CROSSING THE LINE: CHAMBRE
New Museum Theater
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Installation: through October 4
Performances: October 1-2, 7:00, October 3, 3:00 & 7:00, October 4, 3:00, $15
Writer, actor, dancer, and choreographer Jack Ferver holds nothing back in his electrifying, emotionally charged performances. In his latest piece, Chambre, he took things to the next level, literally bleeding for his art. In a climactic moment during the work’s official New York City premiere last week at the New Museum, Ferver put his hand through a window in Marc Swanson’s set, shattering the glass and apparently cutting his palm. At first the audience was uncertain, wondering if it was part of the show or just more artifice. Ferver has an innate knack for pushing audiences into bouts of uncomfortable laughter and challenging them to separate the real from the imagined, fact from fantasy. Blood seemed to well on his palm, and his fellow performers, Michelle Mola and Jacob Slominski, very carefully navigated around the sea of glass shards on the floor; the mystery of whether it was real or staged continued into a closing monologue in which a diva-like Ferver complained about barely being able to afford health insurance. Not until later that night did it become clear that it was indeed accidental when Ferver posted a photograph of the broken window on Facebook and publicly apologized to Swanson. But it all fit in rather well with the work itself, a slyly playful and inventive reimagining of Jean Genet’s The Maids, which itself was inspired by the true story of two sisters, Christine and Léa Papin, who perpetrated a horrific crime in France in 1933. At the beginning of Chambre, ticket holders can walk around Swanson’s set, which includes unfinished walls, windows, mirrors, a rack of white dresses (designed by Reid Bartelme), and three statues representing the main characters. After the statues are moved out of the way, Ferver emerges in a glittering, glamorous gold-chained outfit and, with the audience still gathered around him, delivers a deliciously wicked monologue taken verbatim from a bitter deposition Lady Gaga gave in 2013 when being sued by a former personal assistant. It’s a classic celebrity rant: “I’m quite wonderful to everybody that works for me, and I am completely aghast to what a disgusting human being that you have become to sue me like this,” Ferver spits out venomously into a microphone.
Meanwhile, the audience can watch him, as well as themselves, in a large horizontal mirror hung from the ceiling behind white-draped rows of seats, multiplying the number of visible Fervers, who is not attacking Lady Gaga as much as celebrity culture. It’s also a terrific lead-in for the role-playing done by Ferver as Christine and Jacob as Léa, mocking how they are treated by Madame (Mola), exaggerating how the wealthy take advantage of and abuse the poor. “I know you are necessary, like ditch diggers and construction workers are necessary, but I hate having to see you,” Slominski-as-Léa-as-Madame says. But soon the sisters take their revenge, doing what so many only fantasize about doing to the rich and privileged. “I’m surprised things like this don’t happen more often,” Ferver says shortly after the opening soliloquy. Eventually, the audience gets to sit down and experience Chambre in a more traditional arrangement, although there’s very little that’s traditional about the thoroughly engaging and entertaining production, which also features a subtly ominous score by Roarke Menzies. Ferver examines class division, sibling rivalry, gender, and the “monetization of performance” as only he can, with a wickedly potent sense of humor loaded with hard-to-swallow truths. In his introduction to Genet’s The Maids and Deathwatch, Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “For Genet, theatrical procedure is demoniacal. Appearance, which is constantly on the point of passing itself off as reality, must constantly reveal its profound unreality. Everything must be so false that it sets our teeth on edge.” Ferver (Rumble Ghost, Night Light Bright Light,), Swanson, Slominski, Mola, and Menzies set our teeth and more on edge with the seriously funny Chambre, which continues at the New Museum through October 3 as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival, an apt name for Ferver’s fiendishly clever work.
NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. between Ashland & Rockwell Pl.
