‘The Neurology of the Soul,’ Written/Directed by Edward Einhorn, at A.R.T.
Without bringing it square and center in his latest work The Neurology of the Soul, a must-see currently at A.R.T., playwright Edward Einhorn thematically relays what Tom Stoppard focused on in his work about neuroscience’s inability to deal with consciousness in The Hard Problem. Indeed, in The Neurology of the Soul Einhorn’s presents a neuroscientist’s search to empirically measure consciousness (love) with brain scans. Einhorn also directs this exceptional play which delivers humor, boundless verve and exciting ideas that on closer inspection are concerning.
Why are neuroscientists, marketers and art gallery owners (representatives of whom Einhorn acquaints us with in the play) assiduously and feverishly working to find the next great “discovery?” The profit motive in all of its sinister, opaque, nullifying effects which bind us to cultural norms that are often destructive to our souls. With an intriguing backdrop linking neuroscience, art, marketing/branding and human relationships, Einhorn raises questions about ethics and justice in his beautifully constructed, dynamic and mind-blowing work.
This is Einhorn’s newest play and it is as trenchant as much of his earlier work, perhaps even more so. For by identifying a loving couple’s relationship in the petri dish of our time, then agitating it with other individuals and circumstances, he explores the hideaway crevasses of the human spirit and soul. And he reveals how ultimately, consciousness and feelings of love are beyond the kin of empiricism (quantifiable, material data production) which science clings to with ferocity and an almost paranoid, discriminatory blindness. His exploration is at once humorous and frightening, if one considers the implications of what the art world, marketing and neuroscientists may intend. Each have their own siren songs which Einhorn gently presents to allow us to form our own conclusions. And even if the results are unsettling and uncertain, indeed the considerations are limitless and fascinating. Above all, his play alerts us to be on guard.
Stephen (a superbly developed performance by Matthew Trumbull) a cognitive neuroscientist, works for a university as a researcher. He is obsessed with attempting to chart consciousness, specifically the emotions of love. He is using brain scans (fMRI) to do so. That he employs his wife Amy (Ashley Griffin is equally brilliant in the give and take with Trumbull) as his research subject to gauge her reactions and brain responses to his expressions of love, appears sweet. On deeper inspection, Matthew’s Stephen remains removed and aloof as a researcher in the lab. And hearing his “matter-of-fact” atonal love expressions is humorous. It is antithetical to any expression of emotional love and desire which might arise during the normal course of two people interacting in a more intimate setting. (How Einhorn evolves this character and shepherds Trumbull’s adroit, incisive acting skills to bring him to surprising emotionalism is fabulous! Bravo to both!)
Amy, a “failed” artist who signs on for the experiment, for she, too, wants to see how “love” lights up her brain, at the outset appears to be the more sensitive of the two. As Stephen gauges her responses, Amy speaks her feelings and thoughts to the audience and engages us as her confidante. She remains the impassive subject on a research table. We and Stephen can view her on a television screen and Stephen charts her brain responses. Nevertheless, she is two people: the interior and the exterior. For during the scene, when Stephen speaks love phrases to her, Amy’s interior feelings (which she relates to us) and thoughts are very active. Indeed, they are not about him or her love for him, but about the process of being “a subject.”
Einhorn’s having Amy speak to the audience is intriguing. Is this foreshadowing how from the outset, the scientific mapping is not only primitive, but is most probably heading in the direction of a complete disconnect? Einhorn surreptitiously sneaks in through Amy’s address/aside to the the audience (a dramatic technique with more than a typically Shakespearean purpose) that the human being is not a machine easily measurable. Nor is a human being easily controllable, manipulated, or understood. Her thoughts are unseen to Stephen, but revealed to us as she flashes back to a time when she modeled nude for art classes. This “disconnect,” is at the crux of the play and provides the action that propels it to the climax (when Amy and Stephen “scream” in recognition of their hurt and what they fear they have lost).
