native on February 20 with a double feature of his two latest gems, Force Majeure, which was shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and The Square, which is competing for the award at this year’s Oscars. Östlund will be at the Park Ave. cultural institution for a Q&A following The Square, which won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. First up at 4:00 is Force Majeure, one of the best films you’ll ever hear. Not that Fredrik Wenzel’s photography of a lovely Savoie ski resort and Ola Fløttum’s bold, classical-based score aren’t stunning in their own right, but Kjetil Mørk, Rune Van Deurs, and Jesper Miller’s sound design makes every boot crunching on the snow, every buzzing electric toothbrush, every ski lift going up a mountain, every explosion setting off a controlled avalanche a character unto itself, heightening the tension (and black comedy) of this dark satire about a family dealing with a crisis. On the first day of their five-day French Alps vacation, workaholic Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), are enjoying lunch on an outdoor veranda with their small children, Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren), when a potential tragedy comes barreling at them, but in the heat of the moment, while Ebba instantly seeks to protect the kids, Tomas runs for his life, leaving his family behind. After the event, which was not as bad as anticipated, the relationship among the four of them has forever changed, especially because Tomas will not own up to what happened. Even Harry and Vera (who are brother and sister in real life) know something went wrong that afternoon and are now terrified that their parents will divorce. But with Tomas unwilling to talk about his flight response, Ebba starts sharing the story with other couples, including their hirsute friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), who are soon arguing in private about what they would do in a similar situation.

FORCE MAJEURE

There might be no going back in beautiful-looking and -sounding Swedish satire

Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival and the Swedish entry for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Force Majeure is a blistering exploration of human nature, gender roles, and survival instinct. The often uncomfortable and utterly believable tale, inspired by a real-life event in which friends of Östlund’s were attacked by gunmen, recalls Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, in which an engaged couple encounter serious trouble and their immediate, individual reactions change their dynamic. Östlund (Play, Involuntary), who was also influenced by statistics that show that more men survive shipwrecks than women and children on a percentage basis, often keeps dialogue at a minimum, revealing the family’s growing predicament by repeating visuals with slight differences, from the way they sleep in the same bed to how they brush their teeth in front of a long mirror to the looks on their faces as they move along a motorized walkway in a tunnel at the ski resort. The ending feels forced and confusing, but everything leading up to that is simply dazzling, a treat for the senses that is impossible not to experience without wondering what you would do if danger suddenly threatened you and your loved ones.

The Square

Ann (Elisabeth Moss) and Christian (Claes Bang) discuss more than just art in Ruben Östlund’s The Square

The plot of Östlund’s 2014 absurdist satire, Force Majeure, turns on a man’s momentary act of surprising cowardice when an avalanche threatens him and his family at a ski resort. In the Swedish writer-director’s absurdist satire The Square, screening at 6:30 at Scandinavia House, the plot is set in motion when a man’s momentary act of surprising bravery leads him into a spiral of personal and professional chaos. The Tesla-driving chief curator of the fictional X-Royal contemporary art museum in Sweden, Christian (Claes Bang) is walking through a busy plaza when he hears a woman crying for help as bystanders do nothing. After his initial hesitation, Christian intervenes and is ultimately quite pleased with himself and his decision to do the right thing — until, a few moments later, he realizes he’s been robbed. Back at the museum, Christian listens to a pair of millennial marketers pitching their campaign for the institution’s upcoming exhibit, “The Square,” which is highlighted by a four-meter-by-four-meter square positioned on the cobblestones in the museum’s front courtyard. An accompanying plaque reads, “‘The Square’ is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” As the museum contemplates a cutting-edge ad campaign for the exhibit, Christian has to deal with an arts journalist, an angry kid, the museum board, and his own moral decisions.

