Abingdon Theatre Company
Through April 7, free
Abingdon Theatre Company YouTube
If you’ve been drawn to travel to the Bel Paese because of Stanley Tucci’s culinary CNN series, Searching for Italy, you can only pray that your vacation doesn’t turn out like the Sussmans’. Amid all the new Zoom plays dealing with racism, misogyny, government corruption, the economic crisis, bullying, gun violence, sexual assault, Covid-19, and other critically important sociopolitical issues that have come to the fore during the pandemic lockdown, Abingdon Theatre Company has served up a deliciously delightful and mischievous meal in the inaugural free virtual edition of its “Around the Table” reading series. Written by Chris Sherman and directed by James A. Rocco, The Inferno is not a contemporary version of Florence-born poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century poem, but it is a divine comedy.
Ben and Annie Sussman (Jordan Bennett and Cynthia Ferrer) are in Florence, but they are literally and figuratively trapped in the home they’ve rented for a few weeks from an excited broker (Summer Minerva), as the Magic City is in the midst of a roiling heatwave that leads to a blackout. They are joined by Annie’s brother, Joey (Robert Mammana), and his girlfriend, Karen (Lyn Philistine), as the needling and complaining fly in an old-fashioned, rapid-fire laugh-fest. After breaking a mug, Ben, who is contemplating retirement, worries, “It looks like a valuable antique. ‘Made in Italy’; oh no, this is probably worth a fortune,” he says. “Ben, everything here is made in Italy,” Annie replies. Karen, looking forward to experiencing all Florence has to offer, declares, “For one week of my life, I wanna feel like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.” Joey replies, “Don’t you gotta be in Rome for that?” And Annie explains to Ben, “I’m not gonna let your brother ruin our vacation; we have my brother for that.” The Inferno offers a much-needed ninety-minute respite from all of today’s troubles as we watch a family suffer through a European trip that we’ve all been unable to take for more than a year now. Is staying at home really so bad?
Who: Martha Graham Dance Company
What: Special “Martha Matinee”
Where: Graham Patreon
When: Saturday, April 10, $10, 2:30
Why: The Martha Graham Dance Company is getting ready for GrahamFest 95, a virtual celebration of the troupe’s ninety-fifth anniversary, scheduled for April 30 to May 2, with a special edition of its popular “Martha Matinee” program. On April 10 at 2:30, MGDC will present rare footage of Graham coaching young members of the company in her classic 1930 solo piece, Lamentation, set to Zoltán Kodály’s Piano Piece Op. 3, No. 2; archival photographs from Graham’s childhood and early years in dance; and a recent performance of Prelude to Action, from the 1936 antiwar work Chronicle. The event will also include a live Q&A moderated by Martha Graham Resources director Oliver Tobin. In addition to “Martha Matinee,” the company has kept busy during the pandemic creating the thrilling virtual production Immediate Tragedy, the beachside Opus One, and an online reimagining of the 1944 favorite Appalachian Spring in addition to streaming interviews, workshops, classes, and more, most of which is available for free here.
Who: Rebecca Haley Clark, Cody Holliday Haefner, Cree Noble, Gilda Mercado, Helen Hy-Yuen Swanson, Katherine Tanner Silverman, Rylan Gleave, Sanjay Lago, Simone Seales, Stephanie Mareen, Vic Rodriguez
What: Virtual time capsule of 2020
Where: Those Women Productions Zoom
When: April 9-11, 16-17, suggested donation $15 ($1 minimum)
Why: The year “2020 saw a global pandemic, over sixty countries protesting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, widespread economic crises of historical magnitude, wildfires sweeping much of the world, and social and political unrest everywhere,” theater artist Rebecca Haley Clark says about her latest project, Hindsight 2020, which she conceived and directs. “There were births, deaths, Zoom weddings, virtual graduations, glorious concerts held from tiny balconies, and sporting events played out to stadiums full of cardboard cutouts. As artists we wanted to provide a space for contemplation and healing found through the stories that we tell one another about this past year.”
Clark has teamed up with Berkeley-based Those Women Productions and a diverse group of international artists from different disciplines to look back at the year that was in unique and unexpected ways. Clark and assistant director Cree Noble, Cody Holliday Haefner, Gilda Mercado, Helen Swanson, Katherine Tanner Silverman, Sanjay Lago, Simone Seales, Stephanie Mareen, Rylan Gleave, and Vic Rodriguez will go live April 9 (7:30), 10 (noon & 6:00), 11 (11:00 am & 5:00 pm), 16 (7:30), and 17 (7:30), exploring the question “What parts of 2020 will you leave behind or bring with you?” Tickets for each presentation are a suggested donation of $15, with a $1 minimum; twenty-five percent of the proceeds go to the nonprofit organizations Equal Justice Initiative, Acting for Others, the Solutions Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Stand with Farmers. You can also donate at Hindsight 2020’s Go Fund Me page.