Through October 4, $30-$135
A chill runs through Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of Sophokles’s classic tragedy Antigone, continuing through October 4 at BAM’s Harvey Theater. The sizzling-hot van Hove, who has dazzled audiences and critics alike with his recent, unusual presentations of Scenes from a Marriage, Angels in America, and Cries and Whispers, has stripped down the tale of power, family, loyalty, and responsibility in a new translation by Canadian poet Anne Carson (Agamemnon, Electra) that emphasizes the story’s relevance to today’s politics. As the play opens, Antigone (Juliette Binoche, who was last at BAM in 2009 in In-I), clad in black, is fighting off a brisk wind with her sister, Ismene (Kirsty Bushell). Their two brothers have killed each other in the Theban civil war fighting on opposite sides, Eteocles a hero, Polyneices a traitor. The new king, Kreon (Patrick O’Kane), has decreed that Polyneices’s body should be left outside to rot, but Antigone is determined to give her sibling a proper burial, although the punishment for doing so is death. Upon discovering that his niece and future daughter-in-law — Antigone’s father was Kreon’s brother, and she is engaged to marry Kreon’s son, Haimon (Samuel Edward-Cook) — has indeed buried Polyneices, Kreon shows no mercy, commanding Antigone’s execution, as well as that of anyone who supports her. Kreon’s chief adviser, Teiresias (Finbar Lynch), wants him to rethink his position, but Kreon is just as stubborn as Antigone, and it doesn’t take long for the bodies to start piling up.
Jan Versweyveld’s stage features a giant circle at the top of the back wall that rotates to reveal a projection of sky and clouds, as if the gods are looking down, judging the trials and tribulations of humanity. In the center of the floor is a rectangular platform that sinks to serve as a grave, lowering Polyneices and Antigone down toward hell and rising up again; it is perpendicular to a narrow walkway and opening used by Kreon, as if he is emerging from the lair of the gods. At the front of the stage is a leather couch, congruent with the costumes by An d’Huys — the men are mainly in suits and jackets as if attending a board meeting. Binoche and O’Kane make fine adversaries, though Antigone shouts too much, and Kreon changes moods a little too randomly. All of the actors except for O’Kane also double as the Greek chorus, who never speak as a unit. Carson’s script contains several contemporary phrases that elicit chuckles from the audience at inopportune moments, and Tal Yarden’s projections are hit-or-miss; the scenes of the vast desert work well, while video of ghostly figures making their way through a present-day city is confusing and feels out of place, though the last shot is effective. Meanwhile, the score weaves in and out of music by Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki, and Dmitri Shostakovich before concluding with a sonic blast from longtime BAM favorite Lou Reed as van Hove attempts to relate this story of the state vs. the individual to the twenty-first century. Overall, he only partly succeeds, but by never quite providing the audience with an emotional connection to the characters or narrative, this Antigone will leave you feeling a little too cold. (The September 29 performance will be followed by a talk with Binoche and other members of the company, free for same-day ticket holders.)
October 2-4, $40-$45
Sure, programs with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sigourney Weaver, Jim Gaffigan, Patti Smith, Billy Joel, Toni Morrison, Larry Wilmore, Trey Anastasio, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Malcolm Gladwell are already sold out, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some pretty cool events you can check out at this year’s New Yorker Festival. Taking place October 2-4 at such locations as the Directors Guild Theatre, SIR Stage37, the Gramercy Theatre, One World Trade Center, and the SVA Theatre, the three-day series of discussions, interviews, preview film screenings, theatrical sneak peeks, and special presentations examines contemporary culture as only the New Yorker can. Talk isn’t necessarily cheap; it will cost you $40-$45 to see chats with Andrew Jarecki, Don DeLillo, HAIM, Ellie Kemper, Jason Segel, Jeffrey Tambor, Jesse Eisenberg, Marc Maron, Reggie Watts, Sleater-Kinney, Adam Driver, Julianna Margulies, and Zaha Hadid in addition to the below highlights.