The Square

Oleg (Terry Notary) takes performance art to another level in The Square

The film opens as Christian is being interviewed by Ann (Elisabeth Moss) in a gallery, in front of a neon wall sign that says, “You have nothing.” Later, the sign says, “You have everything.” This dichotomy is central to Christian’s inner dilemma; he seemingly does have everything, but his world is slowly shattering, just like the artworks heard crashing to the ground later while he is in a deep personal discussion with Ann. Östlund skewers the art world, political correctness, class conflict, freedom of speech, privileged social groups, and the concept of “safe spaces” in the film, which was inspired by a real exhibition by Östlund and producer Kalle Boman that ran at the Vandalorum Museum in Sweden in 2015. Immediately following the opening interview, which reveals Ann has no feel whatsoever for contemporary art, workers remove the statue of King Karl XIV Johan that stands in front of the museum; on the base is his royal motto, “The love of the people my reward.” As the monument is being taken off its plinth, the crane drops it and the king’s head falls off. “The Square” takes its place, signaling the old being replaced by the new, physical objects replaced by lofty ideals, with an utter disregard for what has come before. Östlund (The Guitar Mongoloid, Incident by a Bank) is not above making such obvious analogies and references, including naming his protagonist Christian, a man who spends much of the film attempting to do what he considers the right thing. (Östlund, who also edited the film with Jacob Secher Schulsinger, has said that “The Square” installation is a place where the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should take precedence.)

Wriet-director Ruben Östlund (standing) on the set of The Square

Writer-director-editor Ruben Östlund (standing) on the set of The Square

The film focuses on the issue of trust, and particularly how humans lose their ability to have faith in others as they mature. At the entrance to the “Square” installation, visitors are given the option of deciding between two paths, one marked “I Trust People,” the other “I Mistrust People.” Christian’s two daughters both take the former. The older daughter is a cheerleader, showing trust in her teammates as the girls are tossed high in the air and wait to be caught — but not without several men hovering right behind them to try to prevent any possible falls. The difference between childhood and adulthood is also evident in how Christian deals with a determined young boy in trouble because of the divorced curator. Bang is stoic as Christian, a man who feels more at home among works of art than with other people. He wants so desperately to be good, but it’s getting harder and harder to make the right decision in the current politically correct atmosphere, and he is so self-absorbed that he even fights over possession of a used condom, in one of the film’s most bizarrely comic moments. Those choices come to the fore in two wildly uncomfortable scenes involving an American artist named Julian (Dominic West), first at a public Q&A where he is bedeviled by an audience member with Tourette syndrome, and later at a gala fundraiser where a bare-chested performer (motion-capture actor Terry Notary) moves around the luxurious room, acting like an ape, but as he begins breaking physical and socially acceptable boundaries, no one knows how to react. (His acting like an ape is in direct contrast to Ann’s roommate, an ape who is far more civilized and is never commented on.) Both situations frustrate the viewer as well, as we are as hamstrung as the people in the film, all of us experiencing the bystander effect together. And the mood is further joyfully complicated by the lighthearted, satiric music. Despite a few minor missteps, The Square is a searingly intelligent exploration, and condemnation, of where humanity stands as a society in the twenty-first century, fearful of our every move, searching for that imaginary safe space where we can live and breathe freely with our fellow beings, consequences be damned.

AI WEIWEI: GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS

One hundred banners throughout the city identify the plight of specific refugees (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

One hundred banners throughout the city identify the plight of specific refugees (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Multiple locations in all five boroughs
Through February 11, free
www.publicartfund.org
aiweiwei.com
good fences slideshow

There’s less than a week left to experience as much as you can of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s extraordinary “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” Public Art Fund project, consisting of a variety of works at more than three hundred locations in all five boroughs. The massive installation went up October 12, in conjunction with the release of his stunning documentary, Human Flow, in which he visited twenty-three countries in order to personalize the global refugee crisis. The exhibition takes its title from the last words of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” which includes the line “We keep the wall between us as we go.”

Ai Weiwei takes on the international migrant crisis in widespread exhibition (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Ai Weiwei takes on the international migrant crisis in widespread exhibition (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

As Congress and the president battle over immigration reform, sanctuary cities, deportation, the fate of the Dreamers, and the construction of a wall on the Mexico border, Ai, whose family was exiled for political reasons when he was a child, shares hundreds of works in five main groups. Banner photographs of two hundred individual refugees, printed on double-sided cut black vinyl, jut out from lampposts that make it appear as if the person is disappearing into thin air right before our eyes. Ai has also created one hundred “Good Neighbors” photos of refugees arriving in countries and settling in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon, Gaza, and Greece. Classical Greek–style friezes, called “Odyssey,” depict scenes of the refugee crisis in black-and-white, from military maneuvers to people living in tents. “Exodus” is a series of black-and-white linked banners on Essex St., filled with symbolism, showing families leaving their homes and searching for a new place to live. (One part hovers over a pizzeria called Roma, evoking the plight of Romani refugees.) Fences have been installed in between buildings on the Lower East Side, a major immigrant area where Ai lived in the 1980s. And gates have been added to bus shelters in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx, equating borders with public transportation that can take riders just about anywhere.

