Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Ave. & Fulton St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 30, $90-$115
The inestimable Kathryn Hunter is extraordinary as eleven characters subservient to Haile Selassie in the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, which opened tonight at Theatre for a New Audience, where it continues through September 30. The seventy-minute play was adapted by Colin Teevan from Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s 1978 book, which detailed the fall of the Ethiopian emperor as witnessed by those around him. The hoarse-throated Hunter portrays such figures as L.M., the emperor’s valet de chamber; F., the wiper of the emperor’s lapdog’s urine; Y.M., the keeper of the emperor’s private zoo; G.S.-D., the emperor’s pillow bearer; and Z.S.-K., the emperor’s minister of information. For each character, Hunter takes a different position onstage, uses a different voice and movement style, and makes small costume and prop changes, adding a hat, a cane, or epaulettes. Onstage with her is Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, who plays the krar, a multi-stringed bowl-shaped lyre, as well as taking a few parts himself: a rebel general and two students, one the son of G.S.-D. “Only memories / That is all that remains,” L.M. says. The subjects, who were all interviewed by Kapuściński, discuss how Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, slept, met with spies, fed the animals in his zoo, dealt with men he considered traitors, and prayed: “Lord save me from those who crawling on their knees, / Hide the knife that they would stick into my back.” T.K.B., the emperor’s chauffeur, recalls how he would drive Selassie in a Rolls, Lincoln, or Mercedes to the palace gate, where poor people would be seeking help, along with “dignitaries and officials, / Each burning with one desire; / To be noticed.”
Together the brief monologues form a telling look at what life under the “King of Kings” and “Elect of God” was like for the general populace, his cabinet, and his numerous subordinates, who handled even his most bizarre and absurd proclivities with respect in order to protect their job — and their life. Ministry of the Pen recording clerk T.L. explains, “Everyone waited to see / What the Emperor would do next, / Everyone was ashamed of letting / This conspiracy occur. Everyone was fearful of His Majesty’s wrath.” Kapuściński found similarities between Selassie and the corruption occurring in his native Poland; forty years later, comparisons can be made to so many other autocrats and despots — including President Trump, who has shown a fondness for several dictators. After describing how Selassie was able to turn perception around following a peasant revolt, Z.S.-K. declares, “That is the art of governing!” But Selassie started losing control after Jonathan Dimbleby’s documentary, Ethiopia: The Unknown Famine, was seen around the world, revealing how the emperor was really taking care of his people, even as Z.S.-K. defended his boss.
A joint presentation of Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, The Emperor is directed by Walter Meierjohann, who previously collaborated with Hunter and Teevan on Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey. The play works well when Hunter is moving about Ti Green’s spare stage (Green also designed the costumes), expertly lit by Mike Gunning, and Zeleke sits in the corner, playing and singing. But when he gets up and interacts with Hunter, the pacing grows awkward; perhaps part of the problem is that we are so focused on Hunter (Fragments, The Valley of Astonishment) that we don’t want her dazzling performance to be interrupted for any reason, whether she’s just talking, doing calisthenics, or diving across the floor with a royal pillow. It’s even a treat to watch the way she runs offstage at the end of the show. But the message about power, corruption, and dictatorships still comes across loud and clear, especially at a time in America when an administration appears to be at war with itself and many citizens believe the emperor has no clothes.
OFFSIDE (Jafar Panahi, 2006)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, September 18, 7:00, and Sunday, September 30, 2:30, $12
Series runs September 16-30
For nearly thirty years, Iranian cinema has been an integral part of the international film world, with stellar works by such directors as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Bahman Farmanara, Jafar Panahi, and others. One thing many of these films have in common is cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari, who has shot some of the preeminent Iranian films, offering a new vision of the politically troubled country. MoMA is honoring the former photojournalist’s career, which includes more than five dozen feature films, with “The Eye of Iran: Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari,” a series consisting of twelve of his major works, running September 16-30. On September 18 and 20, MoMA will be screening Panahi’s Offside, a brilliant look at gender disparity in modern-day Iran, filmed on location in and around Tehran’s Azadi Stadium with a talented cast of nonprofessional actors. Although it is illegal for girls to go to soccer games in Iran — because, among other reasons, the government does not think it’s appropriate for females to be in the company of screaming men who might be cursing and saying other nasty things — many try to get in, facing arrest if they get caught. Offside is set during an actual match between Iran and Bahrain; a win will put Iran in the 2006 World Cup. High up in the stadium, a small group of girls, dressed in various types of disguises, have been captured and are cordoned off, guarded closely by some soldiers who would rather be watching the match themselves or back home tending to their sheep. The girls, who can hear the crowd noise, beg for one of the men to narrate the game for them. Meanwhile, an old man is desperately trying to find his daughter to save her from some very real punishment that her brothers would dish out to her for shaming them by attempting to get into the stadium.
