Monday, October 28, 2013

CSI: Lear Is Here

·         Politics: Taiwan
o   1980s: support for Taiwanese independence was growing
o   Performing arts like jingjiu (Beijing opera) and huaju (spoken drama) moved away from traditional Chinese arts and adopted more Western elements
·         Personal: Wu
o   Born in 1959 in Taiwan
o   Entered the Fuxing Drama School to learn jingjiu at the age of twelve
o   Trained to play wu sheng characters, strong males often cast as the lead in a Beijing opera
o   Learned acting, dancing, singing, and acrobatics
o   Endured rigorous training with severe physical beatings
o   Completed his training at age twenty and received a scholarship to the Chinese Cultural University
o   Became interested in modern dance
o   1974: became part of the Cloud Gate dance company
§  Stressed spontaneity and connection to the performer’s body and emotions; more natural and unpredictable
§  Very different from the strict, traditional practices of jingjiu
o   1977: returned to jingjiu professionally
o   Became a disciple of the famous teacher and performer Zhou Zhengrong
§  Earned special status among Zhou’s protégés (like an adopted son)
§  Struggled to overcome tensions stemming from his participation in modern dance
o   In the mid-1980s, Zhou and Wu had a major falling out
§  Zhou disapproved of “some alien element” in one of Wu’s movements and began to beat him
§  Wu grabbed the stick and questioned his master’s methods
§  Zhou never acknowledged Wu again
o   Founded his own company, Contemporary Legend Theatre (CLT)
o   Adapted and performed Western classics, including Shakespeare
§  Kingdom of Desire, a Macbeth adaptation, 1986
§  War and Eternity, a Hamlet  adaptation, 1990
§  The Tempest, 2004
o   1999: the company closed because of financial problems and the changing status of jingjiu in Taiwan
o   Wrote Lear is Here during this hiatus and performed when company reopened in 2001
o   Lear is Here is the most radical
§  One-man performance
§  Minimalist costumes and spectacle
§  Wanted to renew and transform Beijing opera, and give it new life in a changing world
§  An autobiographical work reflecting his struggle with Beijing opera and with his master Zhou
§  Exploration of Wu’s own quest for artistic and personal identity
·         Recent trend, particularly in Asian interpretations of Shakespeare, to present an autobiographical interpretation
o   Lear Is Here is a jingjiu (Beijing opera) performance
o   Full title: Li Er zai ci, Wu Hsing-kuo Meets Shakespeare
§  The title is indicative of Wu’s comparing himself with Lear
·         Autobiographical rendition of a troubled relationship between father and child
o   Allegory about Wu’s uneasy relationship with his jingju Master Zhao
o   Wu’s resistance to his dead master takes several forms
§  Plays Lear, the wronged father, and Regan, the unruly daughter
§  Plays Edgar, the wronged son; and Gloucester, who wrongfully resented him
§  In shifting between daughter and father, Wu dramatizes his resistance to the dominating father figure
§  Imagines his master’s repose by impersonating the father
§  Commentary on his apprenticeship and career in Beijing opera
o   Anxieties about a dominating master/father figure in his career
o   By playing all the characters, he is able to deal with conflicting identities—himself as a disciple and his master as a surrogate father
o   Played daughters to imagine what it would be like if he had gone against his master—and then Lear to imagine what his master’s reaction would have been
·         “Who am I?”
o   Says this phrase repeatedly in Act Three; directly translates a section of Shakespeare that includes this phrase in Act One
o   Line-by-line translation amid interpretation shows its significance, central theme
·         When he removes his beard, headpiece, and costume, he speaks to the audience as himself
o   Wu depicts Lear as two bodies: a fictional character and a human performer representing the character—revealing the performer to be in search of an identity
o   “I’m back!”
§  Signifies return to the stage in 2001 after the Contemporary Legend Theatre was disbanded two years ago
§  Triumph over difficulties in finance and human resources
·         Wu believes he shares  many of Lear’s characteristics—rage, madness, arrogance, capriciousness
o   Grabbed the stick Zhou was beating him with and spoke out
o   A few days before Master Zhou’s death, Wu dreamed of fighting his master, and killing him with his bare hands.
·         Onstage costume change represented resistance to old traditions
o   Played many characters to show that he is not just the male combatant that his master trained him to be, but rather a versatile actor
·         Not a “big-time” but a “small-time” appropriation; in Wu’s hometown performance, a majority of the audience knew about Wu’s identity crisis and cheered him through the performance as he announced, “I am back! I have returned to my profession!”
·         King Lear by Shakespeare
o   Lear’s division of the kingdom and solo performance
o   Fool reproaches Lear; Kent recalls the scene
§  Fool makeup
o   The three sisters
§  Water sleeves, female dance movements
o   Gloucester’s blinding (very briefly covered)
o   The Cliffs of Dover
·         Reference to a local song
o   The Fool sings of a rich man in Taipei who bought his daughters each a building, and when they break their agreement to care for him in return, he hires a bulldozer to knock them all down

o   “Perhaps the only unambiguously local or topical reference in the play; [it] is greeted by great applause and laughter”

