Found in Translation
New York's Blessed Unrest and Kosovo's Teatri Oda collaborate to bring a thrilling new adaptation of the "Doruntine" legend to life.
By ELIZABETH BACHNER
"Doruntine," a co-production of New York's Blessed Unrest and Kosovo's Teatri Oda, opens with an intense mother-daughter scene that's performed in Albanian. It circles back around and closes with the same scene, in English. Whether or not you can understand either language, both stagings are riveting.
There are unique challenges in producing a bilingual play, and I didn't know what to expect from "Doruntine." From the opening scene, this production is thrilling. The directors take every risk imaginable, and all of them somehow pay off. "Doruntine" is inventive, exciting theater that crosses artistic as well as national and cultural boundaries.
|Company: Blessed Unrest.|
Written by: Matt Opatrny & Lirak Çelaj.
Directed by: Jessica Burr & Florent Mehmeti.
Based on Doruntine by: Ismail Kadare.
Cast: From Blessed Unrest: Justin Badger, Zenzele Cooper, Dave
Edson, Jason Griffin, Kelly Hayes, Laura Wickens.
From Teatri Oda: Ilire Vinca Çelaj, Lirak Çelaj, Nëntor Fetiu, Njomëza Ibraj
Choreography by: Kelly Hayes.
Sound design by: Aural Fixation.
Costumes by: Anna-Alisa Belous.
Lighting design by: Jeffrey E. Salzberg.
Related links: Official site
500 West 52nd St. at 10th Ave.
Previews start: Oct. 9, 2008
Oct. 10-26, 2008
The script, adapted from a novel by Ismail Kadare, is based on an Albanian legend about a young woman, Doruntine, who marries a man from far away. Her mother, who has nine sons but only one daughter, is panicked about losing her. Her brother, Constantin, promises to bring her home whenever their mother asks, and he appears to keep his promise, even three years after his death. I am generally fasinated by themes of exile, the dead visiting the living and erotically-charged brother-sister relationships; still, the innovations of this production explore the material in especially profound and creative ways.
To allow their scenes to be bilingual, the Doruntine and Constantin characters are each split between two actors, one from Blessed Unrest and the other from Teatri Oda. This is a daring move that could have come off as unpleasantly arty. Instead, it deepens the profound, mythic feel of the play, creating an intense and beautiful symbol for different kinds of exile and separation. The staging and sequencing of these dual performances is meaningful and non-linear, with each actor becoming a shadow for the other, an expression of his or her lost self and unconscious experience. Visually, this "Doruntine" is raw and edgy. The actors, other than the "Lady Mother" (Laura Wickens) wear gorgeous, ragged white costumes. Wickens is dressed all in black. The set is spare: two sheer, white banners hanging from the ceiling, to one side of the stage. The production makes clever use of these sheets, pulling one up to use as the epically beautiful Albanian Doruntine's (Njomeza Ibraj) wedding veil, or hiding her English-speaking double (Zenzele Cooper) behind her while blending their voices. The lighting adds to the sense of urgent intensity, darkening the stage at moments when the living consort with the dead or bathing the stage in red.
|From the opening scene, this production is thrilling. The directors take every risk imaginable, and all of them somehow pay off. "Doruntine" is inventive, exciting theater that crosses artistic as well as national and cultural boundaries.|| |
Along with all this magical, dramatic stagecraft, there are also moments of high comedy a rollicking cross-cultural dance sequence to "Total Eclipse of the Heart," for example. In a lesser production, this sequence could have been too zany; instead, it hits just the right note. The cast has strong chemistry and good comic as well as tragic timing. Watching this play, I was repeatedly surprised by new moments of delight or awe: a scene in which the cast piles on top of each other into one fascinating form, in a flawlessly executed Pilobolus-like dance sequence; the American Constantine's (Justin Badger) beautiful guitar solo; the tall, fey messenger (Jason Griffin) swinging from the rafters; and the sudden transformation of the cast into the corpses of the mourning mother's defeated sons.
Although part of the mission of this collaboration is to raise awareness about Kosovar independence and generate interest in the dynamic culture and history of the region, "Doruntine" is never politically heavy-handed. Its themes are as universal as they are specific, and the story feels both ancient and cutting-edge. "Doruntine" is the kind of production I'd expect to see as part of BAM's Next Wave festival. It's a stroke of luck for audiences that this vibrant, energizing production is showing in the intimate Interart Theater, with tickets going for only $18.
| ||"Doruntine" is the kind of production I'd expect to see as part of BAM's Next Wave festival. It's a stroke of luck for audiences that this vibrant, energizing production is showing in the intimate Interart Theater, with tickets going for only $18.|
"Experimental" in the arts often serves as a euphemism for incomprehensible, pretentious or bad. This terrific collaboration is experimental in the real sense. It expands its medium in radical ways, and creatively bridges gaps in language, genre and culture. It's the first of Blessed Unrest and Teatri Oda's co-productions on U.S. soil, and audiences will wish for many more to come.
|OCTOBER 11, 2008|
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