Ai Weiwei has installed a unique passage underneath the Washington Square arch (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Ai Weiwei has installed a unique passage underneath the Washington Square arch (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Several one-of-a-kind site-specific works further connect with the history of the city. Inside the Washington Square arch, Ai has installed a thirty-seven-foot steel cage with a passage in the outline of two giant people; off to the side are empty jail-like cells. Washington Square Park, of course, is famous for its diversity and acceptance of everyone; however, it has also been the site of protests and class and race riots. Five fences cover large windows on the facade of the Cooper Union, the institution where Abraham Lincoln gave a critical speech on slavery and the two major political parties on February 27, 1860.

Gilded Cage sits on the edge of busy Central Park entrance (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Gilded Cage sits on the edge of busy Central Park entrance (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

“Gilded Cage” resides on Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the Scholars’ Gate entrance to Central Park on Fifth Ave. and Sixtieth St., a large circular cage, bathed in gold, with a door so tourists and New Yorkers can go inside, where there are hard-to-reach turnstiles that represent yet another blockage. The first time I was there, I watched as a white couple in tuxedo and wedding dress went in and had pictures taken by their photographer, none of whom were quite getting the irony. It reminded me of wealthy people who pay to spend a night in jail as part of a fundraising gathering.

Rope barrier around Unisphere isolates the globe from the one of the most diverse places in the world, (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Rope barrier around Unisphere isolates the globe from the one of the most diverse places in the world (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Finally, “Circle Fence” is a hammock-like rope barrier surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a giant globe constructed for the 1964–65 World’s Fair in Queens, welcoming visitors from all over the planet to one of the most diverse areas on Earth. The fence is only a few feet high, sectioned off by geometric shapes in a repeating sequence. Feel free to sit or lie down on it, although not every area is conducive to comfort. While I was walking around it, a Chinese bride and groom, wearing traditional red outfits, and their wedding party arrived for pictures. They all pulled themselves over the barrier relatively easily, then posed for pictures with the Unisphere behind them. I have a feeling Ai would have gotten a big kick out of this timely interaction.

LIFE IS A DREAM — THE FILMS OF RAÚL RUIZ: NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET

NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET

Raúl Ruiz’s final film, Night Across the Street, is an abstract, surreal examination of time and memory

THE NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (LA NOCHE DE ENFRENTE) (Raúl Ruiz, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center: Francesca Beale Theater, Howard Gilman Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Sunday, February 11, 8:00; Sunday, February 18, 6:15
Series runs February 9-18
212-875-5601
www.filmlinc.org

In December 2016, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held the first of its two-part tribute to Chilean-French auteur Raúl Ruiz, a prolific writer and director who passed away in 2011 at the age of seventy. “Life Is a Dream: The Films of Raúl Ruiz” is now back for the second half of the celebration, from February 9 to 18, consisting of fourteen more works by Ruiz, highlighted by a week-long run of a new digital restoration of his 1999 magnum opus, Time Regained, a dramatization of Marcel Proust on his deathbed, thinking back on his own life as well as the fictional life of his characters. The festival also includes Ruiz’s last film, Night Across the Street, which proves to be a fitting finale for Ruiz, who left behind a legacy of more than one hundred movies and one hundred plays. An adaptation — or as Ruiz explained it, “adoption” — from a pair of short stories by Imaginist writer Hernán del Solar, Night Across the Street follows the odd meanderings of Don Celso (Sergio Hernandez), an old man about to retire from his office job. Past, present, and future, the real and the imagined, merge in abstract, surreal ways as Don Celso goes back to his childhood, where he (played as a boy by Santiago Figueroa) takes his idol, Beethoven (Sergio Schmied), to the movies and gets life lessons from Long John Silver (Pedro Villagra). As an adult, he hangs out with the fictional version of French teacher and writer Jean Giono (Christian Vadim), whose real self and family appear to be elsewhere. And he visits a haunted hotel run by Nigilda (Valentina Vargad) where he believes he will meet his doom.

