Directed by Scott Kaiser
“Even in Arcadia, there am I!”
Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia stubbornly defies categorization. Though much of the story takes place in Sidley Park, a grand estate in Derbyshire, England in 1809, it is not primarily a period drama. Though half of the action takes place in the present day, it is not strictly a contemporary drama. Though the script offers an abundant supply of amusing lines and humorous moments, it is not, essentially, a comedy. While Stoppard pokes fun at aristocrats and academics, it is not a satire. While the overlapping comings and goings of the characters take place in a single room with multiple doors, it is not a farce. While many historical figures influence events in the story–Lord Byron, Issac Newton, Pierre De Fermat, Salvator Rosa, and Napoleon, to name a few– it is not a historical drama. While the play is populated with many wealthy, highly educated people, it is not a comedy of manners. While death hangs over the story it is not a tragedy. How, then, are we to watch this play?
Perhaps the best way to view Arcadia is as a mystery. For every character in the play searches obsessively for the answers to a gnawing questions that stubbornly eludes them. Thomasina Coverly, the brilliant 13-year-old daughter of the Earl of Croom, for example, seeks to find the fatal flaw in Sir Issac Newton’s deterministic view of the universe. Valentine Coverly, the Oxford postgraduate student of biology, searches for meaning in the rise and fall of grouse population on the estate. Academic scholar Bernard Nightingale strives to uncover the truth of Lord Byron’s affairs in the hours during a brief visit from neighboring Newstead. And independent author Hannah Jarvis hopes to discover the identity of the famed Sidley Park hermit, and the root cause of his insanity.
These passionate pursuits draw our characters into a journey of discovery that leads each of them to greater understanding. And yet, in the play, as in life, a mystery solved–a closed door that suddenly cracks open–leads only to additional mysteries hiding behind more closed doors.
And this, perhaps, is Stoppard’s point: for as Hannah says, “It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.”
Landscape of the Body
By John Guare
Directed by Jean Sidden
1977 seems like the”olden days” now. As far as New York City is concerned it was the time of a summer blackout that lasted more than 24 hours, break dancing in the streets, sidewalks filled with the homeless, all accompanied by a soundtrack of disco and punk. The city had nearly gone bankrupt in 1975 and services were cut to save money. Crime rose as the NYPD picked and chose which cases to investigate and which to cross off. Garbage rose like small mountains on the curb. The clean-of of Times Square and 42nd Street and the gentrification of the boroughs were years in the future. But still people came, from all over the country, to “be apart of it; New York, New York.”
At some point in the last half of the twentieth century we became afraid of our children. It was pushed along by a combined notion rock and roll, the generation gap and the counter culture being threats to the American way of life. The fear was sustained as parenting became the job of a single person, more often than not, a mother, who left home each day to work – believing that if she hung on long enough and did what she had to do or what she could, she might someday “make it.” The fear was nurtured by a sensationalist media, often plugged in as nanny, for children home alone.
John Guare wrote Landscape of the Body after overhearing a group of adolescents in a Now York diner bragging about their racket stealing watches. He couldn’t hear them very well and so returned home and started writing, imagining their conversation; imagining their backgrounds, their parents and their parents’ backgrounds. Where had the flawed single mother of the leader-of-the-pack come from? How had she lost the connection to her son? Who was her family? Alone in the teeming humanity of New York how did she survive? Is survival everything it’s cracked up to be? Does a girl need supernatural intervention to tell what’s real or not?
Guare examines our vulnerability to an American mythology that bombards us from the endless cacophony of pop culture. In the Chaos of our most mythic city of broken dream – New York – he pits an impressionable country mouse against an environment where the masters of disguise talk fast and fancy. Eventually she also learns the art of disguise and in that transformation is forced to take a sharp detour on the road to the American Dream.
Ecstasy: A Water Fable
by Denmo Ibrahim
Directed by Michael Najjar
Stories are written in water, spells are cast through washing, and to drink either creates your life or rips it from you. In this dangerous water world, three uniquely lost characters struggle to remember, and pray to forget. A man devotes his life’s work to a tragically simple task. A young woman is haunted by past images not her own. And an elder, submerged in a flood of old pictures, fights to remember a story that slowly seduces her into it. Inspired by 9th century Sufi fable, “When the Waters Were Changed,” Visceral, physical storytelling at its best. Featuring live music by AMERICANISTAN.
“We were brought into this world in order to realize who we are and, having discovered that reality, to live accordingly while on earth…To be human in the full sense is to be able to realize the Truth and become fully immersed in its light.”—Seyyed Hossein Nasr
I chose to direct Ecstasy: A Water Fable because it was one of the most poetic, beautiful, and non-linear scripts I had read in years. Ibrahim’s play, based on the Sufi tale “When the Waters Were Changed,” introduces us to a triptych of characters separated by time and space, but who are all deeply interconnected. These three stories include the Pipeman and his community, Picture Lady, Mona and her lover Jack/John. In the preface for the play, Ibrahim writes, “This story is a search into origin—into the original.” This theme ties directly into the Sufi notion of humanity’s desire for re-connection with the source of universal divine love often called “the Beloved.” Sufi scholar Ali Jihad Racy writes about the concept of “cosmic unity” or “divine love” in Sufism: “The human soul, which derives from the Divine Source, may yearn to return to, or to relive, prior experiences of its place of origin.”2 All three of the major characters in Ecstasy: A Water Fable wish to return to, or to relive, their experiences with their own origins. For Pipeman, it is to reconnect with God; for Picture Lady, it is a reconnection with her daughter; for Mona, it is a reconnection with her family and traditions. In each story we see reflections of ourselves and our yearning for connection, be it spiritual, filial, romantic, or internal. The play takes us on a journey in search of that invaluable something that we’ve all lost along the way in our lives.