Despite its timely and poignant subject matter, Offside is a very funny film, with fine performances by Sima Mobarak Shahi, Shayesteh Irani, Ida Sadeghi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, and Nazanin Sedighzadeh as the girls and M. Kheymeh Kabood as one of the soldiers. The film was selected for the 2006 New York Film Festival, but Panahi, who was supposed to attend the opening, experienced visa problems when trying to come to America and was later arrested by the Iranian government for his support of the opposition Green movement; he was sentenced to six years in prison and given a twenty-year ban on making new films, something he comments on ingeniously in 2012’s This Is Not a Film. “The Eye of Iran: Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari” continues with such other Iranian films as Farhadi’s Oscar-winning A Separation, Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh, and Kalari’s Cloud and the Rising Sun, his debut as a writer-director.
The New School, Tishman Auditorium
63 Fifth Ave. between 13th & 14th Sts.
Monday, September 17, $10, 6:30
Exhibition continues in City Hall Park through December 7
kitchen trees slideshow
California-born, New York-based artist B. Wurtz will be at the New School on September 17 to give a talk about his latest project, the Public Art Fund installation “Kitchen Trees,” in City Hall Park through December 7. The whimsical site-specific show surrounding the fountain features five arboreal found-object sculptures made of colanders, each totemlike work a different color of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue — topped with plastic fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, pears, plums, peppers) hanging from upside-down pots and pans. Curated by Daniel S. Palmer, it’s a vibrant celebration of the mundane and the everyday, and it might very well make you hungry for a home-cooked meal. “With my work, I’m just looking at the world and exactly what it is, not wishing it were something else but trying to make something hopefully positive using ordinary things,” Wurtz says in a Public Art Fund video.
“He will look at something in a way that’s very different from just simply its function,” Palmer adds. Palmer will moderate the talk, which will explore Wurtz’s fifty-year career. The artist, who studied with John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger, has created assemblages with plastic bags, dish towels, socks, buttons, and other household materials to investigate his central themes of food, clothing, and shelter, but this is his first installation of monumental works. In conjunction with “Kitchen Trees,” “Domestic Space,” part of his Photo/Object series, continues at Metro Pictures in Chelsea through October 20. Don’t search for grand statements in any of Wurtz’s work. “I don’t have to tack on meaning later. It’s already built in,” he explains in the short video, which also uses his music for the soundtrack.
A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR
Theatre at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Wednesday - Sunday through October 21, $55-$85 (use code LOVELYRED for discount)
In a 2007 interview with The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, actress Charlotte Moore recounts the chaotic beginnings of Williams’s 1978 play, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, a companion piece with his 1970 one-act, The Demolition Downtown. She describes director Keith Hack fighting with Williams over rewrites, Williams talking distractingly in the audience during performances, and a cast change on opening night. “The opening night was nothing like the closing night at Spoleto. By the time it was over, it was pretty good!” she remembers. “Tennessee loved Creve Coeur. ‘It’s a bijou,’ he would say, ‘a bijou.’ A small jewel.” The rarely revived play, about four women trying to get by in Depression-era St. Louis, was one of six major works Williams wrote in the last four years of his life; it is now being brought back by La Femme Theatre Productions, running at the Theatre at St. Clement’s through October 21. (Opening night, which should be less hectic than the one at the Spoleto Festival nearly forty years ago, is September 23.) The impressive cast — the original featured Moore, Shirley Knight, and Jane Alexander — consists of Kristine Nielsen, Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, and Polly McKie, with the ubiquitous Austin Pendleton directing. “I think that A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of the gentlest, funniest, loveliest, and most moving of Tennessee’s later plays, actually of all his plays,” Pendleton said in a statement. “And they could not be better served than by our brilliant cast. These women know all about acting, about Tennessee, about life, and the idea of all four of them together makes me tingle.”
