Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Show Must Close!

Closing a show is always a bittersweet thing. There's often a big sigh of relief because HOORAY! we all made it and it was wonderful and now we can go get some sleep! See family again! Do something fun and/or lazy on a Friday night! But there's often a sense of loss - we've spent time with our fellow cast mates and crew members for weeks on end and built a nice family. We've become attached to the characters we played and the story we told.

This can be doubly the case when the story is something personal, like the 2nd Stages shows that we produce here at the Dragon Theatre. Producer/translator/director Ana-Catrina Buchser asked if she could reflect on this as her production of The Star Without a Name moves into its final weekend. She wrote up her thoughts on her blog, Modicums of Inspiration, and I think it sums up what all theater people feel once a great show closes.

The cast of The Star Without a Name takes a bow

For those of you that act or do theatrical design - how do YOU feel once a show closes?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The English Horn and Romanian Symphonies

One of the funniest, sweetest scenes in The Star Without a Name has Professor Udrea telling The Unknown woman about the symphony that he wrote, but that has yet to be performed. Why? Because he needs an English horn. For those of you not familiar with the instrument, it's a bit of an unusual instrument. The word horn makes it sound like it's a brass instrument but it's actually a reed instrument in the same family as the oboe.
An English horn, also called a cor anglais.

The instrument actually originated in the 1700s in Poland and gets its unusual sound from the bell shaped horn at the bottom of the instrument. To hear an English horn in action, listen to this piece from Dvorak, which features a solo from an English horn. You can then understand why Udrea is so insistent that he needs one in his symphony. 

The show did make me curious about Romanian symphonies so I dug around to find one by George Enescu, probably Romania's most famous composer. Called the Romanian Rhapsody, it's one of Enescu's most known works and his Romanian Rhapsodies were featured in the 1939 New York World's Fair. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Director's Notes on The Star Without A Name

The Star Without a Name is the first play I ever saw. I was 7, living in Bucuresti, Romania, the only child of artist parents (a writer and a painter/doctor/philosopher), and I couldn't wait until I was finally old enough to go to the theatre. I had been to puppet shows, and children’s shows, of course, but I had a feeling this was going to be different. I had met a few actors, directors, and playwrights – friends of my parents – but seeing them on stage was what I really wanted to do, seeing them in action, and not just hearing their stories at parties at our house.

Ana-Catrina Buchser. She translated, adapted, directed,
and produced this version of The Star Without a Name.  
So when I finally sat in my chair and watched the melancholy story of The Star Without a Name, I immediately connected to the principal female character – The Unknown – and felt the entire play as if it was happening to me. Without knowing it yet, I had found my calling – the theatre.

It wasn’t until 12 years later, in college, that I made the conscious decision to study the art of theatre, and got a degree in Directing. And not surprisingly, when faced with the choice of any play on the face of the planet for my senior project, my heart and mind immediately went to Mihail Sebastian and The Star Without a Name. I obtained permission from the Sebastian family to translate and direct a workshop production of the play at Stanford University’s Prosser Studio. The performances were a great success, and left me wanting more…

I was quite surprised that Mihail Sebastian’s work had not yet been translated into English. I wanted to bring this play to a larger American audience. So little of the vast treasury of Romanian theatre is known in the United States, and I see it as my nationalistic duty to bring it forth and make it available. It became my mission.

As a professional theatre director, and with the help of Dragon Production’s 2nd Stages series, I am now in a position to accomplish that mission. I present to you a glimpse into 1942 Prahova (a mountainous region of Romania), complete with class struggles, unfulfilled dreams, and regional idiosyncrasies. The only thing missing is the war, and that’s on purpose. Although Romania joined WWII in 1941 – so theoretically, most of the men in our play shouldn’t be there – I wanted to tell the story of love found and never held, of passion and sacrifice, of making difficult choices, without having to consider the effects of an outside force, such as the war. I did this as homage to Mihail Sebastian, who wrote this beautiful play in 1942, despite living a life of persecution as a Jew in a very anti-Semitic time and place.

