Reviews: The Planet-A Lament and Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side

by Lynn on January 16, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming until Jan. 16, 2021

The Planet-A Lament

There is a wonderful festival call PROTOTYPE that has various productions from around the world focusing on opera and theatre. The one I’m talking about is the stunning production of The Planet-A Lament which is a song-cycle from Indonesia about climate change and the state of the planet.

From the press information:

“The Planet—A Lament was created by Garin Nugroho, merging film with live dance and a 14 voice choir accompanied by Septin Layan, a celebrated Papuan soloist to impart a moving story of creation set against a backdrop of environmental disaster. Nugroho portrays a destroyed community struggling in the aftermath of a devastating tsunami.  He uses cinematics, haunting song, wild dance and ancient ritual to concoct a new myth that speaks to our complex times.

For this new work, Nugroho collaborates with the outstanding Mazmur Chorale from Kupang in Indonesia and an artistic team from across the Indonesian archipelago of composers, choreographers and Papuan dancers alongside an Australian dramaturg (Michael Kantor) and designer (Anna Tregloan). The work is grounded in lament traditions of Melanesia. The Planet – A Lament is an act of catharsis that mourns a world lost, while offering hope for another world that may be nurtured.”

I call the work ‘stunning’ because the vision and artistry in Garin Nugroho’s production is so evocative and theatrical. The lighting and imagery are striking. A character carries a large egg that is held delicately as if it is a thing that carries life or possibilities and of course, it does. You get a sense of the characters that they represent spirits of birds of hope.

The use of film as a backdrop sets scenes and moods. The delicate drop of a silky curtain evokes waves of water, displaced air, the end of something giving way to a beginning.  The singers are in traditional costumes and there are surtitles that explain what the songs mean.

The production presents a completely different world but it shows the beauty and power of theatre. The production is co-commissioned by Asia TOPA, Arts Centre Melbourne (Australia), Theater der Welt (Germany) and Holland Festival.

In spite of language and cultural differences the wider audience knows exactly what the production is talking about: the earth, climate change, environmental disaster and hoping for a better future.

With all the anger in our world, raging about exclusivity and division , slurs of racism flung through the air, here is a perfect example of how theatre bridges our differences and connects us all because of our similarities.

Loved this piece.

The Planet—A Lament continues on line at the Prototype Festival until tomorrow, Jan. 16.

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side

Streams until February 28, 2021 as part of The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival through Roundhouse Theatre.

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side is the last of four plays which are part of The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival produced in association with McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton and the Roundhouse Theatre. It’s fascinating and a thriller and all sorts of challenging things. And it’s a world premier.

Adrienne Kennedy is a towering presence in American Theatre. She chronicles the Black experience in America. It behooves us all to pronounce her first name correctly: Add-rienne (not ay-drienne).

From the program information: “Etta and Ella Harrison are astoundingly gifted scholars, deeply connected sisters, and dangerously bitter rivals. They frequently write and teach together, and even their separate works are unnervingly similar, often sourced from their own family history. Now, after a lifetime of competition, they are on the verge of destroying each other.

Adrienne Kennedy intricately blends monologue, dialogue, voiceover, and prose to create an experience that is part experimental play, part narrative thriller, and wholly unforgettable. Set against the gothic backdrop of their academic New York world, Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side is a taut, kaleidoscopic tale of ambition and madness—brought to theatrical life for the very first time.”

This one is a corker. We hear a frantic voice on an answering machine. Etta Harrison is calling Harold Troupe, a Black scholar and professor to ask if he wants to know about a coming murder. It’s suggested that Etta is fragile minded. She once called Harold five times in an evening and left five messages. Harold never replied.

We learn of this frantic fury between the sisters in which they steal each other’s stories. One sister is more successful than the other it seems. One almost strangles the other on stage when they both were giving a talk. They both were going to write a separate book on their silent brother who was left mute in an accident. We also get a sense of the brilliance of the sisters, how they copied each other’s dress and hair style.

We are led to believe there is a going to be a murder. There certainly is madness. But then Adrienne Kennedy references a terrible incident that happens in another play: Ohio State Murders and suggests that it in fact happened to one of the sisters.  That made me gasp when I heard that even though the character in that previous play had a different name.  The story-telling is stunning because it seems such a warren of trails and leads and shards of information to find out who is telling the truth? Is there a murder?  Who is insane?

The production is presented as a one person play with Caroline Clay listed as playing Ella, but in fact at various times she takes the voice of both sisters and narrates. She sits at a desk with the outline of a large backdrop behind her and occasionally she drinks from a mug. The performance is full of nuance and subtlety, in which a side-long glance speaks volumes.  The pace is tempered It is beautifully directed by Timothy Douglas.

Occasionally there is writing on the screen to explain where they were or who someone was. These notations are not stage directions. They are more mysterious than that, filmic yet theatrical.  Also occasionally numbers appear on the screen and I thought they might be scene numbers.  But sometimes that didn’t make sense since a number came without a pause from one sentence to another.  So a mystery.

And I did wonder: “Is there a murder?” “Can you stab an apparition”?

But I was held captive by this terrific performance of this wonderful playwright’s words.

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side streams as part of  The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival until February 28, through the Roundhouse Theatre:

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