Asian Lears

Besides Wu Hsing-kuo's Lear is Here, which we'll discuss today using the video chapters and background information available on MIT's Global Shakespeares Electronic Archive, Tuesday's class will touch on two other "Asian" adaptations of King Lear: Akira Kurosawa's 1985 film masterpiece Ran (trailer here)

and Singaporean theatre artist Ong Keng-Sen's polyglot, mutlistyle LEAR, which juxtaposes the conventions of Beijing opera and Japanese noh.  (Full video at that link - please watch a minute or two - and there are several good articles about it.)
Either of these two are fair game for final research papers!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

links for today's Yiddish King Lear class

1935 U.S. Yiddish production directed by Harry Tomashevsky, funded by Works Project Administration:
I believe a print of this film exists, restored by the
National Center for Jewish Film
Brandeis University, Lown 102, MS 053
Waltham, Massachusetts 02454
(781) 736-8600;
But I have not seen it.  If anyone wants to work on this for your final paper...?

Meanwhile: 1935 USSR Yiddish production with Solomon Mikhoels as Lear:
1971 USSR Russian production by Grigori Kozintsev borrows some of the iconography of the Mikhoels production:


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CSI Jewish King Lear

  • Jacob Mikhailovich Gordin
    • Born May 1853 in Ukraine
      • Received a liberal arts education
      • Also worked as a farmer, journalist, and shipyard worker
    • Grew up in the time of pogroms in Ukraine
    • Immigrated to New York in 1891
  • Yiddish Theater
    • Founded primarily by Abraham Goldfaden
      • Went to the Crown School and then on to the Rabbinical Academy at Zhitomir
    • Born in Romania, developed in Russia but truly “grew up” in New York
      • Very popular with young Jewish immigrants because it was affordable and represented a divergence from traditional, confining Jewish values
    • Yiddish theater in America was a sign of growing Jewish secularism
    • Golden Age (Late 19th century New York City)
      • Spurred by the Russian ban of Yiddish theater in 1883
      • Featured actors such as Jacob Adler and Sigmund Mogulesko, both of whom were friends of Gordin
    • Gordin’s plays
      • Focused on “realistic” issues
      • Spurred passionate feelings in response to characters
      • Different from previous Yiddish plays in their simplicity
  • Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah)
    • Adherents: Maskilim
    • An attempt to secularize Jewish life
    • Use Yiddish to spread their ideals
    • Serious dissident movement in Judaism
      • Maskilim were seen as “wicked”
        • One who separates oneself from their community
    • Yaffe is an example of a Maksil (an “Enlightened” Jew)
      • Refuses to wear head covering at dinner
  • Jewish King Lear
    • Opened in New York in 1892
    • Was made a success largely due to actor Jacob Adler
    • Set in 1890 in Vilna, Poland


  • Torah
    • Book of Jewish scripture
    • Referenced to by many characters in the text
    • Pious characters such as Taybele reference it and live by its message
  • Megillah
    • First major work of Rabbinic literature
    • Describes the laws of Purim
  • King Lear
    • The old king, like you, divided his kingdom and also like you sent away the loving daughter who told him the truth. Oh! How dearly he paid for that! Yes, you are a Jewish King Lear!” (19)
    • Pride prevents Dovidl from asking his daughters for help
    • Dovidl suffers from blindness

  • Traditional gifts at Purim are sweets, not gold coins or jewelry
    • Demonstrates that Dovidl is a rich man, parallels the fact that Lear is a rich King
    • Has nowhere to go but down
  • Herr Yaffe is a Maskil
    • Represents movement towards increasing secular learning, an idea that Gordin was a proponent of
      • Yiddish theater could not exist without secularization
  • Dovidl discovers Israel is not the promised land just like Lear realizes that retirement is not the recipe for his happiness
  • Gordin cannot and does not imagine the human capacity for evil at the same level as Shakespeare
    • Largely because his audience actively willed a happy ending
    • Whereas the wheel of fortune leaves Lear in the very dregs of society with no one to care for him, Dovidl is reinstated to his place as head of the household

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Some plays to help you study for the final...