Increasingly, during Stephen’s experimentation of charting love, his love relationship with Amy is impacted. The observation of their love strangely changes it, recalling to mind the “observer effect” in Physics; the observation of a situation or phenomenon impacts and changes it.
Immediately, in the next segment Einhorn introduces Mark, the head of a neuromarketing firm who speaks before a “Digital Leadership Convention.” As Mark, Mick O’Brien is frighteningly believable as the narcissist with an overweening ego convinced of his own perfection and the justice of brainwashing people whom he uses for his own agenda. With clips of older TV advertisements, Mark convinces us how facile it is to manipulate consumers to buy product. Mark brilliantly persuades his audience (us) in the direction of using the expertise of his neuromarketing firm for whatever purpose, for example, selling product or something else. As Mark’s selling segments alternate with the research sessions between Amy and Stephen, the inevitable happens. Mark eventually hires Stephen for a lot of money to conduct research for his firm with the quid pro quo that Stephen can continue his research with Amy.
The delicious irony that Einhorn reveals with Mark’s characterization is that Mark “believes” that by employing visual and aural propaganda and brainwashing techniques, consumers are completely pliable and suggestive. That this is a “belief” or “theory” and not a 100% proven fact is lost on him. There is no uncertainty with him. He is convinced of the reality he creates to lure his listeners (Amy, Stephen, us) and himself.
Though Amy does not trust him initially, Stephen and she relocate to an apartment in New York City. Mark persuades Amy to use her brain scans to create art which will be shown in a gallery he co-owns with his former wife Claire (a fine performance by Yvonne Roen as the congenial art dealer who ameliorates Amy’s misgivings and suspicions about Mark). Altruism doesn’t play into Mark’s “concern” for Amy’s talent or artistry. He convinces her she is lucky meeting him and that his is an opportunity she shouldn’t refuse. When she doesn’t, of course, he profits from the exhibition of her work and insinuates himself into her relationship with Stephen. Additionally, her art and herself become a commodity to be branded and marketed. Amy and her art are objectified, but the price for this process of bringing her brain scans (soul?) into art is worth it she believes. The irony is duly noted and we are reminded that promoters and marketers control how art and people rise and fall as trending commodities.
The inevitable affair does not occur between Mark and Amy; though how this doesn’t occur is as complicated and uncertain as the wind. Stephen in the process of measuring Amy’s scans convinces himself that he sees in her scans a diminishing love response. And this he interprets to mean that she is falling out of love with him. Ultimately, there is a separation of living arrangements. With all this scientific measuring, belief, assumption, and second guesses encroach. It is a great irony of this play that the characters reveal how unobjective and unscientific they are in typical human fashion.
Despite the persuasive talents of Mark who is convinced of his own invincibility, Amy’s love is for one man only. Once more our faith is restored in what is unknowable, unscientific and spiritual (love). Amy’s art does receive an uplift; about that, as Claire suggested, Mark’s invincibility appears to be correct.
The Neurology of the Soul startles, thrills and absolutely shimmers with light. The themes Einhorn suggests are heady and profound. To what extent must we question the ethics about neuroscientific information in the employ of unscrupulous “neuromarketers” like representative Mark? If science captivates human beings’ unconscious proclivities with the intention of handing over the data to corporate entities who will then use it to brainwash social groups to consume their products, shouldn’t this be regulated? What if such data is turned over to digital companies to manipulate individuals to vote a certain way or support a certain political group over others? Isn’t this injudicious? Undemocratic? Should scientific ethics be left to scientists to self-regulate or independent panels of retired scientists? How do scientists regulate themselves to prevent abuses?
Science removed from philosophy and ethics and morality because those are quaint historic notions is a dangerous “science”. Such science is akin to its own philosophy and belief system which then could be used to justify anything. Without moral and ethical considerations, primitive neuroscience is still in its infancy. But what happens if certain emotions and consciousnesses can be mapped? As for now, the mind is unknown. Consciousness is a “hard problem.” And emotions like love, as Einhorn shows by the conclusion of his play, are beyond measure.
