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Housewives Get Desperate in Dario Fo’s They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay by Eliza Anna Falk

“Our homeland is the whole world.                             Dario Fo

Our law is liberty. We have but one thought,

Revolution in our hearts” – Dario Fo                                                                                                                                

If Dario Fo were to cast a vote in the forthcoming US presidential election his choice no doubt would lie with the socialist democrat Bernie Sanders, the only candidate openly calling for a political revolution. When interviewed by the British Guardian in 1997 after receiving a Nobel Prize for Literature, Fo said that he had been born politicized, and culturally had always been part of the proletariat: “I lived side by side with the sons of glass blowers, fishermen and smugglers. The stories they told were satires about the hypocrisy of authority and the middle classes, the two-facedness of teachers and lawyers and politicians.” (Bohlen).

they_dont_pay640x480 (2)The playwright became the voice of the Italian working class in the 1960s and 70s when his fellow citizens seethed with resentment towards their incompetent governments. It was during the 1970s that he wrote his most popular farces: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (which made him one of the most produced playwrights in 20th century Europe) and They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, encouraging the oppressed to take direct action when authority fails to protect them. The play, brought to DC by the Ambassador theatre in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute and co-directed by Joe Martin and Danny Rovin, has been played in over 40 countries and revised by the author several times to suit the changing times.  

Its working class characters and their plight are very much alive today, bringing to mind memories of the recent financial crisis and the VAL_4550 - Version 2withtextforecasts of more economic gloom.  The main protagonists – Antonia (Hanna Bondarewska), her husband Giovanni (Daren Marquardt), his best friend Luigi (Mitch Irzinski) and his wife and Antonia’s best friend Margherita (Moriah Whiteman) – could be found anywhere in today’s America. Fo’s messages, like the one spoken by Antonia, are as relevant now as they were in the 70s: “It’s the same in every economic crisis (…). Only now they call it a tsunami (…) destroying everything in its path. First the banks, then the corporations, governments, political parties. But the ones always hit first and hardest are the workers – and the people who scrimped and saved their whole lives.” (Fo, p 112).

To honor Fo’s wish that every production be relevant to its time and place, the play has been located in Newark, New Jersey. In the words of the co-Director, Joe Martin: “a mythical Newark, with its industry, its role as a transportation hub – much like Fo’s Milan – provided for us, a fitting American model. Italian place names and corporate institutions have been changed to American Equivalents. (…) The play is a tribute to the underclass created by the Great Recession, the bail-out of Wall Street, and even to our fellow “off-off” theatre companies working with little to create big artistic statement”.

Don’t be misled by the serious subject matter though, as Dario Fo, who “with comedy (…) can search for the profound”, is a master of a political theatre that makes people laugh. Drawing on traditions of Commedia Dell’Arte and its boulevard, grotesque style, as well as the Theatre of the Absurd, Fo delivers serious messages in a ridiculous, absurdist fashion. Recognizing the importance of the concept of ‘grotesque body’ in popular comedy, he uses it to bring down abstract, lofty ideals to the level of carnal world using physical comedy and slapstick, which abound in They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay.

HannaasAntoniabeingpregnantThe madness starts when Antonia, who during a food riot takes supplies from a supermarket, hides the groceries behind her friend’s coat when her law abiding spouse appears unexpectedly. Imagine the chaos, which ensues once Giovanni (who would rather starve than eat stolen food) and Luigi (convinced of his wife’s infertility) find out about Margherita’s pregnancy, and the authorities (Peter Orvetti) come searching for the food thieves.  The women’s clever lies and cheekiness create comedic mayhem of outrageous proportions, producing hilarious scenes involving the feign pregnancy ending in a birth with a bag of olives breaking instead of water; an unconscious cop hidden in a closet; saints, miracles and superstitions; coffin and undertakers.  

When the theatre is ironic, grotesque, it’s above all then that you have to defend it, because the theatre that makes people laugh is the theatre of Human reason” said the playwright in his speech of thanks at the Nobel Prize Banquet in 1997. In awarding him a Noble prize for literature (the first one bestowed on an actor-author) The Swedish Academy recognized him as a satirist who “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”. A jester and an “extremely serious satirist”, who “with a blend of laughter and gravity (…) opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society” (Bohlen).

