Vaclav Havel, respected playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia and subsequently the Czech Republic, has just published a new play – his first new work in almost 20 years. The play is called Leaving, and it features a leader of an unspecified country who steps down after many years in power. Though the play contains a few small autobiographical details, Havel insists that it is not based on his own life. He began writing the play in the 1980s, and was only reminded of it after leaving his position as president of the Czech Republic in 2003.
The play opens today, May 26th, at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and will run through June 20th. It is directed by Jiri Zizka, who grew up watching Havel’s plays in Czechoslovakia and stars David Strathairn, best known for his leading role in Good Night, and Good Luck.
Back in 2006, the Arts Initiative at Columbia University hosted Havel for a seven week residency that included a series lectures, performances, and panels centered on his life and work. During that time, Columbia students and professors explored his life and ideas – his experiences in prison during the 70s and 80s, the world-renowned plays he wrote during that time, his work as a human rights leader and revolutionary leader of both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic following the fall of the communist regime. For those Columbia students, professors and alumni who were around for the residency, this is an exciting development. Even for those who were not, it presents an interesting occasion to study his new work as compared to his plays from 20 years ago. Did Havel’s experiences as president have an impact on his play-writing?
Following his visit to Philadelphia for the premiere, Havel plans on directing a film version of the play. So if you don’t make it to Philadelphia this June, keep your eyes and years on the alert for a movie version of Leaving.
Your local Havel fan,
Rosie duPont, BC ’10