Einhorn’s The Neurology of the Soul is incredibly prescient and current. Think of social media’s use of memes, tropes, visuals and hot button rhetoric pegged to unconscious impulses to manipulate with disastrous results, especially when social groups are being targeted. Regulation is an imperative. But what happens when corporates and other leading social actors resist regulation for their own ends?
All of these themes and many more Einhorn sweepingly covers in this incredible and memorable work, made more exceptional with the production team’s artistry. All these listed are well shepherded by Einhorn’s direction. Kudos to Jim Boutin (Set Designer); Magnus Pind Bjerre (Video Designer); Ramona Ponce (Costume Designer); Jeff Nash (Lighting Designer); Sadah Espii Proctor (Sound Designer); Tiffany Lee (Asst. Video); Eric Mueller (Neurosales Logo) and all who contributed their efforts.
The Neurology of the Soul runs with no intermission until 2nd of March at A.R.T. (53rd between 10th and 11th). For tickets to this amazing production go to the website: Click Here.
‘The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley,’ Written/Directed by Edward Einhorn, FringeNYC Review
The FringeNYC Festival shuttered with its last production performances on 28 October: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley, Edward Einhorn’s take-off on a Bertol Brecht classic served as the festivals’ apt exclamation point. Brecht’s Resistible Rise of Umberto Ui (that Einhorn’s work parallels), satirizes Hitler’s alarming rise to power. Like Brecht Einhorn employs sardonic humor to reveal human avarice and fandom at its worst.
Divergently, Einhorn’s stylistic parody of Brecht’s work uses period music (1900-1920s), with lyrics he wrote to chronicle another incredible “rise.” Notably, the two-act hybrid musical, comedy, satire, absurdist bio-drama characterizes the American Dream, Horatio Alger “rags-to -riches” prototype. However, the prototype is turned on its head in the shape and form of one real-life JR Brinkley. JR’s misplaced ambitions destined him to millionaire stardom and fraudulent bankruptcy. Incalculably, this gentleman (who was far from one), lived and died in the American outback of the Mid-West during a period of few government regulations. Traveling the country to find a “home,” JR settled in Kansas where he thrived as a medical doctor (with no credible license or medical schooling).
Einhorn spins out Brinkley’s unbelievable adventures with a structure similar to Brecht’s. Indeed, his narrator (the fine John Blaylock), with guitar in hand, opens the play advising what events will follow. As he introduces each of the characters and advances a chronological narrative, mini-scenes unfold. In them Einhorn illustrates the key events which relate how Brinkley navigates the highbrow and lowbrow society in Kansas. Additionally, Einhorn calculates with absurdist stylistic treatment how and why Brinkley achieved success, amassed an adoring and gullible audience of followers, then debased himself in infamy.
With madcap music (on guitar, violin, clarinet, banjo, pennywhistle), the actors act, sing, and perform their characters’ foibles and fabulousnesses. The excellent Trav SD dishes up the loquacious, extroverted, con man Brinkley. His great good will fronts for an unprecedented amorality, corruption and greed. Taken alone, Brinkley’s avariciousness would have raised the suspicions of the most naive. However, through the narrator, Einhorn, with wit and whimsy reveals Brinkley’s illustrious masking qualities and manipulations.
First, as a self-proclaimed entrepreneur with an organized eye for expansion, Brinkley excels. In fact his creative promotional abilities guide him to envision every opportunity to defraud others with impunity. He develops the idea to treat erectile dysfunction and “sterility” with surgical implantations of goat glands. When the procedure works for one man (most probably through the placebo effect), he capitalizes on this unrelated “success.” With a keen sales savvy for the depression era, Brinkley like a circus barker, twists male egos against themselves. Indeed, he advertises his goat gland surgical cure to tremendous male response. Additionally, he develops a handy mail order product catalogue for a myriad of cures also using goat glands and other concoctions. All the procedures and healing tinctures prove ineffective! However, despite tragedies and deaths along the way, Brinkley becomes the doctor sensation of Kansas with his clinic and hospital.