TICKET GIVEAWAY: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur runs through October 21 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite Tennessee Williams play to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, September 21, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
Louisiana-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Ramaa Mosley follows up her debut, the 2013 comedy The Brass Teapot, with the intense gothic thriller Lost Child. After serving two tours in the army, Fern Shreaves (Leven Rambin), upon the death of her father, returns to the dilapidated Ozarks home where she was raised. Suffering from PTSD — she insists she will never pick up a gun again — she has come back primarily to reconnect with her troubled, missing brother, Billy (Taylor John Smith). But instead she finds and takes in a mysterious young boy, Cecil (Landon Edwards), who appears to be living in the vast forest by her house. The polite ragamuffin child doesn’t say much about where he’s from, but when strange things start happening to Fern, Dr. Gill (Mark Ingalsbe) and dangerous forest-dwelling nut job Fig Karl (Kip Collins) warn her that Cecil is a tatterdemalion, a demonic figure literally sucking the life out of her. Fern becomes friendly with Mike Rivers (Jim Parrack), a sweet-natured bartender and child services worker who pooh-poohs the local folklore and thinks it best if Cecil continues to stay with her to avoid placement in foster care. But Fern is not used to making the right choices, either for herself or others, as events reach a fever pitch.
Mosley cowrote and produced the film with her Brass Teapot partner, Tim Macy, whose father lives in West Plains, Missouri, where Lost Child — originally titled Tatterdemalion — was shot, primarily with nonprofessional actors on an extremely low budget of $15,000. The film is beautifully photographed by Darin Moran, turning the forest into a character unto itself. Rambin, who played Glimmer in The Hunger Games and Athena Bezzerides on True Detective, gets deep into her role as Fern, who is desperately searching for some kind of family to hold on to, her eyes in almost constant motion. Arkansas native Edwards is exceptional as Cecil, reminiscent of Lucas Black in American Gothic, keeping viewers on edge as he harbors dark secrets. Named Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Kansas City Film Festival, Lost Child — the title could describe several figures in the movie — evokes such works as Robert Mulligan’s The Other, Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed, Jodie Foster’s Nell, and François Truffaut’s The Wild Child while feeling wholly original. Mosley maintains a creepy, tense atmosphere every step of the way, investigating ideas of family and responsibility, enhanced by David Baron and Chris Maxwell’s subtle, revealing score and southern country-folk songs by Arkansas native Ashley McBryde. (The final song over the closing credits is sung by Rambin.) A twist on a familiar trope, Lost Child is fresh and contemporary while solidly connecting to our ancient human fears of the forest — and weird children.
SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (TRE PASSI NEL DELIRIO) (HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES) (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini, 1968)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, September 14, 7:10; Friday, September 21, 7:00
Series runs September 14-27
The Quad gets right to the heart of the matter in the title of its new series, “Some Are Better than Others: The Curious Case of the Anthology Film.” Also known as an omnibus, anthology films are compilations of shorter works, often by master directors, on a specific theme. The Quad festival, running September 14-27, includes Aria, in which ten directors, among them Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Nicolas Roeg, and Ken Russell, make films inspired by opera pieces; the four-part 1945 British horror anthology Dead of Night; Lumière and Company, in which forty-one international filmmakers create fifty-two-second films using original equipment from the Lumière brothers; and Twilight Zone — The Movie, with Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg revisiting classic episodes from the Rod Serling TV program. It is rare that all of the short films are of equal quality — hence, “Some are better than others” — and such is the case with the 1968 trilogy of Edgar Allan Poe stories, Spirits of the Dead.