Memories and hallucinations mingle in front of obviously fake backgrounds, strange, unexplained characters appear then disappear, and Don Celso (and Ruiz, of course) has fun with such words as “Antofagasta” and “rhododendron” in a film that Ruiz created to be shown only after his death. (He made the film after being diagnosed with liver cancer, which he survived by getting a transplant, only to die shortly thereafter of a lung infection.) And at the center of it all is one of Ruiz’s favorite themes, time — Don Celso is regularly interrupted by an annoying alarm clock that signals him to take unidentified medication, keeping him alive even as the end beckons. Screening at Lincoln Center on February 11 and 18 (the first show will be introduced by actress Chamila Rodríguez), Night Across the Street is an elegiac swan song by a master filmmaker. The series continues with such other Ruiz films as Klimt, starring John Malkovich as the Austrian artist, the American thriller Shattered Image, with Anne Parillaud and William Baldwin, the deeply personal improvised Dutch film On Top of the Whale, and the haunting Comedy of Innocence, with Isabelle Huppert and Jeanne Balibar.

IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD

(photo ©Joan Marcus 2018)

Eve Ensler stands up against cancer in new one-woman show (photo © Joan Marcus 2018)

Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage 1
Tuesday - Sunday through March 25, $90
212-581-1212
bodyoftheworldplay.com
www.nycitycenter.org

In the wake of losing my mother to lung cancer just after Thanksgiving, one of the last things I wanted to do was see a play about a woman fighting the cursed disease. But Eve Ensler’s daring, delightful one-woman show, In the Body of the World, which opened tonight at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I at City Center, is bursting with the affirmation of life and the celebration of joy. In 2010, the Tony- and Obie-winning writer of The Vagina Monologues and The Treatment was diagnosed with cancer; she first wrote about it in her 2013 memoir, In the Body of the World, which she has now successfully adapted for the stage. Ensler divides the eighty-minute performance, directed with flair by two-time Tony winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), into three sections, “Somnolence,” “Burning,” and “Second Wind,” as she honestly and often poetically talks about her childhood and her family and relates her cancer to things much bigger than herself. “A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a young age and I got lost,” she says at the beginning. “For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the earth. I guess you could say it’s a preoccupation.” Ensler strides about Myung Hee Cho’s set, consisting of a wooden chair, a credenza with an altar/cabinet on top, and a chaise longue, which serves as Ensler’s loft, her hospital room, and her hotel room in what she calls Cancer Town, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Ensler, a twice-divorced vegetarian and activist who was fifty-six at the time of her diagnosis, had stopped drinking in her twenties and quit smoking in her thirties, so the cancer came as somewhat of a shock, especially when she learned she would have to have her “mother parts,” her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and some of her vagina, removed. “Do you have any idea who I am? Do you have any fucking sense of irony?” she tells the doctor.

(photo ©Joan Marcus 2018)

Eve Ensler bonds with nature as she fights for her life in MTC’s In the Body of the World (photo © Joan Marcus 2018)

Ensler exposes her body and her soul as she goes through chemo and becomes involved in the creation of City of Joy, a community of women survivors of rape and violence in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, run by Dr. Denis Mukwege and Mama C, aka Christine Schuler-Deschryver. (The amazing work they do is documented in Madeleine Gavin’s extraordinary 2016 film, City of Joy.) Ensler says that Dr. Mukwege “was literally sewing up the vaginas of rape survivors as fast as the militias were tearing them apart. . . . There were hundreds of these stories. They all began to bleed together. The destruction of vaginas. The pillaging of minerals. The raping of the earth. But inside these stories of unspeakable violence, inside the women, was a determination and a life force I had never witnessed.” Refusing to feel sorry for herself, Ensler reexamines her place in the greater world, continually working to teach people to stop sleepwalking through life and start taking responsibility for themselves and others, using this stage as a wake-up call for all of us.

Occasionally projections by Finn Ross cover the stage and the back wall, depicting protests, scenes of nature, people at City of Joy, certain key words, and a tree that deeply impacts Ensler’s recovery. She sometimes flirts with new agey ideas and twelve-step jargon — and she tries to get everyone up and dancing at one point in a rather goofy moment — but, being Eve Ensler, she also finds time to briefly fire away at political and social injustice. And then, at the end, she offers a magical surprise that every audience member should experience instead of rushing to get home; I wouldn’t dare give it away, but you can get a look at what it is here if you can’t help yourself. Ensler, a New York City native, is also a founder of V-Day, “a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls” that in 2018 is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Vagina Monologues with special events on and around Valentine’s Day. This year’s V-Day motto is “Rise, Resist, Unite,” which is also the route Ensler took in her fight against cancer, as depicted in this warm and very funny performance. I wish my mother were around to have experienced it for herself.