The author, who turns 90 this year, is a true Renaissance man and an active political and social activist. The actor, director, playwright, satirist, composer, painter, stage designer, assistant architect, teacher, lecturer and novelist has always believed in the interests of common people and devoted his life to improving their lot. His plays, many co-created with his actress wife and a closest professional collaborator, Franca Rame, have been written about people and for people. Both Fo and his wife (no longer with us), have always believed that “A theatre (…), an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance” (Dario Fo).

They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay is an excellent example of how Fo’s plays directly and sharply reflect the ills of his time, and how pertinent and relevant the issues remain to this day. The play’s characters say it all: “Policeman: People can’t go on like this. (…) These fat-cat pigs who starve, cheat, and rob us – they’re the real thieves” (Fo, pp 24-25). “Luigi: Things can’t keep on this way. Somebody’s gotta make a move. Forget waiting on government handouts – or for unions to muscle in, or the politicos to step up (…) We gotta make our own moves (…). We gotta shift gears – take control. Don’t you see? Everything’s changing – big time “ (Fo, p 51).

We can all feel it – everything is changing in our world, big time, so fast we are finding it difficult to adjust to the unstable present and embrace the unknown future. We need Theatre now more than ever, a magical place that has always been there for us, a place where we can reflect on ourselves and our times and forget about our worries and laugh. They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay has had audiences ‘in stiches’ since 1974, and continues to delight theatre goers with its physical humor, farcical plot, loveable, colourful characters and a contemporary message. A big ‘thank you’ to the Ambassador Theater and the Italian Cultural Institute for bringing this gem of a play to DC!

They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay plays March 1 – March 26,216 at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G Street NW, Washington DC. For 14yrs+ audiences.

Tickets: $20-$40 online: http://www.aticc.org/home/category/get-tickets

References
Fo, Dario. They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay. Translated by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante.
Bohlen, Celestine. Italy’s Barbed Political Jester, Dario Fo, Wins Nobel Prize, 10 Oct 1997. Nytimes.com

ElizaFalk (2)Eliza Anna Falk is a Warsaw and Sydney Universities' graduate and a DCMTA writer, who joined the Ambassador Theater in 2012 as a Creative and Editorial Consultant. Since then she has been providing literary and editorial support, including press releases, promotional essays, blog entries and translations, to all ATICC's productions.

Smartphonesposterideaup

Sex, Lies and Nomophobia in Emilio Williams’ Smartphones by Eliza Anna Falk

Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce – produced by Hanna Bondarewska and Ambassador Theater in partnership with the Embassy of Spain and Spain arts and Culture, directed by Helen Hayes awarded Joe Banno – opens at Flashpoint on October 22, 2015 TICKETS ONLINE

ElizaFalk_1038x576Doesn’t existence seem totally absurd at times and life too restrictive? Don’t we wish we were free of social norms and do as we like? Aren’t we our own worst enemies at times? Emilio Williams*, the author of Smartphones, asks the same questions yet as a dramatist has the opportunity to dream our dreams and nightmares on stage. In Smartphones, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the avant-garde playwright takes his privilege to the absurdist limit. Mixing the Absurd, Ridiculous and the Surreal with a layer of ‘digital madness’, he brings human shadows and insecurities to light, making us reflect on life and to laugh, nervously at times, in the process.  

Emilio Williams is a dramatist who uses his medium like a magnifying glass, bringing into focus complex aspects of our psyche challenged by today’s fast-paced existence. Just like his influences – Beckett, Ludlam, Moliere and Buñuel, he is acutely aware of what is difficult, awkward and absurd in life and chooses to talk about it using humor, farce and parody. “Nothing is more radical than humor” says Williams, whose multi-dimensional plays combine laughter with existential themes and a pertinent social satire. Smartphones, his only play that takes part in one set, one room and in real time, is also a great example of Williams’ reaction against conventions of the Realistic Theater. 

“Your comedies tend to be silly but not stupid” said William’s friend once, and the author liked the comment. In case of Smartphones silly and serious go together. After all the play is a tribute to and a parody of the Theatre of the Absurd, as well as an example of William’s avoidance of literalness of theater realism. Also, true to the Theater of the Ridiculous Manifesto and its canon of ‘the free person’, Smartphones’ personas are free to act in a spontaneous and silly way whilst not compromising seriousness of the matter. “The free person, as distinct from an authoritarian phony or the civilized adult, is erotic, socially self-assertive, playful and imaginative” (Brecht: 117) and so are the play’s characters.