The Javaad Alipoor Company’s Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is a virtual production of, by, and for its time like no other. Previously presented at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival in January, the immersive online experience, now livestreaming from DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company through April 18, takes on capitalism, consumerism, climate change, government corruption, income inequality, colonialism, the collapse of civilization, geopolitics, and just about everything else under the sun as it relates to the past and future of the Anthropocene Epoch, all stemming from a fatal car accident in Iran in 2015.
On May 1 of that year, the New York Times reported that twenty-year-old Parivash Akbarzadeh and twenty-one-year-old Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi were killed when his brand-new yellow Porsche, which she was driving, crashed after reaching speeds of more than 120 miles per hour. The focus of the story, however, went beyond the tragedy and instead zeroed in on the public reaction in the aftermath, particularly how people took to social media to lambast Parivash and Hossein, the latter described by the Times as “the nouveau riche grandson of an ayatollah,” for their carefree, luxurious lifestyle, which they and those like them show off on Instagram, flaunting the country’s rigid Islamic laws.
The follow-up to 2017’s multimedia The Believers Are But Brothers, about the birth of Islamic radicalization over the internet and WhatsApp, Rich Kids was previously staged at the Edinburgh Festival and various venues in England but has been reimagined for online viewing. Written by Alipoor, created by Alipoor and Kirsty Housley, and performed by Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian, the seventy-minute show goes backward in time from the crash itself to the specific events leading up to it as well as to the decades and centuries before that impacted the development of current Iranian culture, including the role of American politics and capitalism. The narrative toggles between Instagram Live, where text and photos tell the story of Parivash and Hossein with hashtags to such other pages as #richkidsoftehran and #mallwave and the internet, where Alipoor and Sadeghian go on a deep dive into the anthropological annals of the world using animation, archival footage, European and traditional Safavid painting, and video of a burning planet bathed in dripping red. “History isn’t linear,” they point out. “No past. No future. There’s no reason why time as we feel it should be a physical thing.”
In its nine-part manifesto, the Javaad Alipoor Company declares, “Every work we make should say something directly about politics,” “Every project needs to speak to history, and find something new about how we got here,” and “Things have to be fun,” among other statements of purpose. Rich Kids accomplishes that and more, although it can at times be bumpy as you switch screens and technological elements overlap. Along the way it makes hard-hitting observations about who and where we are in the twenty-first century, not just Iranians or the wealthy children of the elite filled with contempt but every one of us. “We’re not the first people to feel like our world is ending,” they explain. “We spend a lot of time thinking about how the world will end, but we almost never think to ask those whose worlds have already ended.” They also make note of how “we now upload more pictures to Instagram every day than existed in total a hundred years ago.”
The play is perhaps best summed up by an image of a huge fireball exploding as Alipoor and Sadeghian wonder “why we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of humanity.” To keep the investigation going, performances on Friday will be followed by community conversations with such facilitators as Héctor Flores Komatsu, Adam A. Elsayigh, and Trà Nguyễn, while Sunday shows will conclude with talkbacks featuring Alipoor and journalists and cartoonists, moderated by Cynthia Schneider.
LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MOUSTACHE (Khyentse Norbu, 2019)
Rubin Museum of Art
Thursday, April 8, suggested admission $15, 5:00
Opens virtually Friday, April 9
Every November, my partner travels to Kathmandu in Nepal to study with a meditation teacher, known as a Rinpoche, and I have accompanied her several times. This annual trip became impossible last year because of Covid-19. But writer-director Khyentse Norbu’s latest film, Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache, made us feel like we were there once again, in this mystical, spiritual land.
A Bhutan-born Tibetan Buddhist teacher and filmmaker, Norbu, also known as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the third incarnation of a principal lama, maintains a calm, meditative pace in telling the story of a secular man suddenly staring death in the face. Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang) rides his motorcycle through Kathmandu, trying to find a place to open a Western-style coffee shop. He is guided by Rabindra (Rabindra Singh Baniya), who is not happy when Tenzin is drawn to an abandoned monastery that was partially destroyed in the devastating 2015 earthquake. “Are you crazy?” Rabindra says, claiming that the building is “the womb of the goddess.” But Tenzin is a nonbeliever, more concerned that his button-down shirt and tie are properly adjusted and his hair is perfect than offending a would-be divine being.