INGMAR BERGMAN CENTENNIAL RETROSPECTIVE: FRENZY / THE SEVENTH SEAL

Torment

A sadistic teacher (Stig Järrel) torments a student (Alf Kjellin) in Ingmar Bergman–written Frenzy

FRENZY (TORMENT) (HETS) (Alf Sjöberg, 1944)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, February 7, 4:00 & 8:20; Tuesday, February 27, 6:30
Series runs February 7 - March 15
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

Film Forum is celebrating the centennial of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman’s birth with a five-week retrospective of nearly four dozen films he directed and/or wrote, forty of which are new restorations from the Swedish Film Institute. The series, running from February 7 through March 15, kicks off with one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, 1957’s The Seventh Seal, in which an errant knight played by Max von Sydow sits down for a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot), as well as the intense 1944 expressionistic noir, Frenzy. Although directed by Alf Sjöberg, Frenzy, also known as Torment, was written by Bergman, who also served as assistant director and made his directing debut in the final scene, which Bergman added at the insistence of the producers when Sjöberg was not available. A kind of inversion of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, the film is set in a boarding school where high school boys are preparing for their final exams and graduation. They are terrified of their sadistic Latin teacher, whom they call Caligula (Stig Järrel), a brutal man who wields a fascistic iron fist. He particularly has it out for Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin), the son of wealthy parents (Olav Riégo and Märta Arbin) who think he should be doing better in school. One night Jan-Erik helps out a troubled woman in the street, tobacco-shop clerk Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), who is being mentally and physically tormented by an unnamed man who ends up being Caligula. The stakes get higher and the teacher becomes even harder on Jan-Erik when he finds out the young man is having an affair with the wayward woman. When tragedy strikes, Jan-Erik’s soul is in turmoil as lies, threats, and danger grow.

Torment

Tobacco-shop clerk Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling) is terrified of life in Alf Sjöberg’s Frenzy

The twenty-five-year-old Bergman was inspired to write his first produced film script by his experience in boarding school, which led to a public disagreement with the headmaster. In a public letter to the headmaster, Bergman explained, “I was a very lazy boy, and very scared because of my laziness, because I was involved with theater instead of school and because I hated having to be punctual, having to get up in the morning, do homework, sit still, having to carry maps, having break times, doing tests, taking oral examinations, or to put it plainly: I hated school as a principle, as a system and as an institution. And as such I have definitely not wanted to criticize my own school, but all schools.” Throughout his career, Bergman would take on institutions, including religion and marriage, but his defiance began with this hellish representation of education, which oppresses all the boys in some way, including Jan-Erik’s best friend, self-described misogynist Sandman (Stig Olin), and the geeky Pettersson (Jan Molander). While the headmaster (Olof Winnerstrand) knows how frightened the boys are of Caligula, he is willing to go only so far to protect them. The opening credits are shown over a dreamlike sequence of Jan-Erik and Bertha desperately holding on to each other, but Frenzy is so much more than a treacly melodrama, as if Sjöberg (Miss Julie, Ön) is setting us up for one film before switching gears into an ominous, haunting thriller.

Järrel, who played an evil, jealous teacher in his previous film, Hasse Ekman’s Flames in the Dark, is indeed scary as the devious, malicious Caligula, while adding more than a touch of sadness. Zetterling, in her breakthrough role — she would go on to star in such other films as Frieda and The Witches and direct such feminist works as Loving Couples and The Girls — brings a touching vulnerability to Bertha, a young woman who can’t find happiness. It’s all anchored by Kjellin’s (Madame Bovary, Ship of Fools) central performance, so rife with emotion it evokes German silent cinema. Frenzy suffers from Hilding Rosenberg’s overreaching score, although it is usually offset by Martin Bodin’s cinematography, filled with lurching shadows and deep mystery. The film was produced by Victor Sjöström, the legendary director of The Phantom Carriage, The Divine Woman, The Wind, and so many others in addition to his work as an actor, starring as Professor Isak Borg in another Bergman masterpiece, 1957’s Wild Strawberries, and as the conductor in 1950’s To Joy. (Film Forum is also presenting the five-film series “Victor Sjöström: The Screen’s First Master” February 11 through March 5, with live piano accompaniment at each show.) A Grand Prix winner at Cannes, Frenzy is screening February 7 and 27; among the many other highlights of Film Forum’s Ingmar Bergman Centennial Retrospective are Crisis, his full-length directorial debut; All These Women, his first color film, being shown with a detergent commercial he shot with Bibi Andersson; the 1969 and 1979 documentaries Fårö Document; and his last feature film, After the Rehearsal, and last short, Karin’s Face.

Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) sits down with Death (Bengt Ekerot) for a friendly game of chess in Bergman classic

THE SEVENTH SEAL (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Film Forum
February 7-10
filmforum.org

It’s almost impossible to watch Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal without being aware of the meta surrounding the film, which has influenced so many other works and been paid homage to and playfully mocked. Over the years, it has gained a reputation as a deep, philosophical paean to death. However, amid all the talk about emptiness, doomsday, the Black Plague, and the devil, The Seventh Seal is a very funny movie. In fourteenth-century Sweden, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is returning home from the Crusades with his trusty squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block soon meets Death (Bengt Ekerot) and, to prolong his life, challenges him to a game of chess. While the on-again, off-again battle of wits continues, Death seeks alternate victims while Block meets a young family and a small troupe of actors putting on a show. Rape, infidelity, murder, and other forms of evil rise to the surface as Block proclaims “To believe is to suffer,” questioning God and faith, and Jöns opines that “love is the blackest plague of all.” (Bergman fans will get an extra treat out of the knight being offered some wild strawberries at one point.) Based on Bergman’s own play inspired by a painting of Death playing chess by Albertus Pictor (played in the film by Gunnar Olsson), The Seventh Seal, winner of a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, is one of the most entertaining films ever made, and you can bask in its glory February 7-10 when it screens in Film Forum’s Ingmar Bergman Centennial Retrospective.

RONALD K. BROWN, EVIDENCE: DEN OF DREAMS / DANCING SPIRIT

(photo © Julieta Cervantes)

Ronald K. Brown returns to the stage in a special duet in upcoming Joyce season (photo © Julieta Cervantes)

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St.
February 6-11, $10-$46
212-242-0800
www.joyce.org
www.evidencedance.com

It’s always a thrill to see Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, a Dance Company, bring its electrifying work to the Joyce, or anywhere, for that matter. Founded by Brown in 1985, the Brooklyn-based troupe dazzles audiences with its unique and inspired integration of traditional African dance with contemporary movement while emphasizing a strong sense of community and a social conscience. Evidence will be at the Joyce February 6-11, highlighted by the world premiere of Den of Dreams, a duet performed by Brown and Bessie winner Arcell Cabuag in celebration of Cabuag’s twentieth anniversary as associate artistic director, a job that includes teaching master classes and working with dance schools around the globe. Evidence will also present the company premiere of American Spirit, a 2009 work Brown choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in honor of Judith Jamison’s twentieth anniversary as AAADT artistic director, featuring music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War and melding Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles. Also on the bill are 2002’s Come Ye, a call for peace set to the music of Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, and March, a duet, excerpted from 1995’s Lessons, set to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., being performed as a tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the reverend’s assassination. Opening night will also feature Upside Down, an excerpt from Brown’s 1998 Destiny, with music by Wunmi. The season is part of Carnegie Hall’s wide-ranging festival “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America” and will include a curtain chat following the February 7 show, a master class on February 9, and a family matinee on February 10. The dynamic company includes rehearsal director Annique Roberts, assistant rehearsal director Keon Thoulouis, Shayla Caldwell, Kevyn Ryan Butler, Courtney Paige, Demetrius Burns, and Janeill Cooper.