In between songs performed by John Blaylock and the ensemble like “It’s a Lie,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” and “Brinkley, You’re the Man for Us,” Trav SD’s Brinkley hoodwinks and shills his way to the top. Cleverly, he purchases a radio station. For his programming he hires the first “country and western” type performers to soothe and entertain. In between he hawks the “success” of his “guaranteed” home remedies.
Through his propagandistic Trump-style radio infomercials, sales skyrocket. Creatively maintaining control, Brinkley produces, directs, script-writes and performs his own radio programs. Eliciting loyalty, Brinkley and his cast of actors and musicians entertain and convince with “down-home” folksy, “bless your sweet little Christian heart” cheer. And to assist he brings in his sugary wife Minnie (the equally outrageous Jenny Lee Mitchell). His crew includes the singing Blind Cowbody (John Blaylock). And when necessary, Brinkley hires many other performers (played by Craig Anderson, Julia Hoffmann). Indeed, one of them reputedly was Gene Autry who started his career with Brinkley’s radio shows.
Einhorn’s comparison to today’s rise of Trump is right on. He reveals that Brinkley, et. al., like most sociopaths, politicians, and con men, knows how to manipulate his audience. Thus, he creates his fandom and star power by tailoring his programs and products to what the folks want to see and hear, regardless of their efficacy. Ironically, the fact that supporters purchase garbage that in many instances makes them sick, poisons them or kills them, matters little. If Brinkley says it, it must be true.
Yes, Brinkley’s huckster’s soul is rotted-out with corruption. Indeed, where the fictional Horatio Alger was aspiring and noble in his pursuit of the American dream, the real-life Brinkley was of the criminal, amoral class. Einhorn’s plot development shows that Brinkley’s followers swallow Brinkley’s charlatanism whole. At the same time we gaze in horror recognizing that history repeats itself. For Brinkley could be Donald Trump’s twin, minus a few disparate, demented and desperate details.
With stylistic brio Einhorn does what he enjoys doing most. He employs absurdist, comedic mayhem to examine outrageous social and cultural behavior. We appreciate the themes (greed inspires criminality). Another theme suggests: “harming others is OK if you never get caught.” Additionally, lying suits up the fraudulent con man beautifully. For by the time the media exposes the lie, the huckster rips out 100 more. You can’t catch a liar who never admits he lies or apologizes for being “wrong.” All of these themes Einhorn crystallizes through the lens of sardonic humor, hyperbole and wit.
As Brinkley’s audacity of mendacity, trickery, and chicanery ripens to its pinnacle, so do his liabilities. Not only does he attract the attention of Morris Fishbine (Julia Hoffmann) of the American Medical Association, but the relatives of many of those who have been killed, injured, and damaged sue Brinkley for monetary awards. Eventually, Fishbein and the press expose his criminality and officials go after Brinkley. As a result, he loses his practice and his radio station.
To gain recourse and change the law in his favor, he runs for Governor of Kansas. Ironically, the current politician allowed Brinkley to practice as a fraud because he enriched politicians’ pockets and helped make the communities thrive. If not for the self-dealing of his political opponents who disqualified ballots, Brinkley would have succeeded. Though he knows how to tickle the ears of his fans to support him, his demise threatens on the horizon. Thus, he picks up his stakes and plants them in a sleepy little town in Texas. And the mansion he built there, remains on the historic register even today.
The thought-provoking The Resistible Rise of Jr Brinkley presented by Untitled Theater Company NO. 61, remains doubly potent considering that JR Brinkley’s story is a true one. Albeit, viewing human behavior in all its “glory” reminds us of our own susceptibility to liars and con artists. Certainly, JR Brinkley would not have been initially successful if males weren’t drawn in by the lure of virility. If men and women saw through him, Brinkley, like Hitler, like Trump, would have been a loser nobody. Why ordinary folks didn’t #resist them boggles the imagination, and remains a clarion call for all time.