Tenzin starts having strange dreams involving a young girl skipping barefoot through a field of marigolds, so his friend Jachung (Tulku Kungzang), worried about what the dreams mean, takes him to see a fabulously cool cereal-loving psychic monk (Ngawang Tenzin) who wears shades and headphones and regularly checks his iPad. The monk interprets the dreams to be a signal that Tenzin has only a week to live unless he finds a dakini, a sacred female messenger of wisdom and power. “You don’t have much time left. Better go and see your friends and relatives,” the monk says. “If you have any money, spend it all and have some fun. I heard you’re a modern man, so you won’t offer to monasteries anyway.” Tenzin is told to visit with the Master of Left Hand Lineage (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche), who will further advise him about dakinis. Meanwhile, Tenzin continues going to a traditional Tibetan music class with Janchung and Kunsel (Tenzin Kunsel), taught by a wise, elderly man (Loten Namling).
Tenzin at first thinks his supposed fate is nonsense until strange things start happening to him and the prospect of his potential impending death finally gets to him. He searches for a dakini, which could be any woman he sees, particularly if they have fangs, a moustache, and three eyes. Meanwhile, the Master instructs, “If everyone believed they only had seven days to live, the world would be peaceful.” As the end of the week approaches, Tenzin must decide what, and whom, to believe as he examines the world he has made for himself.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is a beautifully constructed, deeply contemplative parable about tradition and modernity in a culture that melds the good and the bad, spirituality and practicality, life and death. Norbu, whose previous films include 1999’s much-loved The Cup, in which two boys are desperate to watch the World Cup at a monastery that doesn’t have a working television, and 2003’s extraordinary Travellers and Magicians, a road movie in which the Bhutanese protagonist wants to leave the Himalayas for the prospect of success in America, once again explores the idea of a personal quest in his latest work. Tenzin’s hunt for a dakini represents the pursuit all of us have for something other than what is already within us. The film is gorgeously photographed by famed Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing (In the Mood for Love, The Assassin), with reds, yellows, greens, and blues blossoming from the brown, gray ancient city of Kathmandu.
In one nearly four-and-a-half-minute uncut scene shot from a few dozen feet away with a stationary camera, the rock-and-roll monk is seen through an open doorway on the right, sitting cross-legged on a white cushion, relaxed and comfortable as he checks his iPad. Tenzin stands by an open doorway on the left, his arms crossed in stark refusal of what is happening to him. The two men are separated by a window in front of which are three large potted ferns and two smaller plants, life growing gloriously between them. They are not quite as different as they might appear.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is having a special online screening on April 8 at 5:00, kicking off the Rubin Museum’s “Brainwave: Awareness” series, followed by a live Q&A with Norbu and neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson. The film opens virtually on April 9.
Who: Janet Biggs, Vinson Fraley, Earl Maneein, CERN-IARI,
What: Livestream multimedia performance
Where: Cristin Tierney Gallery
When: Thursday, April 8, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: A performance from multidisciplinary artist Janet Biggs is always something special — and something hard to define. For last summer’s Augmentation and Amplification for Fridman Gallery’s “SO⅃OS: a space of limit as possibility” series, the Brooklyn-based Biggs brought together singer and dancer Mary Esther Carter; machine learning program A.I. Anne; composer and music technologist Richard Savery; drummer Jason Barnes, who lost an arm in an accident and now uses a robotic prosthesis; marathon runner Brian Reynolds, a double (below-knee) amputee who is fitted with carbon fiber running prostheses; and violinists Earl Maneein and Mylez Gittens, to explore artistic connections between humans and technology.
On April 8, Biggs and Cristin Tierney Gallery will present another unique and fascinating collaboration, the virtual Singular Value Decomposition, featuring dancer Vinson Fraley, violinist, violist, composer, and arranger Maneein, the Seven)Suns String Quartet, and CERN video footage mathematically manipulated using quantum mechanics and linear algebra. The multimedia “research and development” performance is part of Biggs’s work with Arts at CERN, which is part of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and the Integrated Arts Research Initiative (IARI) at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas; also involved are KU associate professor of mathematics Agnieszka Międlar, high-energy nuclear physicist and KU associate physics professor Daniel Tapia Takaki, Spencer Museum research curator Joey Orr, and IARI research fellows Clint Hurshman, a KU graduate philosophy student, and Olivia Johnson, a KU undergraduate studying mathematics and dance. Got that? It might not exactly be easy peasy, but it will blow your mind all the same.