Probably the most exciting part of the project has been introducing this incredibly generous group of actors to everything Romania. They dove head first into learning all the proper names, some more difficult to pronounce than others (how would you pronounce Tekirghiol?), listened to my many stories of what it was like to grow up in Bucuresti, and absorbed all the pictures and music that I introduced to them through this nostalgically rewarding journey. Of course, I wasn’t around in the 40s, but I am lucky enough to have learned many songs of the era from my grandmother, Mioara, and many anecdotes from my mother, Corina, who is a storyteller. I dedicate this show to them.

--Ana-Catrina Buchser

You can read and contribute to her blog, Modicums of Inspiration

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who Is Mihail Sebastian?

Born as Iosef Meddel Hechter, Mihail Sebastian was a Romanian playwright, essayist, journalist, and novelist. Mr. Sebastian was born Jewish in 1907 in Brăila, Romania. Originally a law student, he quickly became involved with the Romanian literary set that included playwright Eugène Ionesco in its circle. As a Jew, Sebastian came to be regarded as an outsider within the group, even by his friends. In 1934 he published a novel, De două mii de ani... ("It's been two thousand years..."), about what it meant to be a Jew in Romania, and asked Nae Ionescu, a noted Romanian professor, mathematician, and philosopher, who at the time was Sebastian’s friend and mentor, to write the preface. Ionescu agreed, generating uproar by inserting paragraphs both anti-semitic and against the very nature of the book they introduced. Sebastian "decided to take the only intelligent revenge" and publish the preface, which only heightened the controversy. In response to the criticism, Sebastian wrote Cum am devenit huligan ("How I Became a Hooligan"), an anthology of essays and articles depicting the manner in which De două mii de ani... was received by the Romanian public and the country's cultural establishment. In the book, he answered his critics and addresses the rabid anti-semitism of the former in a clear and unaffected manner:

“I was born in Romania, and I am Jewish. That makes me a Jew, and a Romanian. For me to go around and join conferences demanding that my identity as a Jewish Romanian be taken seriously would be as crazy as the lime trees on the island where I was born to form a conference demanding their rights to be lime trees. As for anyone who tells me that I'm not a Romanian, the answer is the same: go talk to the trees, and tell them they're not trees.”

From 1935 - 1944 Sebastian kept a journal that was finally published in Bucharest in 1996 to “considerable debate” and in America under the title Journal, 1935-1944: The Fascist Years. It records the mounting persecution he endured and documents the disdain former friends began showing him in Romania's increasingly antisemitic sociopolitical landscape. In keeping with the cultural climate in what author Hannah Arendt called ''the most anti-Semitic country in prewar Europe,'' the majority of Mihail Sebastian's intellectual circle followed Nae Ionescu in supporting the Iron Guard, Romania's fascist party. A fundamental testimony of anti-Semitism in Europe prior to, and during, the years of World War II, the Journal has been compared to those of Victor Klemperer or Anne Frank. 

By August 1942, Romania had murdered between 300,000 and 400,000 Romanian Jews without German assistance. Most of the killing took place in provinces distant from Sebastian's Bucharest, one of the large reasons he was able to survive the war. Romania's Jews were not immediately deported to Nazi death camps, but the country's own anti-Semitic violence, its massacres and death marches, were so brutal, Arendt reported, that the SS ''often intervened to save Jews from sheer butchery, so that the killing could be done in what, according to them, was a civilized way.'' Just as the Germans were about to put a full-scale deportation plan into motion, the Romanian dictator, Gen. Ion Antonescu, sensed the winds shifting in favor of the Allies; he also discovered that international emigration groups would pay cash for the release of Jews abroad. In the end, opportunism was stronger than ideology. So by 1944, in a bizarre about-face, Romania was no longer the most dangerous spot in Europe for Jews; it was a pathway for Jewish emigration to Palestine. 

In the 2000s, Sebastian's Journal gained a new audience in Western countries due to its lyrical, evocative style and the brutal honesty of its accounts. In 2004, American playwright David Auburn wrote a one-man play based on Sebastian's diary titled The Journals of Mihail Sebastian. It debuted the same year in New York City and starred Stephen Kunken in the role of Mihail Sebastian.

Mihail Sebastian May 29, 1945 after being struck by a truck.