Chantal and Dagobert, Amelia and Barnaby are stuck together in their friend’s house waiting for his arrival. The couples, educated and socially assertive, reveal their true, outrageous colors as the play progresses. Their neurosis, lies and hidden desires come to the surface taking us by surprise and shocking with their boldness, yet feeling strangely familiar or attractive at the same time. How reassuring and cathartic is to see our own shadows and shameful secrets reflected in other people and our faults and obsessions appearing ‘normal’ and symptomatic of the times. After all, aren’t we, the civilized humans, soldiers in the universal battle to maintain balance between primal desires and social norms?

 Smartphones’ characters are in their 30s and 40s and have a lot in common with the Millennial Generation, displaying strong traits of entitlement and narcissism, and suffering from ‘nomophobia’ – short for “no-mobile-phone-phobia”.  Glued to their Smartphones and obsessed with digital communication they make an absurd yet very familiar sight. Seeing their addiction to the virtual world and disconnectedness from the real one, makes us react in the way Williams intended. The characters themselves have flashes of awareness uttering the author’s profound messages, such as when Barnaby says to his college friend Dagobert: "You see, always on Facebook, back and forward, but with each day that passes we know each other less" (Williams:42). 

Whilst the popular saying “we live in a crazy world” certainly rings true in Smartphones justifying the silliness and the laughter, the play’s serious undertones remind us how difficult and complex today’s existence can really be. Digital and other addictions, racism, unemployment, gender/sexual issues, are only some of the current challenges affecting our lives and our conscience. Smartphones is a play at its best, entertaining, current, reflecting on what it is to be human and what it is to be part of the 21st century society. What makes it particularly entertaining is its absurdist form and ‘ridiculous’ characters shocking us with their outrageous behaviors, which for many of us may not seem that outrageous after all.


Sources
Williams, Emilio. Smartphones.
Brecht, Stefan. Family of the f. p.: Notes on the Theatre of the Ridiculous 
Source: The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 117-141
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1144443 .

About the author
Emilio Williams is an award winning playwright from Madrid, who moved to Chicago in 2011. His avant-garde, profound comedies, such as Your problems with Men, Medea got Some Issues, Tables and Beds, have been produced in Spain, France, Estonia, UK and USA. "Smartphones, a pocket-size farce" received its world premiere at Trap Door Theatre, Chicago on July 19th, 2012 and was directed by Emilio Williams.
 

RozewiczKafka

‘Under Kafka’s Spell – Rozewicz and The Trap’ by Eliza Anna Falk

ElizaFalk_1038x576The Ambassador Theater is back with its biggest production to date, showcasing work of one of the greatest post-war poets and playwrights of the 20th century, Polish-born Tadeusz Rozewicz. Produced and directed by Hanna Bondarewska, The Trap takes us inside Kafka’s bizarre life, at the same time making us reflect on the alienation of a modern artist and fragility of life. The US premiere of The Trap coincides with the 1st anniversary of the author’s death, as well as the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and as such is a timely and important opportunity to carry on Rozewicz’s artistic message about the tragic history of WWII. (The play opens on May 28 and plays through June 21, at XX Bldg., 814 20th Street NW, Washington DC. See www.aticc.org for more information.)

“After fifty years of composing poetry and plays I came to understand the futility of unravelling the Franz Kafka “mystery”. My only justification is that I worked and wrote as best I could”. “This is my farewell to Franz Kafka. I’m 69. The time of farewells is close” – Tadeusz Rozewicz (Rozewicz1: 8).

rozewicz

Spellbound by Kafka

The Trap published in 1982 was not only Rozewicz’s farewell to Kafka, but also a ‘crowning’ of his long fascination with the enigmatic writer. Rozewicz’s interest began in 1949 when he visited Franz’s hometown, Prague for the first time, returning in 1957. Yet despite the author’s continued ‘dialog’ with Kafka and few short sketches from the travels, he had not written a major work related to Franz until much later. His play inspired by Kafka and based on his short story A Hunger Artist (where caged showman starves for long periods for amusements of crowds), was written in 1979. In the piece titled The Hunger Artist Departs and regarded as a precursor to The Trap (Filipowicz: 164), Rozewicz created his own version of the ’hunger artist’ seen through the prism of Kafka. In the Post Scriptum to the play he wrote: “Franz Kafka himself (…) was one of the great authentic Hunger Artists” (Rozewicz1: 111,) an artist known to be obsessed with desire to create, and prepared to sacrifice earthly pleasures in the name of art. The same artist we see in The Trap.