Friday, October 2
Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists, with Liana Finck, Emily Flake, Mort Gerberg, and Robert Mankoff, moderated by Roz Chast, Directors Guild Theatre, $45, 9:30
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson Talk with Emily Nussbaum, SVA Theatre 1, $45, 10:00
The New R&B, with Azekel Adesuyi, Bilal, James Fauntleroy, and Kelela, moderated by Andrew Marantz, Gramercy Theatre, $45, 10:00
Saturday, October 3
Larry Kramer talks with Calvin Trillin, SVA Theatre 2, $40, 10:00 am
Justice Delayed, with Shawn Armbrust, Tyrone Hood, Patrick Quinn, and Ken Thompson, moderated by Nicholas Schmidle, Directors Guild Theatre, $40, 10:00 am
Creating Complicated Characters, with Joshua Ferris, Yiyun Li, and Lionel Shriver, moderated by Willing Davidson, Gramercy Theatre, $40, 1:00
Sneak Preview: The Lady in the Van, starring Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent, followed by a conversation between Judith Thurman and director Nicholas Hytner, Directors Guild Theatre, $45, 6:30
Sunday, October 4
Cleo: A reading of Lawrence Wright’s new play, directed by Bob Balaban, with Damian Lewis as Richard Burton, Directors Guild Theatre, $40, 11:00 am
Congressman John Lewis talks with David Remnick, Directors Guild Theatre, $40, 2:00
JR talks with Françoise Mouly, Gramercy Theatre, $40, 2:30
CROSSING THE LINE
French Institute Alliance Française
Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Friday, September 25, and Saturday, September 26, $25
Festival continues through October 4
Swiss-born British multidisciplinary artist Ant Hampton specializes in creating hard-to-categorize immersive performance installations that take place outside of the usual dynamic between performer and audience, making the latter an active participant in the production. Since 2007, Hampton has been presenting his Autoteatro series, works in which audience members and unrehearsed guest performers are given instructions and act out the pieces themselves. For Etiquette, two people sat across from each other in a public space and followed what they were told to do via headphones. For Hello for Dummies, pairs of strangers were sent to sit and interact on outdoor benches. Hampton’s latest work is The Extra People, premiering at FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival. The site-specific piece will take place in Florence Gould Hall, with fifteen audience members onstage and another fifteen sitting in seats. Each person will have a flashlight, a neon vest, and headphones, which will instruct them what to do and where to go. Hampton’s website advises to “avoid eye contact” and explains that “the overall picture is out of your reach: too big, beyond your comprehension, or simply not your job to know. . . . In a challenge to the assumption (often taken for granted) that collectivity is what you find in the theater, the building here reflects society rather differently, with its audience situated as atomized individuals adrift or even asleep among both seating and stage, plugged into their own audio streams, patiently awaiting their call, and eventually acting upon it.” Some of the slots are already sold out, so act fast if you want to have a rather unusual experience in a theatrical setting.
New Museum Theater
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Installation: September 23 - October 4
Performances: September 24-25, October 1-2, 7:00, and September 26-27, October 3-4, 3:00, $15
No one tells a story quite like Jack Ferver. In such deeply personal psychodramas as Rumble Ghost, Night Light Bright Light, and Two Alike, the Wisconsin-born, New York-based performer shares intimate, cathartic memories brought to life through a loving pop-culture lens. Melding dance, spoken word, electronic sound scores, and visual art, Ferver explores suicide, abused queer youth, rape, and other serious topics while incorporating references to Tennessee Williams, Poltergeist, Fred Herko, Cleopatra, Madonna, and the 1985 cult film Return to Oz. In Chambre, which runs September 24 to October 4 at the New Museum as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival, Ferver turns to Jean Genet’s The Maids, the 1947 play inspired by a pair of real-life sisters, Christine and Léa Papin, who committed a horrific crime in France in 1933. For the project, which includes eight live performances, Ferver is working with several of his longtime collaborators; the music is composed by Roarke Menzies, the costumes are designed by Reid Bartelme, the art installation (which is on view during museum hours throughout the show’s run) is by Marc Swanson, and Ferver will be joined onstage by Michelle Mola and Jacob Slominski.