Boston University College of Fine Arts
School of Theatre presents
Mark Cohen, director
December 5‐8
Thu, Dec 5, 7:30pm
Fri, Dec 6, 5pm
Sat, Dec 7, 2pm and 8pm
Sun, Dec 8, 5pm
An annual exploration of both the Bard’s most famous and his lesser known scenes and soliloquies, featuring performers from the junior
class of Acting majors. Running time TBD.
No reservations necessary for this free event | 617‐353‐3390
College of Fine Arts, Copeland Studio 354
855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
Capacity: Approximately 50 patrons per performance

A Midsummer Night's Dream, also at BU next week

New Repertory Theatre & Boston Center for American Performance present
Classic Repertory Company’s
By William Shakespeare
Clay Hopper, Director
Fri, Oct 25, 7:30pm (ASL Interpreted)
BU Alumni Weekend

Classic Repertory Company, New Repertory Theatre’s flagship educational outreach program, tours professional productions of classic
and modern works of relevant literature to schools, colleges, and community centers throughout New England. CRC is produced in
collaboration with Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre and is being presented by Boston Center for American
Performance, the professional extension of the BU School of Theatre. Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed by Boston University alumnus Clay Hopper, the 2013‐2014 Classic Repertory Company of actors features six BU alumni from the CFA School of Theatre class of 2013 as well as two recent graduates of Emerson College, supported by a team of BU alumni designers.
For more information on Classic Repertory Company visit, on BOSTON CENTER FOR AMERICAN PERFORMANCE visit
BU Theatre
264 Huntington Avenue, Boston
$20 general admission | $15 Boston University Community and BU Alumni | $10 CFA Membership and New Repertory Theatre Subscribers
Additional discounts apply for students, seniors, groups, WGBH and WBUR members, and Huntington Subscribers.

An all-female Romeo and Juliet (!) right here at BU

Boston University College of Fine Arts
School of Theatre presents Femina Shakespeare’s production of

William Shakespeare, playwright
Adrienne Boris, director
October 23‐27
Wed, Oct 23, 7:30pm
Thu, Oct 24, 7:30pm
Fri, Oct 25, 5pm
Sat, Oct 26, 4pm
Sun, Oct 27, 5pm
Join BU’s all‐female Femina Shakespeare troupe (Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, Henry V) for the Bard’s classic tale of star‐crossed lovers.
No reservations necessary for this free event | 617‐353‐3390
College of Fine Arts, “Jewels 1” Miller Studio Theatre 352
855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
Capacity: Approximately 50 patrons per performance