Considering those who follow Donald Trump as if to the death, Brinkley’s fraud and political bid resonates. We need more not less regulation to protect us from those who use the US taxpayer to self-deal. And we need heavy punishments for top officials, indeed presidents, who would destroy the public good to profit themselves. Indeed, Brinkley’s rush to avoid regulation parallels the Trump presidency’s push to end regulations governing finance, environmental protection, student loan debt and much more.
Look for Einhorn’s The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley at another venue, perhaps some time in the future in NYC. It deserves a second go-round. You will heartily enjoy it!
‘The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein’ Written/Directed by Edward Einhorn
Ingenious, maverick writer Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong partner, lover, muse, editor, general manager, cook, confidante and keeper of the Stein legacy, were a magical, ex-patriot couple who lived together mostly in Paris before, during and after the two World Wars. Their amazing relationship is the scintillating focus of Edward Einhorn’s The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein presented by Untitled Theater Company No. 61 at HERE in New York City.
This production is Einhorn at his best; he directs with stylized precision leaving a flexible openness for the various portrayals of Gertrude Stein (Mia Katigbak in a forceful, pointed reckoning), Alice B.Toklas (Alyssa Simon’s sweet vulnerability and innocence is heart-breakingly beautiful), Pablo Picasso (Jan Leslie Harding is ironically magnificent as she imbues the self-important Picasso, his wife and mistress and others with edgy humor), and Ernest Hemingway (Grant Neale’s portrayals are a laugh riot; his Hemingway is hysterical, a veritable bull in a china shop). As each of the characters announce who they are pretending to be (Stein pretends to be Toklas, and Toklas Stein, etc.), we understand the confluence of identity, persona, public and private image which must be doubly so for those who become famous.
But where does the pretending lead and can it ever end? For Stein and Toklas their public lives were partial pretense governed by the culture. Their private lives still involved pretending, but it was fun and farcical; it is what brought them together as they exchanged their beings and, like water, flowed in and out of each other’s souls.
In The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, four actors play over thirty characters of artistic renown who flit in and out of Stein’s and Toklas’ salons: Ernst Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Thorton Wilder, T.S. Eliot, artists Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, George Braque, mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and composer Virgil Thompson to name a few. Each of the actors hits their mark with marvelous, in-the-moment-truth, as they shepherd these renowned personalities (demur Toklas stayed in Stein’s public shadow), into the light of consciousness. We enjoy how the actors have materialized these artistic anointed in living color before us. It is clear that each actor has invested their full personal stake in their portrayals, making for a masterwork through Einhorn’s clever direction, that will not easily be forgotten.
Einhorn has cobbled together these portrayals from the writings of Stein and Toklas (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography by Stein, Wars I Have Seen by Stein and What is Remembered by Toklas). He presents a light-hearted, whimsical, funny and yet incredibly profound examination of love, being, identity, identity cloaked in the fabric of love and marriage, and interconnected consciousness.
Einhorn’s work also encompasses the philosophical and psychological conundrums of these two women who were decades ahead of the social culture which probably helped them achieve a timelessness in their writings that resonates today. As Einhorn reveals in the first act, they are suited for one another in the hyper comings and goings of their friends whose company all enjoy together. Why wouldn’t they be married? Why not, indeed? Where one leaves off, the other begins. Love fuses their identities into one, a Biblical conceptualization despite the grossly limited, hypocritical judgment of clerics who only frame marriage via male and female gender (then, now?).
Throughout the play, despite the joyful tone and exuberance of the first act in light of the coming realities of the second, underlying cultural biases are intimated. Confined by history, Stein and Toklas can only move so far in their cultural sphere and consciousness to meld with others. Thus, even for liberal Paris, theirs is an intimate private wedding; they are joined in matrimony under the chuppah. Outside of this comforting love relationship, Catholic dogma and bias prevail. So they invite artistic friends who are loving and accepting of a consciousness-expanding event. So what if Stein’s brother Leo is appalled; (how this is framed is humorous). He is invited anyway and Stein ironically clarifies just what it is that he dislikes.