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 Kafka’s genius aside, Rozewicz’s fascination also stemmed from what the two had in common. Both were preoccupied with examination of human soul and fate, and wrote from the heart not caring about the literary canons. Both shared a common and profound interest in the fundamental issues of human condition, and as artists dealt with and wrote about solitude, estrangement and the existential pressures. The disturbing and moving atmosphere of Kafka’s works and his way of perceiving reality resonated with Rozewicz’s post war angst, times, when in conflict with the cruel world, he was trying to cope with feelings of helplessness and despair. One can see why Kafka’s heroes -victims of fate trapped in a prison-like setting desperately looking for escape – struck a chord with Rozewicz. Not surprisingly Kafka’s symbols of ‘cage’ and ‘mole’ found their way into his poems, prose and plays (Drewnowski: 289) to demonstrate the alienation of an artist and cruelty of the world.

Victims and Sons

Although the writers were born in different centuries (Kafka in 1883, Rozewicz in 1921), both became innocent victims of their environment and experienced deep psychological traumas. Rozewicz lived through World War II (WWII) and later, living in “free” Poland, suffered under the Stalinist regime. A witness to atrocities of war and the Holocaust, he was never able to free himself from the horrific visions of war crimes. His poetry, prose and plays strongly reflect the impact those experiences had on his and his generation’s psyche, outlook and vision of the future: “I am twenty-four led to slaughter I survived. (…) The way of killing men and beasts is the same I’ve seen it: truckfuls of chopped up men who will not be saved” – he wrote in 1945 in his poem The Survivor. In another poem, Beyond Words, he said: “What are you doing emerged from darkness – Why don’t you want to live in full light – Within me war opens up an eyelid of a million shattered faces – Blood smeared what are you piecing together what is your burden – I am piecing together words – I carry my time (…)” (Rozewicz2).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

   Kafka’s drama had much more personal roots. Shy and neurotic, trapped between an overprotective, weak mother, and a critical, domineering father, he became an emotional cripple, forever doubting himself and his manhood. The conflict with his father was so deeply embedded in his psyche that neither becoming an adult nor securing a job as an insurance official helped him to break the toxic bond or heal the relationship. Torn between a desire to devote himself to writing, and the pressure to marry, settle down and emulate his father, he was unable to find peace and contentment – either as a man or an artist. So strong were his fears, self-doubt and feelings of guilt, so weak his health that he broke off engagements, never married, and ordered his entire writings to be destroyed after his passing.

   Family was of the utmost importance to the artists.  Rozewicz was as devoted to his loving, caring mother (who came from a Jewish family converted to Catholicism) as was Franz. His father, although of kind disposition, just like Franz’s, was not interested in his son’s literary ambitions.  In Mother Departs, a family memoir, Tadeusz writes: “’I am a poet’, you search for synonyms to help you come out to the world (…) Of course, Mother knows. But to say something like that to my father was unthinkable…So I never did tell my Father (…) he’d be so remote (…)” (Rozewicz3). Artistic vocation was a source of guilt for both – Kafka felt guilty of not meeting his father’s expectations, Rozewicz of being a poet. Both witnessed loss of their siblings. Two of Kafka’s younger brothers died by the time he was six, whereas Rozewicz’s elder brother, like him a member of the Polish Home Army, was tortured and killed by Gestapo.