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

CSI: The Al-Hamlet Summit

Basic Intro
  •  Adaptations of Shakespeare have been a staple of the modern Arab theatre since late 19th Century
    • The adaptations are mostly done in Standard Arabic which is the formal version of Arabic usually used by academics
  • Adaptations stemmed from a variety of sources such as British texts, French plays, Italian operas, German novels, Soviet films, American productions and adaptations
  • The first Arabic encounter with Shakespeare was in Egypt when Syrian-Lebanese immigrants remade French translations of Shakespeare for the Cairo middle class
    • These adaptations were meant for filling theatres and not for reading
    • Hamlet was first performed in Egypt around 1893
  • In 2006, the World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane formally embraced Arab Shakespeare
  • The first performance of The Al-Hamlet Summit
    • In Arabic with English surtitles
    • Performed at the Edinburg International Fringe Festival in August 2002
    • Was awarded the Fringe First Award for excellence and innovation in writing and directing
  • One year after 9/11, in Sept 2002, The Al-Hamlet Summit won Best Performance and Best Director in the 14th Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre
  • The author, Al-Bassam
    • Kuwaiti father and English Mother
    • Born in Kuwait, raised in England
    • Founded the London-based Zaoum Theater Company in 1996
    • Has three Shakespearean adaptions
      • Hamlet = Al-Hamlet, a reworking of Hamlet in Kuwait, aka the Arab League Hamlet
        • Hamlet in Kuwait and The Arab Leauge Hamlet retained more of Shakespeare’s verse 
        • When first writing Al-Hamlet Summit in 2002, Al-Bassam did not intend to write an adaptation of Hamlet 
      • Romeo and Juliet = Trading
      • Richard III = Richard III: An Arab Tragedy
  • The events in The Al-Hamlet Summit happen over several days or months, it’s not specified
  • Openly political Arab adaptations of Shakespeare have existed since the 1970s, however they became more popular in the West following the 9/11 attacks
  • Why Hamlet?
    • Al-bassam's choice of Hamlet plays on the Western assumption of equating Arabs with war and violence
    • Publicity
  • Al-Bassam wanted to represent the Arab World to the West, he writes on behalf of the Arabs
  • 9/11
    • Strongly affected the plot
    • Proved that the West and theArab world are strongly intertwined
      • Arms dealer represents the West, and is present throughout the play, with every character (see subtext for more information)
      • Fortinbras's army is backed by the West
      • "The events of 9/11and the political fallout since have drawn to light the inextricable intertwining of the fates of Arab people and those of the West. The text and production of The Al-Hamlet Summit presented here… explores that cultural symbiosis.” Al-Bassam
    • Globalization – an indication of the intertwining of the Arabs and the Wes
      • The results of 9/11 quickly spread to the Arab World through technology
      • Globalization did little to increase dialogue between cultures, Al-Bassam believes art and literature increases the dialogue
    • Arab political structures of the time according to Al-Bassam
      • The corrupt, autocratic, mostly western supported leaders running countries into the ground
      • The radical Islamist groups proposing moral and social systems that do not reflect the wants of the people
  • Before each showing, the capital cities mentioned satirically in Act 3 have to be changed so as not to offend Arab ambassadors in the audience
  • Once showing in Tehran was delayed two hours so that a censor could view the play before the audience, the audience waited outside in the snow
    • The censor argued with Al-Bassam over the mention of the Koran in Act 4, Al-Bassam argued that it was the most clear and definite example of Islam’s condemnation of violence (also intertext)
  • Another showing in Cairo led to a riot
    • Small theatre but high demand for tickets
    • Rumors circulated that the play was an imperialist jig which created the riot
    • To fix the situation the actors put on a command performance at midnight
  • An Arab theatre critic accused Al-Bassam of receiving funding from a covert Israeli organization     
    • Al- Bassam states that even though Fortinbras mentions Israel, the play is not about Israeli-Arab issues
    • However, violence in the Middle East must include Israel
  • The conversation between Laertes and Ophelia in Act 1
    • In Arab linguistic and social context the sexual imagery in the conversation does not necessarily entail sexual intention
    • Laertes is trying to frighten her
  • Hamlet
    • It's an adaptation of Hamlet
    • Al -Bassam removed what he though were the non-essential characters, such as Horatio
    • The ghost of Hamlet's father is replace with the Arms Dealer
      • He gives Hamlet the leaflets that announce that Claudius killed Old Hamlet (instead of hearing it from the ghost)
      • Arms Dealer maintains the unreliability that the Ghost possessed as the audience is unsure of his motives and role in most of the play
      • Clear connection to the West (see subtext for more information)
    • In  Hamlet, Claudius reacts to Ferdinand and Norway’s threat with diplomacy but in The Al-Hamlet Summit Claudius jumps straight to the use of force
  • Ophelia quotes Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “Ramallah 2002” in her farewell video
  • Koran
    • Act 4, page 75, when God’s voice comes over the intercom and bids Hamlet not to harm his mother
    • Verse 28, Serra 5
    • 5 Daily Prayers
    • The  idea of religion and religious extremism is extremely important
      • Hamlet portrays an Islamic Extremist, and a large part of the plot revolves around the issue of extremism
  • Five Daily Prayers as titles of the acts
    • Indicators  of mood by the quality of the light at those times and not the actual time of the events within the acts
    • "A metaphorical temporal structure for the development of action over a single unit of time” (Al-Bassam)
  • The Grave Dwellers monologue echoes words of the Prophet
  • Horse of War Scene
    • A spoof on the epic literary tradition of the Noble Arab Warrior / horseman
    • Al-Bassam wanted to mirror the theatricality of “The Mousetrap” without the classical references such as Pyrrhus and Hecuba
  • Al- Bassam did not intend for Al-Hamlet Summit to represent the views of any particular Arab community, he attempted to express the concerns and issues of the Arab World (especially relating to the West) in general
  • Al -Bassam intended to address Western concerns (the rise of extremism and Islamic fundamentalism)
    • Particularly why and how extremism happens
  • Hamlet’s transformation into an extremist and a terrorist parallels Osama bin Laden’s rise
    • Al-Bassam calls Hamlet at the end of the play a “figure similar to Osama bin Laden”
  • Claudius’ speech at the end of the play on the News Network is similar to speeches and lines spoken by George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Ariel Sharon
  • Religion vs. Government – Hamlet fires from the Mosque, Claudius fires from the Palace
    • According to Al-Bassam
      • Claudius’ view on power (which is also God) is that it is materially on corruption, betrayal and sordidness
      • Hamlet’s view on power (which is also God) is that it is an ideological structure based on faith, purity, and heritage
  • The Arms Dealer
    • Wears the outfit of a post-colonial opportunist (words of Al-Bassam)
    • He is also a symbol of the West who will arm anyone willing to pay even if it means arming opponents
  • Claudius can be seen as a Saddam Hussein figure