With characteristic chauvinism, Hemingway’s reaction to their lesbianism is typically macho; it is what we imagine Hemingway did say. And it is incredibly funny. Likewise, are the events of their meeting and companionship and salons, as we journey with Stein and Toklas through wedding preparations and the revolutionary event itself. Their marriage is an ebullient occasion with a hysterical love scene afterward which crowns their love on their wedding night.
But the worm does indeed turn in Act II. There is money and success and fame and more pretending, which is very real. The couple negotiate the intensity of these events with Stein in the forefront as the genius and Toklas as the handmaiden of her lover’s greatness. However, as Toklas ironically refers to the geniuses who interact with Stein, we realize it is the greatness of Toklas to be Stein’s “second.” And considering what type of ethos it takes to be “the second,” the playwright implies perhaps she is not “the second,” after all, though in public life she remains an afterthought. What is paramount are the bonds of love that tie.
The second half is also playful and farcical, however, Einhorn has the undertones converge and break the surface. In the finality of the play’s last segment, Toklas shares her heavenly dreams and the reality that followed her life after Stein dies in 1946. The play is indeed about public and private image, secret lifestyles, fear of “the other,” narrow-mindedness, paternalism, gender exclusion and so much more, that to attempt to nail down additional themes would do their infinite variety an injustice.
Nevertheless, as Alyssa Simon’s Toklas holds the stage and expresses the great difficulties she has when her life with Stein is obviated by Stein’s family, we know she will remain stalwart with her love of Stein and their relationship firmly held within her consciousness. As she relates this, Simon is breathtaking. We identify with her matter-of-fact tone but feel an immense pain that their relationship, as fertile and productive as it is, was social anathema.
Einhorn has a ball unspooling Stein’s and Toklas’ intense, intimate love as it impacts the journey of their lives to their marriage ceremony, to Stein and Toklas’ final reconciliation to live without each other when Stein leaves this plane and moves (in Toklas’ mind), to the heavenly ethers. Powerful and entrancing is Einhorn’s poignant characterization of their embracing relationship as they extend great good will toward artists of all stripes and sanctities, and extend that good will toward us with this celebration of their marriage, which finally has achieved an enlightened, whimsical and beautiful acceptance in New York, thanks to the playwright.
Kudos goes to the production team. The setting, Einhorn and his team create with clever, minimalism: one sofa, a few chairs, a white wall with hanging, empty picture frames that have a symbolic presence and impact in the last segment of the play when they are removed. The period costumes finely enhance. They reflect all the personalities and are well thought out. The costumes of the greats who drop by and share heady discourse with Stein and Toklas are humorous; they reflect the signature accessories the luminaries have become associated with. The lighting is irrevocable and finely done as Toklas stands with the shadows of their former life dissolving behind her.
That Stein and Toklas were intriguing and one-of-a-kind lovers, incited energy and thrilled their friends, the masters and geniuses of cultural creation at the time. Einhorn suggests this with nonsensical dialogue in some sections which stirs import about the identities of Toklas and Stein who have found their soul-mates and cannot live adequately without each other. When Stein moves on, Toklas must somehow manage to sparkle furtively still in the shadow of Stein’s blinding legend, unable to be fully appreciated for who and what she achieved together with Stein (until this presentation).
What is particularly engaging in the production is what Einhorn’s dialogue twits about Stein’s and Toklas’ salons, yet signifies their vitality and wild creativity. In a way they fueled a realm of consciousness, depth and artistic enlightenment that few artists can conjure up today, except perhaps in a channeling session.
Einhorn’s sumptuous dishing up of Toklas’ and Stein’s iconic world and their dynamic and inimical relationship leaves one considering. His take on these women and the “larger than life” denizens of historical, cultural fame who magnify their relationship enthralls with uncanny beauty. The artful interactions are seasoned with a dash of whimsy, a pinch of surreality, a soupcon of delight, huge scoops of humor, and handfuls of the fantastic. And for dessert we receive a measure of poignant reality which, in the midst of our enjoyment, startles, mesmerizes and settles truth into our souls. Wow!
The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein is at HERE until 28 May. This is one you won’t want to miss.