HINDLE WAKES

(photo by Todd Cerveris)

Wealthy scion Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck) finds himself in trouble when he cheats on his fiancée with the middle class Fanny Hawthorn (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley) in Mint production of Hindle Wakes (photo by Todd Cerveris)

The Mint Theater
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 17, $65
minttheater.org
www.theatrerow.org

New York City is filled with hidden gems and secret treasures, but the sheer number of fellow enthusiasts can make us reluctant to share our discoveries, keeping them to ourselves so we can still easily acquire tickets to shows and tables at restaurants and avoid lines at galleries, etc. But one of my simple pleasures over the last five years has been singing the praises of the small but phenomenal Mint Theater Company, which since 1995 under the leadership of artistic director Jonathan Bank has “scour[ed] the dramaturgical dustbin for worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or neglected.” As its official mission statement explains, “We do more than blow the dust off neglected plays; we make vital connections between the past and present.” Bank and the Mint have given us another wonderful gift with its latest offering, precisely the kind of play that they do so well, a work written in 1912 by a long-forgotten playwright that has not been performed in New York City since 1922. Penned by Stanley Houghton, a former office boy working for his father in Manchester in addition to being an amateur actor and theater critic, Hindle Wakes is an essentially simple morality play set in the fictional town of Hindle in Lancashire during wakes week, an originally religious, then secular holiday when mills and factories close, giving a vacation to industrial workers, many of whom head off to seaside resorts. One such mill employee is Fanny Hawthorn (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley); the play opens as she is returning home from a supposed break in Blackpool. But when she insists that she was there with her friend Mary Hollins, her parents, Christopher (Ken Marks) and his unnamed wife (Sandra Shipley), know she is lying and soon force her to reveal that she actually spent the weekend with Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), the son of wealthy mill owner Nathaniel (Jonathan Hogan) and his unnamed spouse (Jill Tanner). “She’s always been a good girl,” Christopher says with a tinge of sadness, later adding, “This is what happens to many a lass, but I never thought to have it happen to a lass of mine!” Christopher and his wife believe that Alan must do the right thing and marry Fanny to avoid public gossip and scandal, so Christopher immediately goes to the Jeffcote mansion, where he meets with Nat, an old friend who enjoys reminding Christopher that if he had followed Nat’s lead, he could have been a rich success too. It turns out that Alan is already engaged to Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer), daughter of the former mayor, Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy), a wealthy industrialist himself, so the Jeffcotes have to decide what to do about the lurid situation with their son, a would-be playboy who doesn’t understand what all the hubbub is about.

(photo by Todd Cerveris)

Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy, left) and Nathaniel Jeffcote (Jonathan Hogan, right) decide the fate of Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck) in Hindle Wakes (photo by Todd Cerveris)

In Hindle Wakes, which continues at the Mint’s new home at Theatre Row through February 17, Houghton, who died of meningitis in 1913 at the age of thirty-two, blurs the lines between the classes, emphasizing how one wrong, or right, turn can change a family’s future. A scathing look at the collision of old-fashioned morality and newfangled sexual freedom, the play was controversial for its time, a shocking look at a woman’s right to control her own body. Both the Jeffcotes and the Hawthorns seem to be enjoying their lives, but while Christopher does not appear to be jealous of Nat, it’s clear that Mrs. Hawthorn wouldn’t mind being a little more like Mrs. Jeffcote. But it’s also not just about wealth. “Money’s power. That’s why I like money,” Nat tells his wife. “Not for what it can buy.” The set, always a bulwark of any Mint production — many in-the-know Mint lovers stay in their seats during intermission of shows in which the set undergoes a dramatic change before resuming, although that is not the case with Hindle Wakes — designed by Charles Morgan, shifts back and forth from the striking elegance of the Jeffcote breakfast room, serviced by their maid, Ada (Sara Carolynn Kennedy), to the mundane casualness of the Hawthorn breakfast nook. The fine cast is led by Tony nominee Hogan (London Wall, As Is), who portrays the surprisingly unpredictable Nat with exquisite touches, from how he sits by the fireplace to how he moves with his cane. The costumes, by Sam Fleming, are as impeccable as ever, another Mint tradition, as is Gus Kaikkonen’s (The Voysey Inheritance, A Picture of Autumn) astute direction, which draws parallels between the two clans even as it points out their differences. The play might be more than a hundred years old, but many of the values it explores resonate today, in the bedroom, in the boardroom, and in religious institutions around America. Upon Houghton’s passing, Robert Allerson Parker wrote in the New York Press, “The death of Stanley Houghton has taken away a real force in making the English drama cosmopolitan rather than insular, in widening its appeal while deepening its insight.” Thankfully, the Mint is very much alive to continue to bring us such splendid cosmopolitan drama, a treasured company highly deserving of widening its own appeal as well.