“While I’ve been mulling over the material for Chambre for years, we started our first residency at Baryshnikov [Arts Center] two years ago this month. It’s been exciting, to say the least, for me to see how much it has changed,” Ferver told twi-ny about the evolution of the show. “This iteration of Chambre at the New Museum is very different from our premiere at Bard [last year]. The context of the museum obviously has factored into it. Marc and I also originally envisioned it for the white cube. The space is more intimate than where we have performed it so far. Marc’s installation becomes a room in a room, and it is changing the performance, creating a more nuanced, vulnerable, and frightening experience for me. Michelle, Jacob, and I have already started rehearsing in the space. The script and choreography are changing as the psyche of the piece changes in the space of the New Museum.” Menzies added, “The evolution of the score for this work was interesting. I wrote maybe three separate scores before arriving at the final version. A lot of the first music cues I created really capitalized on the notion that this is a murder story. Originally, the main theme had this very suspenseful beat and dark, brooding piano melodies — very campy, and very much in the language of Friday the 13th or Halloween, which has one of the great horror scores in cinema. But I think I ended up scrapping all of those references in lieu of much more raw, uncomfortable, barely recognizable sounds that I created by manipulating and contorting recordings of my voice. As we got to the core of the work, it became clear that the real source of the horror in this piece isn’t the murder but the horror of being embodied, the horror of having to live in this cruel, terrible world. All we really have to escape that horror are the endless games we play.” Sounds like classic Jack Ferver to us, so we can’t wait to catch this highly anticipated New York City premiere.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Pl. between Eleventh & Perry Sts.
Wednesday - Monday through October 25, $35
For several decades, people have been adding the phrase “in bed” at the end of fortune-cookie predictions to come up with playful sexual innuendos. But writer and actor Michael Laurence takes it a lot deeper by adding the two words to what he considers the greatest work in the English language. At the beginning of Hamlet in Bed, making its world premiere at the Rattlestick, Laurence stands in the middle of a spare stage, talking into a microphone like a confessional stand-up comic. “Here’s the plot; let’s get that out of the way. OK, not the plot, but the premise: An actor and an actress perform a play. (It’s a play within a play.) The actor and the actress may or may not be mother and son, and they may or may not know it. You know the play, the play is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yes, that mother and son.” Laurence gives himself three plum roles: his (apparently) real self, an actor who has written Hamlet in Bed; a fictionalized version of himself, an unemployed actor who thinks he might have found his birth mother; and the great Dane of literary legend. Obsessed with Hamlet — he arrives onstage holding a skull as if it’s Linus’s blanket, like he cannot exist without it — Laurence tells a story in flashback of how he purchased a nearly forty-year-old diary of Anna May Miller (Annette O’Toole), an actress who was playing Ophelia in a New York City production of Hamlet. She discusses getting pregnant by the man playing Hamlet and giving the baby up for adoption, and giving up acting as well. Laurence thinks that child might be him, so he tracks down the woman, now a lonely barfly living in a seedy rent-controlled apartment, and pretends that he’s staging a unique version of Hamlet — taking place mostly in bed — and wants her to audition for the role of Gertrude. He believes that if they play a fictional mother and son, he can determine if he really is her child. As they delve into rehearsal, Laurence keeps dropping hints about their possible relationship while the sexual tension between them grows, adding possible incest to the already complicated, multilayered mix.
Hamlet in Bed is overly self-aggrandizing, self-conscious, self-referential, and self-satisfied — yet it’s also compelling and gripping for most of its ninety minutes. Laurence (The Few, Krapp, 39) and O’Toole (Cat People, Smile) take turns at microphones giving long, intimate soliloquies about their failed lives (he talks about not being able to fix the flusher on his toilet; she details yet another late-night pickup), but it’s their scenes together that are fired by an intense chemistry. Rachel Hauck’s set consists of a couple of microphones, a ratty mattress, and a scrim on which Dave Tennent projects occasional words and images that give the proceedings a noir feel. Directed by Lisa Peterson (An Iliad, Shipwrecked), the play is often too stagnant, but Laurence and O’Toole are a pleasure to watch, he appropriately edgy and nervous, she much harder to decipher, at times seeming to turn into her nineteen-year-old self. “I have this thing,” Laurence says at the start. “I think I am Hamlet and Hamlet is me. . . . Most of all, I want to do that scene with Hamlet’s mother, the queen.” By writing and starring in Hamlet in Bed, he allows himself to do just that; but fortunately, what could have come off like a vanity project is much more. After all, as Hamlet and Laurence both say, “The play’s the thing.”