Each of the characters is exiled either by choice or by circumstances. Pipeman refuses to drink the waters that have changed, and in doing so he becomes an outcast. Picture Lady refuses to live a traditional life and, by doing so, is left alone in her world of pictures and memories. She tells us, “I am the last living person of my family. The only one left who still remembers.” Mona is an outcast in her own life—she doesn’t even go by her birth name Nourhan (“light of the sun”). Instead, she opts for the name Mona because “it’s easier to say.” She, like many biculturals living today, opts to assimilate and “pass” rather than cling to her traditions. By doing so, she is tortured by her disconnection with everything she’s known. This manifests itself in her insomnia, her disconnection with Jack/John, and the loss of her child.
These three characters are desperately trying to re-member their lives through pictures, prayer, and love. Ibrahim writes about this remembrance:
We can see remnants of it in how we walk, or the way we dress, even in the types of lovers we are drawn to. We can even see it in the face of our parents. When you look openly into their face, can you see the flickering image of your great grandparents? In the brilliance of my mothers’ eyes I have seen the aspirations, haunts, and the secrets of my ancestors. We always have access to the original face, the fundamental story, the heart of what connects us all.
Another way this remembrance occurs is through music and song. In the Sufi tradition music, lyrics, and dance are catalysts for the ecstasy that is associated with spiritual yearning.3 The musicians play in order to place a dancer into a trance, so they may achieve a state of spiritual transcendence. Accordingly, music and voice are vital parts of this production. Picture Lady tells us, “Terrible to lose your birthsong. They say you wander through all eternity aimless, hungry, and lost.” The play asks us to remember our own personal birth-songs—those songs that comfort us, define us, and guide us back home when we are adrift. Ibrahim asks us:
Where do you come from? What do you remember? Is that your story or theirs? How can you ever really tell? We have been preceded by a great lineage of teachers who love us. They have not forgotten us even if we have forgotten them.
As you watch this performance, we ask that you join us in this search of remembrance. We ask that you give yourself over to the music, the text, the song, and the experience. If you are given an offering, we ask that you accept it. Trust that we, like you, are souls on a long journey to find that place of origin, that place where we can once again become one with our own Beloved—whatever or whomever that may be.
1 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition. New York: Harper One, 2007, 11.
2 Racy, Ali Jihad, “Path to the Divine: Music in the Sufi Experience” in Religion as Art: Guadalupe, Orishas, and Sufi, ed. by Steven Loza. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 215.
3 Ibid, 216.
Directed by John Schmor
How do we “grow up?” We’re raised to believe in thresholds, “rites of passage,” and the tired mythologies of “perfect youth” and “lost innocence.” We live in this society with odd markers sometimes oddly legislated for “adulthood.” People my age can remember a time when it was law that you were old enough to die in battle for your country, but not old enough to vote in an election for the old men who were sending you. The boundary between “young” and “old” is vague, yet the demarcation between “too young” and “old enough” in many contemporary societies has become a matter of law. These demarcations are made largely for safety’s sake, but I think they can distract from other truths – especially how we also live among the layers as we grow. As we grow older we learn childhood doesn’t completely yield to adulthood. To this day, some four-year-old part of me still finds the snapdragon magical.
Wedekind’s original play (written in 1891) is still a play that can make some people uncomfortable, maybe because it revisits “adolescence” with no illusions about lost innocence or full maturity. It proposes “growing up” is an inevitable and dangerous mixture of individuation and culture restriction, conformity in confusion with resistance. In Wedekind’s play, adolescence seems to be both innocent and already corrupt, a terrifying and exciting blind departure, with no promise of arrival. This musical version is about such things, threaded with symbolist songs of yearning, anger, bafflement, dreams, whilst resistance awkwardly, sometimes tragically, yields to the real.
I admire how this musical both updates and remains faithful to Wedekind’s original – a lot has changed since 1891 – but it seems it’s also true an awful lot has not. I hope you can enjoy tonight’s performances for its beautiful array of intentional provocations and poetic longings, its truthful mix of challenge and dream. I hope our production offers you a chance to revisit the way you yourself transitioned from spring to summer in your own growing, not knowing how or tending where, and maybe still sifting through the layers of what was left behind.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Directed byLa Donna Forsgren
“Rubbish is treasure here in Wonderland.”
–Tweedledee, Through the Looking-Glass (1871)
To the Young:
Welcome to the Hope Theatre! If you have never been to the theatre before, here are three things you should know. Feel free to:
- Clap when you want.
- Laugh when something funny happens.
- Dance along if you like the music.
The Young at Heart:
Before moving to Oregon when I was ten-years-old, I lived in an economically depressed community in Youngstown, Ohio. With ten little girls to feed, purchasing traditional toys ranked rather low on my mother’s list of priorities. Growing up poor taught my sisters and I how to make something wonderful out of everyday items. On any given day my bedroom could transform into an enchanted forest with a few strategically placed blankets, an ice skating rink using empty shoe boxes for skates, or a schoolroom by using a rock for chalk and the back of a dresser as a chalkboard. As adults, it’s easy to forget the magic of childhood and the power of make-believe. The stress of deadlines, paying bills, work obligations, ect. Often blind us to the wonders that surround us.
My own children help me remember the simple delights of childhood. They educate me on the merits of Minecraft, challenge me to justify why it is important to change underwear daily, and remind me of what really matters in life. It is my hope that for the next ninety minutes you will also remember the simple delights of childhood as you delve inside the minds of siblings Derek and Allie as they recreate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to suit their own modern sensibilities. Enjoy the show!
-La Donna Forsgren