The film begins with Roger Vadim’s Metzengerstein, in which a lush and lavishly shot Jane Fonda, in spectacular outfits and hairstyles, plays Countess Frederique de Metzengerstein, who has inherited a massive estate and rules it without any inhibitions — yet her devilish debauchery doesn’t quite satisfy her. After an accidental meeting with her calm, easygoing cousin, Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing, portrayed by her brother, Peter Fonda, she tries to end a long-running feud with his family, resulting in some extremely peculiar moments of lust for him and, later, his horse. Vadim was married to Fonda at the time, adding to the incestuous titillation and bestiality that run through the tale, which was based on Poe’s first published short story.
In Louis Malle’s William Wilson, Alain Delon is the title character, an elegant cad who has been followed since childhood by his doppelgänger, who determinedly, and very publicly, rights his wrongs. The film, which is told in flashback as Wilson confesses to a priest that he has killed a man, features a chilling card game with a black-haired, ultra-serious Brigitte Bardot. Malle was not happy with the film, which he took on just for the money; thus, he acquiesced to certain elements because he was told to do so, from casting to certain plot points, going against his instincts. The three-pack concludes with Federico Fellini’s fiercely unpredictable Toby Dammit, adapted by Fellini and Bernardino Zapponi from Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral.” Fellini evokes La Dolce Vita and 8½ as British actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) is lured to Rome to make a movie in exchange for a Ferrari. Amid bizarre interview segments, an absurdist awards ceremony, and meetings with his overbearing producers, Toby is haunted by a girl with a white ball (Marina Yaru).
Originally advertised as “Edgar Allan Poe’s Ultimate Orgy!,” Spirits of the Dead, narrated by Poe icon Vincent Price, is choppily edited and wildly uneven. The filmmakers deal with fear, fire, eroticism, passion, obsession, power, ennui, and death more directly than they do in their full-length works, but things are also often more unclear. Still, this is a rare chance to see these three shorts together on the big screen. And beware of what Poe wrote in his 1827 poem “Spirits of the Dead”: Thy soul shall find itself alone / ’Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone; / Not one, of all the crowd, to pry / Into thine hour of secrecy. / Be silent in that solitude, / Which is not loneliness — for then / The spirits of the dead, who stood / In life before thee, are again / In death around thee, and their will / Shall overshadow thee; be still. / The night, though clear, shall frown, / And the stars shall not look down / From their high thrones in the Heaven / With light like hope to mortals given, / But their red orbs, without beam, / To thy weariness shall seem / As a burning and a fever / Which would cling to thee for ever.” Spirits of the Dead is screening at the Quad on September 14 at 7:10 and September 21 at 7:00. The series continues with such other anthologies as Boccaccio ’70 (De Sica, Monicelli, Fellini, Visconti), Far from Vietnam (Klein, Ivens, Lelouch, Varda, Godard, Marker, Resnais), New York Stories (Scorsese, Coppola, Allen), and Seven Women, Seven Sins (Akerman, Cohen, Export, Gavron, Gordon, Ottinger, Sander).
New York City–based Satellite Collective is presenting the world premiere of its latest interdisciplinary ballet collaboration, Echo & Narcissus, at BAM Fisher’s Fishman Space on September 14 and 15. Some forty artists participated in the creation of the immersive work, which includes music, dance, opera, visual art, digital multimedia, and more, with live music and movement by ShoutHouse. The seventy-minute piece is set in New York City in 1971 and deals with such themes as selfishness, love, madness, and transformation in a world where people are obsessed with their own reflections. It was written by Satellite Collective artistic director Kevin Draper, composed by Aaron Severini, choreographed by Norbert De La Cruz III, and directed by Philip Stoddard, with film by Lora Robertson, projection design by Simon Harding, sets by Libby Stadstad, and production design by Draper. Among the performers are dancers Matteo Fiorani, Timothy Stickney, Joslin Vezeau, and Tara Youngmen and singers Christine Taylor Price and Stoddard. “We work at the intersection of dance, visual art, and music — and we use architects and poets as the glue,” Draper said in a statement. “Echo & Narcissus will be our first, focused, evening-length work where group action has to resonate in service to the story. We’re crafting a pretty high level of intensity for the audience.”