CINÉSALON: VENUS IN FUR (LA VÉNUS À LA FOURRURE) (Roman Polanski, 2013)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, September 22, $14, 4:00 & 7:30 (later screening with David Ives Q&A)
For his third stage adaptation in ten years, following 1994’s Death and the Maiden and 2011’s Carnage, Roman Polanski created a marvelous, multilayered examination of the intricate nature of storytelling, consumed with aspects of doubling. David Ives’s Tony-nominated play, Venus in Fur, is about a cynical theater director, Thomas Novachek, who is auditioning actresses for the lead in his next production, a theatrical version of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s psychosexual novella Venus in Furs (which led to the term “sado-masochism”), itself a man’s retelling of his enslavement by a woman. In the film, as he is packing up and about to head home, Thomas (Matthieu Amalric) is interrupted by Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), a tall blond who at first appears ditzy and unprepared, practically begging him to let her audition even though she isn’t on the casting sheet, then slowly taking charge as she reveals an intimate knowledge not only of his script but of stagecraft as well. An at-first flummoxed Thomas becomes more and more intrigued as Vanda performs the role of Wanda von Dunayev and he reads the part of Severin von Kushemski, their actor-director relationship intertwining with that of the characters’ dangerous and erotic attraction.
Ives’s English-language play, which earned Nina Arianda a Tony for Best Actress, was set in an office, but Polanski, who cowrote the screenplay with Ives, has moved this French version to an old theater (the Théâtre Récamier in Paris, rebuilt by designer Jean Rabasse) where a musical production of John Ford’s Stagecoach has recently taken place, with some of the props still onstage, including a rather phallic (and prickly) cactus. Polanski has masterfully used the machinations of cinema to expand on the play while also remaining true to its single setting. One of the world’s finest actors, Amalric, who looks more than a little like a younger Polanski, is spectacular as the pretentious Thomas, his expression-filled eyes and herky-jerky motion defining the evolution of his character’s fascination with Vanda, while Seigner, who is Polanski’s wife, is a dynamo of breathless erotic power and energy, seamlessly weaving in and out of different aspects of Vanda. Venus in Fur was shot in chronological order with one camera by cinematographer Paweł Edelman, who photographed Polanski’s previous five feature films, making it feel like the viewer is onstage, experiencing the events in real time. Alexandre Desplat’s complex, gorgeous score is a character unto itself, beginning with the outdoor establishing shot of the theater. The film also contains elements that recall such previous Polanski works as The Tenant, Bitter Moon, Tess, and The Fearless Vampire Killers, placing it firmly within his impressive canon. Polanski was handed Ives’s script at Cannes in 2012, and this screen version was then shown at Cannes for the 2013 festival, a whirlwind production that is echoed in Seigner’s performance. Venus in Fur kicks off the CinéSalon series “Theater & Cinema” on September 22, with Ives on hand for a Q&A moderated by Nicholas Elliott following the 7:30 screening. The Tuesday festival continues through October 27 with such other stage-related dramas as Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir, Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, Arnaud Desplechin’s Esther Kahn, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Games of Love and Chance, and François Truffaut’s The Last Metro. But FIAF is only getting started with Amalric, who will be the subject of a six-week retrospective in November and December; he’ll be in Florence Gould Hall for a Q&A with costar Stéphanie Cléau following the 7:30 screening of The Blue Room on November 3, then will perform in writer-director Cléau’s stage production of Le Moral des Ménages with Anne-Laure Tondu at FIAF on November 4-5.