Revolutionaries

Kafka and Rozewicz’s contributions to literature are highly innovative and unique. Since posthumous publication of Kafka’s major novels, his original style of writing has been hailed as revolutionary in the way it affected language and expression (Deleuze and Guattari: 16). Kafka himself indicated in his diaries and theoretical notes that he was inventing a new type of literature (14). Despite a general consensus that Kafka created “a new literary continent” by wiping out “old topography of mind and thought” (16), his prose has been placed into a variety of literary schools and keeps being examined and interpreted. Yet irrespective of numerous analysis and attempts to label the style of his unusual writings, it has been impossible to define Kafka’s ‘literature’ and its impact with one term, other than with the word “Kafkaesque”. Used to describe situations and concepts reminiscent of his work, the term is a true testament to uniqueness and originality of Franz Kafka’s artistic creation which keeps baffling readers and critics.

   Rozewicz, an experimenter and innovator, is known for revolutionizing 20th century poetry after the tragedy of WWII. Deeply hurt, shocked and ‘mimed’ by the war crimes, the author rejected the traditional poetic language as unsuitable to express the post-war reality, and created ‘anti-poetry’ characterized by stark, direct language and simple form (Rozewicz2: 337). Concurrently, inspired by ‘theatre of the absurd’ and Kafka’s concept of ‘inner drama’, the poet experimented with theatrical forms in search of his own style, which he later described as ‘realistic-poetic’. (Braun: 37). The result was an ‘interior, open theatre’, in which the stream of consciousness replaced action and became a formless (yet poetic) record of human experience (Braun: 24). The ‘open’ theatre, where plays lack traditional structure with beginning, middle and end, may also have been inspired by Kafka, known for starting to write in the middle rather than from the beginning and leaving works unfinished, including his only play, where  “the action slowly dies away and eventually comes to a halt” (Rozewicz4: 111). 

Traps within The Trap

One of the main themes of Kafka’s writings is an archetypal situation when an innocent  human being is attributed a fault, ostracised and trapped in a hopeless predicament, yet keeps maintaining his innocence and seeks atonement. The world Kafka created in his works was largely a reflection of his own trappings and desperate attempts to escape them. Although The Trap was never intended as biographical, being based on Kafka’s diaries and correspondence (mainly Letters to Father) it dramatizes important images from the artist’s life, especially those illustrating his most challenging struggles and fears. In the play we see glimpses of his childhood; complex relationship with father; his failed attempts to marry; relations with friends and family; failing health, to name the most important.

  Franz’s predicaments constitute examples of traps and fears familiar to other artists and many of us. Biology, psyche, family and culture are common sources of barriers on the way to fulfilment.  The constraints of his body constituted a serious obstacle for spiritual Franz, as illustrated in the dialog between him and his sister Ottla. “Ottla - It’s all because you shut yourself up, you slam the door on the world, you lock it out and you build a trap, a burrow, with tremendous effort and the sweat of your brow; and you fall into it ill and tormented. All you have to do is open the door. Life begins outside, you take your first step, then the next, and away you fly!” To which Franz’s responds: “I am a trap, my body is a trap that caught me after birth (…) I do sometimes think of escaping, maybe I’ll free myself at last” (Rozewicz1: 42).

   Max Brod, Franz’s best friend and literary executor, wrote in his memoires about Kafka that his friend had always been torn between longing for solitude and being part of a group (Brod: 128). It appears that Franz’s shyness and aversion to physical world held a stronger grip as it often forced him to rely on family and Max to communicate with the outside world.  “Why is it that whenever you have to face life you make use of other people? Apart from writing and dying you’ve always wanted to do things by proxy (…).There you are, rat, burrowing rat! Again you want to hide but you must answer the question“. Says Max in The Trap. ”This isn’t a question, this is a noose”, replies Franz. (Rozewicz1:37).                                                                                                                                                     

   As if the above hurdles and conflict with the father were not enough, Kafka’s social milieu presented him with a further complication – a trap of culture.  Born into German speaking Jewish family in Czech speaking Prague, and educated in German, he developed an identity which was as fragmented as his personal world. Although undoubtedly enriched by multi-cultural environment, he was nevertheless deprived of the stability of mono-cultural upbringing and disturbed by his diverse background, as indicated in his diary: “Enclosed in my own four walls, I found myself as an immigrant imprisoned in a foreign country (…) I saw my family as strange aliens whose foreign customs, rites, and very language defied comprehension” (Preece: 15-31).