‘The Pig or Vaclav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig’ by Vaclav Havel and Vladimir Moravek in NYC
3LD Art and Technology Center and Untitled Theater Company #61’s production of The Pig or Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig by Václav Havel and Vladimír Morávek is nothing short of a work of wry genius. Edward Einhorn who adapted the play into English was instrumental in re-imagining this work for an American audience.
Wonderfully directed by Henry Akona, the production incorporates multi-media, in heightened artistic expression. The innovative and interesting forms elevate and enrich the themes culminating in an empathetic celebration of freedom. To achieve this heightened aspect, all the arts are represented: the dance, live instrumental music, stylistic cabaret songs, tweaked rock songs (i.e. “I’m Waiting for the Man” by the Velvet Underground) light opera, graffiti art video projections, closed-circuit TV, and ironic, comedic structure with a deep underlying message. The musicians/dancers/actors/artists/technicians ingeniously employ their talents in these forms to create a unique and transformative experience for the audience. United psychically, the audience and players collaborate in the jubilee. It is as if they are participating in a necessary cultural revolution, creating their own inner moments of reform for our time in our country. The production massages all the senses, even the sense of taste and smell; there is pig in a delicious langos of pulled pork, (and a vegetarian langos for those empathizing with the pig), as well as beer and sweets for the finale…touché.
In a simplistic form the plot of this musical, dance, “dinner theatre” production is that Vaclav Havel searches for the right sized fresh, live pig sourced from the local farmers so that he can invite his friends for a roast and of course, conduct at artistic salon which emblazons and uplifts the cause of independence. The problem is that Havel cannot settle with a farmer on securing the right pig. The moment he thinls he has purchased it, either the price goes up or the pig is the wrong size or another factor squelches the deal. Running simultaneously with this plot line is the one for the operetta The Bartered Bride. The bride’s marriage is uncertain because all of the details cannot be worked out. Cohering events and plots is a journalist (Katherine Boynton) who interviews the bride-to-be (Moira Stone) and her groom-to-be (Terence Stone) and Havel (Robert Honeywell) about the process of the events and action. The symbolism of seeking something that becomes unattainable is present and the journalistic news reports with scrolls on the bottom of the closed circuit TV screens are sardonically in keeping with the absurd events and mishaps and convolutions of action which, of course, are accompanied by singers, musicians and dancers. For this is a jubilee, after all, and a superlative hint at the revolution which isn’t supposed to be happening, which of course is. Indeed, the very hunt for the pig and the ill conceived matrimonials are revolutionary.
Edward Einhorn is well acquainted with Václav Havel’s works. In his collaboration with the Untitled Theater Company #61, The Havel Collection, a five-volume set of new translations of Havel’s plays, has been published. Their intimate knowledge of Havel’s work was demonstrated during their 2006 Havel festival in NYC. As a result it was not surprising when in 2010 upon request of Václav Havel, Einhorn was flown to The Czech Republic to see the premiere of The Pig or Václav Havel‘s Hunt for a Pig that was the centerpiece of a June theater festival in Brno. What Einhorn experienced while watching the production at the Brno festival gave birth to Akons’ and Einhorn’s conceptualization which four years later is appearing at 3LD in this soul-lifting, interactive, multi-media English version.
This production has been effected like Havel effected The Velvet Revolution swirling into the independence manifested by The Czech Republic. Initially, Havel wrote a humorous dialogue about how he tried to get a pig for a roast to celebrate a feast with his friends. (Is the pig metaphoric?) The sketchy 1987 dialogue appeared in an “underground” magazine; during Communism it was surreptitious photocopies of photocopies. In 2010 Vladimír Morávek rediscovered the dialogue, staged it and the idea grew and developed a life of its own in an all encompassing production.
