Go see this, y’all! Go on the night when my friend (and Paris Review poetry editor) Robyn Creswell is doing the post-show talkback. Here’s Al-Bassam’s latest (I hope!) synopsis:
BAM Presents THE SPEAKER’S PROGRESS, 10/6-8
A condemned 1960s staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has become the focal point for political resistance blogs and underground social network movements. The state, eager to suppress this dangerous mixture of nostalgia and dissent, commissions The Speaker, a once-radical theater producer now turned regime apologist, to mount a forensic reconstruction and public denunciation of the work. As The Speaker and his group of nonacting volunteers delve deeper into the “reconstruction” they find themselves increasingly engaged with the material they are supposed to be condemning. They soon discover-in the act of performance and the growing participation of their audience-a solidarity that transforms the gathering itself into an unequivocal act of defiance towards the state.
The Speaker’s Progress is the final part of writer, director, and performer Sulayman Al- Bassam’s Arab Shakespeare Trilogy; the second, Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, was presented at BAM’s Muslim Voices festival (Spring 2009). Created along with a core team of actors and artists from across the Arab world and Europe, this unique body of work charts a decade of Arab and Western political and social upheaval following the events of 9/11 to the current leaps for reform made by millions across the region.
Sulayman has put up a few clips of Speaker’s Progress, with surtitles. Some version of this show is coming to BAM and Boston’s ArtsEmerson this fall.
(Sorry I can’t quite get the video to be the right width – working on it. Link here.)
Brooklyn June 11 was a lot of fun. The audience was pretty big, and full of people who asked smart questions and seemed really to like the show. So did NYT’s Ben Brantley. (And wrote a really perceptive review, I thought.)
Here is also my backgrounder, written in a big hurry at the Asia Society’s request. Most of this will be news to no one who reads this blog. Except maybe this nugget:
In 1935, Egypt’s future president Gamal Abdel Nasser starred in a production of
Julius Caesar put on at his Cairo high school. He played Caesar as a liberating
nationalist hero who defeated Great Britain.
It’s true! Check Georges Vaucher or Joel Gordon or any good Nasser biography.
Theatre preview capsule by Ben Brantley (NYT 6/5/09)
Winters of discontent occur in even the sunniest climes. The Kuwaiti-born director SULAYMAN AL-BASSAM has relocated Shakespeare’s demonic Richard III to the Middle East, and this bloodiest of monarchs apparently feels gleefully at home in his new surroundings. Part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s “Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas” festival, “RICHARD III: AN ARAB TRAGEDY,” which opens Tuesday at the Harvey Theater, was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of its 2007 Complete Works Festival. It has now arrived in the States (stopping off at the Kennedy Center in Washington this year) with its message of the utterly contemporary relevance of Shakespeare’s tale of a country raped and paralyzed by a charismatic sociopath. Mr. Bassam has written that “Richard III” has always fascinated him more as history than tragedy. The emphasis in his production, set in an unnamed Gulf emirate, is accordingly less on the psychology than the society of the crookback who would be king (who first appears under the name of Emir Gloucester, if you please). He is, Mr. Bassam says, “the twisted child of a demented history.” Arab music and ritual infuse this “Richard III,” which is performed in Arabic with English titles and seems guaranteed to summon images of the reign of Saddam Hussein and its chaotic aftermath. Tuesday through Friday, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, (718) 636-4100, bam.org; $25 to $45.
[Will I see BB at the show? Will be sure to keep you posted. -ML]
Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy will be at BAM in New York next week. Check out this brief piece by Alexis Sokolsky in their summer theatre preview. (I’m quoted!)