Kafka’s Prophecy and the Trap of History

What would have been the fate of Franz Kafka had his life not been taken by illness in 1924 at the age of 40?  In all likelihood, like his sisters, he would have perished in a Nazi concentration camp. It seems that the destiny of his family and fellow Jews was already being determined when he was still alive and the anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise amongst Czech and German nationalists (Pavel, p.47).  Kafka has been seen as a prophet who had not only sensed his own passing but also the forthcoming tragedy of the Holocaust (Drewnowski: 294). His picture of prison-like world full of danger and pain inflicted by fellow humans, where the innocent victims go to impossible lengths to survive, came to life soon after his death. Kudos to Rozewicz for his ingenious idea of The Trap, which completes Kafka’s prophecy and fulfils his vision of the world (Braun: 55).

   The Trap, Rozewicz’s last piece written for the theatre, is an important and highly original play, with complex layers of meaning and a crucial message for its audiences. In it, Rozewicz lets us inside Kafka’s personal fears, anxieties and struggles, imparting knowledge about the writer’s complex existence as a man and a writer. On a higher level, he builds a generic portrait of a modern artist alienated and trapped by an archetypal struggle between art/spirit and life/matter, and shows us the fragility of artistic creation and human existence.

   The Trap’s originality stems from a number of sources. Firstly, from Rozewicz’s unique vision of Kafka seen through the image he had built over the period of fifty years, and the prism of his own war-time experiences. Secondly, from the freedom offered by the ‘openness’ of his theatre, which allowed him to ‘travel ’ beyond the 19th century Prague and place Kafka and his family in the ultimate nightmare and trap of the 20th century-the Holocaust. By doing so, he is able to continue sharing his painful, war-time past, and remind audiences, that the memory of ‘hell on earth’ should never be forgotten and must be kept alive as a warning to future generations.

The Trap is a serious play, yet not without potential for comedy. The Director, Hanna Bondarewska, builds on the absurdity of some of Franz’s phobic behaviours and discovers many moments of laughter. Let’s not forget about Kafka’s wit and sense of humor and the fact that his personal world was not devoid of hope and respect for life, as his Diaries indicate: “Let the heavy rain fall on you, let it cleanse you, join the stream that wants to take you; but persevere, keep standing straight and wait until the sun comes out and fills you up”. Does Rozewicz offers us hope in the play? I sincerely hope to see Kafka’s 'ray of sunshine' in The Trap before leaving the theater.

The Trap Opens May 28, 2015 at 8 pm  at XX Bldg, 814 20th Street, NW, Washington DC

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Primary Sources

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. The Trap. Translated by Adam Czerniawski. Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, 1997.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Selected Poems. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow 1995.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Mother Departs. Translated by Barbara Bogoczek, storkpress.co.uk.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Mariage Blanc and The Hunger Artist Departs. Translated by Adam Czerniawski . Marion Boyars, London, New York, 1983.

Secondary Sources

Braun, Kazimierz.  MojTeatr Rozewicza. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, Rzeszow 2013.

Brod, Max. Franz Kafka. Czytelnik, Warszawa 1982. Translated from German by Tadeusz Zabludowski. German title Franz Kafka. Eine Biographie.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari Felix. Kafka. Toward a Minor Literature. Translation by Dana Polan. Theory and History of Literature, Vol 30, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London.

Drewnowski, Tadeusz. Walka o Oddech. O pisarstwie Tadeusza Rozewicza. Wydawnictwo Artystyczne i Filmowe, Warszawa 1990.

Filipowicz, Halina. A Laboratory of Impure Forms. Plays of Tadeusz Rozewicz. Freenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, 1991.

Pavel, Ernst. Franz Kafka. Koszmar Rozumu. Translated from English by Irena Stapor. Twoj Styl, Warszawa 2003. English title The Nightmare of Reason. A Life of Franz Kafka.

Preece, Julian. The Cambridge Companion to Kafka. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001.