Morávek added more characters who were then seamlessly interwoven into sections of a Czech operetta, The Bartered Bride. The operetta is a nationalistic work from the 1860s written in the Czech language; it was a groundbreaking move toward independence in defiance of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s rule over them, for the Czech language was never the language spoken. The comedic action of Havel trying to buy a pig for his roast and the plot of the folk opera of a bride who may or may not get married and be at her wedding were beautifully fused together in the Havel/Morávek production. Czech past and present were affirmed with dry humor and celebration reaffirming that the independent spirit of the Czech people can never be contained.
What Einhorn witnessed in the 2010 Czech premiere of The Pig or Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig was an amazing tribute to Czech history and the uplifting of the Czech spirit over oppression. From the Austro-Hungarian Empire, through fascism, through communism, through The Velvet Revolution (the Czech overthrow of the old regime after the Berlin Wall fell), and the eventual emergence after Havel gained the presidency to the forming of The Czech Republic, freedom was ever present. In seeking a path to define their own way out from control, the Czech people had already defined themselves. It was only a matter of going.
Though communism brutally suppressed any outward show of freedom in 1968, the spirit was roiling underneath in the cultural currents. In a slap dash seemingly random style, Havel, an artist, and others moved on a path from which there was no turning back. Havel recognized that despite domination by others, independence was the only inner path the culture knew to truthfully follow toward the light. From their seeking of it in the 1860s to their gaining it after the Berlin Wall fell, their generational energy is transparent. Anyone looking closely at their culture and ethos would know the eventuality of this demonstration of the Czech spirit coming to pass. Independence and freedom could not and would not be stopped. What is interesting to comprehend in its greatness is that it was fomented via the arts. The 3LD Art & Technology Center and the Untitled Theater Company #61 production of Václav Havel’s Hunt for The Pig underscores how the arts are paramount in fomenting independence and freedom.
By adapting the play using all the forms of artistic expression in this production, Henry Akona, Edward Einhorn and the incredibly talented production team and ensemble are not only shouting out Václav Havel’s legacy, they are reminding us of our own. They are encouraging the expression of our inner drive toward independence and self-definition through the arts, innovation and interactive media. They are hearkening us to establish and maintain a cultural and political unity between and among enlightened artists, innovators, techies, writers, dancers, musicians, singers, cabaret stylists, indeed anyone who manifests his or her expression of independence and freedom through any medium, modality or tool. As this expression grows widespread, its currents flow globally. Other global artists are inspired and renewed by the uplifting spirit winds. Reform and transformation are rebirthed again and again, and there is a renaissance of interaction which reinforces the very deepest part of the human spirit to overthrow the most trenchant, nullifying and damaging impulses of materialism soaked oppression.
Václav Havel and the Czech Republic’s inspiring revolution led predominately by artists against the Philistines, is an example for all time. By revisiting it again and again, in such works as Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig, we are encouraged not to despair of the oppressive political vicissitudes of our time. In the play by Havel and Morávek and in this production Einhorn and Akona counsel us not to accept the lies and gross injustices of a ruling political oligarchy which prizes money and profits over people’s welfare. Our history has shown that like the Czechs, Americans have been driven to achieve freedom, equity and justice. Einhorn and Akona’s production strengthens us to continue the fight against similar types of power domination that the Czechs faced and overcame. As the struggle toward overthrowing lies and hatred transformed and rebirthed us, in the past, we, with innovators and artists must continue this work in unity so additional change is achieved in an ongoing process. Ultimately, the work is in freeing each human heart through vehicles of the arts. This is a work that is never finished.
Along the way there is the jubilee and a constant reminder of the distance traveled; there is the pig roast to which we call our friends in a celebration of the past that has morphed into and melded with the present. The feast encompasses historic and ongoing revolutionary action. It represents a lifting up after tearing down the walls of hypocrisy. Each transformation brings on the next wave of action, and that wave inspires and energizes us to continue ferreting out the lies. For where there are lies, there can be no good thing for anyone, least of all those who control with lies. As Havel believed, “truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.” Only truth and love benefit the cross-cultural whole.
This is a smashing must see jubilee for the joy, the revolution, the transformation, the brilliance. It is running at the 3LD Art + Technology Center until March 29th.
The review first appeared on Blogcritics.