According to its website, BAM’s Next Wave Festival seeks to “[showcase] work by emerging artists and innovative modern masters.” Having seen two productions of this season’s festival so far, I must say that BAM is achieving this purpose and more. BAM is presenting engaging, thrilling, and thought-provoking work. The plays I have seen have offered up a true theatrical experience that have stuck with me long after the final bow.
The first play I saw at Next Wave 2011 was Robert Wilson’s production of The Threepenny Opera with the world famous Berliner Ensemble. Probably the hottest ticket of BAM’s season, this would qualify as one of the shows that involves a “modern master.” Not only is the production under the helm of one of the most famous living theatre directors in the world, it also features the Berliner Ensemble, who have not performed in the United States in years. Berliner Ensemble taking on The Threepenny Opera is also a special event to witness, as the revolutionary playwright who penned the play, Bertolt Brecht, was also the founder of the Ensemble back in 1949. The ensemble seeks to perform political plays and is well seasoned at performing their famous founder’s work.
To simply experience this fantastic event was a thrill, though Wilson’s interpretation was not without its flaws. His visual style is unique and enthralling; each and every stage picture he creates is an absolute work of art. That said, Wilson likes to draw out and slow down moments and actions in his work to an extreme degree. This stylistic decision came in the way of the play at times though, which was quite frustrating. The three-act play also only one intermission, in between its second and third act. The two act and thus over two hour first segment seemed to drag even though all of the things happening on stage were compelling and beautiful; many audience members decided to leave at intermission. This was unfortunate too, because the second segment (the third act) was much shorter and exciting the whole way through. All of these flaws could not dampen what was likely a once in a life time experience for me though, seeing a master helm a production with master actors attuned particularly to do the work of the playwright they were performing. The show dragged at moments, but when I walked away after the three hours I spent at least another three that night thinking and talking about it.
The next play I saw fell on the other side of the festivals goals; it showcased a new play from Kuwait written and directed by playwright, Sulayman Al-Bassam. I had no idea of what to expect from this play and, having seen Threepenny just the day before, I was sort of dreading traveling down to Brooklyn to see yet another subtitled production. I am so glad I made the trek. The play, The Speaker’s Progress, was one of the most exciting plays I have seen in New York this year. An adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, it calls to attention the relationship of art and censorship in the Middle East. The dark comedy offers up some truly laugh inducing scenarios, as well as dark, thought-provoking commentary. In the end I actually enjoyed this experience even better than Threepenny. (I must note that I was sitting in the balcony for The Speaker’s Progress, while I was on the side in the orchestra for The Threepenny Opera. I would highly recommend the balcony for supertitled productions as it allows you to take in the words and the action taking place on the stage much more easily without having to look back and forth between them.)
If anything, the festival reminds you that art always offers up a once in a lifetime experience, whether you are seeing seasoned artists or fresh new talent. While I have not seen any of the dance or visual arts work BAM is featuring as part of the Next Wave Festival, I would encourage Columbia students to check out any of the material from it that interests them. Both of my trips to BAM were completely worth the travel time.
Tickets for Cries and Whispers, part of the Next Wave Festival, are still available from the TIC for just $30. The performance is tomorrow night, Oct. 29 at 7:30 PM.
– Cody Holliday Haefner, CC’12