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Ariana Almajan as Laura Whalen and Marlowe Vilchez as Raymond Stitt in Ambassador Theater's production of "Rage" by Michele Riml, directed by Joe Banno 

Photo by Val Radev

To kill or be killed – That is the Question in Michele Riml’s ‘Rage’

FROM LITERARY DIRECTOR

By Eliza Anna Falk
The Ambassador Theater International Cultural Centre (ATICC) and its Founder and Artistic Director, Hanna Bondarewska, are not afraid of challenges and demanding repertoire. Providing a platform for expression of complex narratives, whilst working toward building bridges between di verse cultures and groups, lies at the core of ATICC’s mission.  Showcasing plays from around the world is what the Ambassador Theater does best. This year the American audiences will have the opportunity to see ‘Rage’, a riveting play, written by a critically acclaimed Canadian playwright, Michele Riml.  
In ‘Rage’, the winner of the 2005 Sydney Risk Prize and 2008 Jessie Richardson Award, two opposing worlds collide and shake us up with a loud bang!  The drama’s intense plot and a shocking finale force us to reflect on the complexity of the human psyche and examine where we stand on the issue of violence.  And if it is just for a brief moment, that we stop and think about our contribution to peace, the production is a success. 
Riml’s pairing of two opposite philosophies and animating them by two equally incompatible characters, is what has attracted Joe Banno to the script. The award winning Director has always been drawn to naturalistic plays dealing with psychology of intricate relationships, and humans crossing lines between good and evil. ‘Rage’, just like his beloved Shakespearian dramas, puts a spotlight on a dysfunctional relationship and proves that real people are flawed, changeable and capable of anything.  
In the play, a radical, suicidal student called Rage brings his father’s gun to school in preparation for a counselling session with Laura, one of his teachers. A philosophical discussion on peace and violence turns into a blood chilling duel after Rage asks Laura to do the impossible – or so we think. The odds are high for the Hitler’s sympathiser to harm a human being representing all he despises, yet how about the pacifist abandoning her ‘being peace’ attitude and turning violent?
Laura may be idealistic but is she weak? Why ruthless and uncompromising Rage goes through a moment of weakness? These are only some of the questions, the Director and Actors (Ariana Almajan and Marlowe Vilchez) had spent time discussing before and after moving rehearsals to the stage. Deconstructing the characters through analysis of their personalities, motivations and behaviours, was crucial in bringing them to life and allowing the Actors to acclimatize with and understand the personas they were going to inhabit. Not to mention decoding the play’s intention and message.
 Michele Riml wants to tell us much more than the important obvious. We know that facts of life cannot be changed – good and evil go together like light and darkness, and peace and violence have always existed in tandem. We know that guns have been made accessible to youngsters with tragic consequences. It is also common knowledge that growing up is difficult; especially for those born with predisposition to depression and violent behaviour; and that schooling is unpopular with many students, making teachers potential targets of resentment and abuse.
 It is rather uncommon for a pupil to harm a teacher, however, as the publicly available data demonstrates, student violence against educators has become a common occurrence across the American schools. Whilst preventative measures are being implemented, plays such as ‘Rage’ are crucial in exposing the issue to the public and emphasizing the gravity of the crisis. The graphic presence of the gun and the way it is used in the play in front of the live audience is part of Riml’s strategy and her attempt to show us the danger for what it really is – another life about to be lost.
 The drama is a strong reminder to parents and firearms owners to play their part in trying to prevent school shootings by practicing good parenting and keeping weapons away from children and adolescents. The importance of parental and environmental contribution to the process of early and on-going prevention cannot be emphasised often enough.   Although solution to the multilayered problem of youth violence requires action on numerous levels, experts generally agree that early intervention by families and around the environments that children live in are most effective.
Another truth ’Rage’ brings to mind is that holding a belief may be a passive position to be in until it is complicated by intrusion of experience with its power to trigger responses not necessarily matching the ideals. The play incites us to think about grey areas between theory and action and gives us a chance to reflect on ‘what if’ situations. Banno praises the play for opening up a very important debate on whether violence can be justified, especially in extreme circumstances, such as the current one with ISIS and their ‘to kill or be killed’ motto.
 Pertinent questions around violence and complexity of human responses bring us to the issue of ‘Rage’s’ finale and audience’s expectations. The director is a fan of open endings and had been toying with the idea until the author disclosed that the approach had been already trialled and given ‘thumbs down’ by the audience. Thus, it is safe to announce that the approaching Ambassador Theater’s production will not only allow audiences to witness the drama unfolding, but also make them privy to its unexpected conclusion!  

OCT. 22 – NOV. 16, 2014

At FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC 20001

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