This past Sunday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, Mark Rylance’s and Louis Jenkins’s farcical, lyrical, melancholic, brilliant play “Nice Fish” had its opening night performance. Combining equal measures of Eugene Ionesco and Sherwood Anderson, “Nice Fish” is still sui generis. Alternately hilarious and doleful, the play is indisputably the yardstick by which the rest of Brooklyn’s 2016 theatrical season will be measured. Congratulations of the highest order to St. Ann’s Artistic Director Susan Feldman, Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater, which commissioned the play in 2013 and, most of all, to the American Repertory Theater, which produced it.
It would be churlish to single out any of the five cast members for praise. Suffice it to say that Rylance, Raye Birk, Kayli Carter, Bob Davis and Jim Lichtscheidl are all uniquely, and distinctively, outstanding. As are Claire Van Kampen’s direction and music, Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design and Japhy Weidman’s lighting design.
Among the guests praising the production at the after party were actors Holly Hunter, Gabriel Byrne, ex-New York Jets great and NFL color commentator John Dockery and Diane Borger, the play’s producer (who graciously gave up her aisle seat to this reporter).
After Feldman’s introductory acknowledgments, she invited Rylance to the podium. In his customarily idiosyncratic, unfailingly generous fashion, he spoke about the play’s gestation and his longstanding relationship with both St. Ann’s and the A.R.T. He also reflected on how appropriate it was that St. Ann’s is on the Brooklyn waterfront, since “Nice Fish” is set on the frozen waters of one of Minnesota’s 1,000 lakes. And he reflected on the spectral presence of Walt Whitman, both in the play and in his present surroundings. It was classic Rylance: modest, quirky, cerebral, free-associative and gracious. Let’s hope he has the chance to display these qualities to a national (and global) audience this coming Sunday at the Academy Awards…
“Nice Fish” runs through March 27 at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
An Interview with Kent Russell, Author of “I am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son” Published by Alfred Knopf
“I am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son,” Kent Russell’s irresistibly engaging debut collection of essays, intertwined with personal history, is easily one of the best books of the past year. In a uniquely homespun, yet masterfully polished voice (think Mark Twain meets Joan Didion) Russell has us from the book’s title, which is actually a quotation from Daniel Boone, whose presence and notions of masculinity set a template of sorts for the essays and reflections that follow. Mixing autobiography (in particular, the Turgenev-esque healing of wounds – or at least Mexican stand-off – between father and son) with such wide-ranging topics as a stay on a remote island with a present-day Robinson Crusoe and a visit with a former hockey enforcer looking back on his bruiser’s life, Russell merges erudite insight with highly-developed powers of observation.
Born and raised in Florida, Russell now lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. He’s become a confirmed Brooklynite.
On a frigid and overcast January afternoon, at lunch in Fort Greene’s Cafe Paulette, I begin our conversation by asking Russell how he came to live in Brooklyn.
KR: I moved to New York to go to NYU’s Graduate School of Journalism. My sisters Lauren and Karen [Note: Karen Russell is the wildly inventive and prodigiously gifted author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove] were living in Washington Heights. Because I got a job at Yeshiva University, I stayed in Washington Heights until I decided to focus on my writing and moved to Brooklyn.
Eagle: Are you part of the Brooklyn Literary Mafia: Amis, Auster, Egan, Lethem, et al.?
KR: Truthfully, no. I mean I’m certainly aware of them and I know they live in Brooklyn, but I tend to hang mostly with fellow ex-Floridians. It’s a very small diaspora. I teach a course at Columbia so, of course, I have colleagues and acquaintances on campus. And friends in Brooklyn. But my inner radar seems to always point me in the direction of folks from my home state.
Eagle: You write about, to put it mildly, some fairly eccentric people. It would have been so easy to have ridiculed them, to have hoisted them on their own petards. But you scrupously, and generously, avoid this. How did you resist the temptation?
KR: Actually, since I’m not someone who’s usually forthcoming, I feel a sense of responsibilty when writing about others. My starting point is always to ask questions. Whenever you report something — especially when it’s something about someone else’s life, about their more intimate stuff — you become like a simpering [talk show] host insofar as you want to make the subject feel as though you’re here for them only, you’re their closest confidante in the world and, oh yeah, don’t worry about the live studio audience all around us. It’s a lot like what Janet Malcolm elucidated in the first few pages of “The Journalist and the Murderer.” I don’t have a performative persona; I like to observe and just be open to the world. One of my literary heroes in that regard is Montaigne.
Eagle: Your use of metaphors (“feet slow as Christmas.” “like raised hands eager to ask a question”), adjectives (“gnatty drizzle,” “peep yellow”) and verbs (“ragdolling,” “Pollock’ed”) is truly astounding. How do you come up with these?
KR: My sister Karen and I joke about who can come up with the best adjectives. We usually run neck and neck. One source I’ve discovered for some of this stuff is a three volume dictionary of American slang. I’m always trying to top myself.
Eagle: You may have done it with “that sounds about as feasible as squeezing it off mid-pee.”
KR: (Laughing) I don’t know how I come up with some of this stuff. When you ask me me about these one-liners and bon-mots and crazy metaphors, I guess it makes me think of sword fighters. Like, I am obviously not a sword fighter, nor have I ever been one. But I imagine that the best, most fluid, most reactive and most dangerous sword fighter is the one who isn’t worried about getting hurt. You know? The one whose head is empty, who can just “flow.” That’s the state I aspire to when I’m writing.
Eagle: Growing up, were you an avid reader. And who, and what, did you read?
KR: Everyone in our family read voraciously – and eclectically. My mom would read self-help books, followed by deep, intellectual tomes, followed by pulp thrillers. Karen read so much that she would be like Mr. Magoo, walking into things with a book in her hand. She’d be reading the cereal box at breakfast. Also, every Friday our mom would take the three of us to the local Borders and tell us to pick out three books. It didn’t have to be the canon; it could be any book, by any author. Our tastes and interests were wide-ranging and I believe this enriched our writing – and our lives.
Eagle: Finally, the cover of your book is so droll and apropos. [Note: the book’s cover is a photo of Russell wearing a sandwich board with the title hand-lettered on a sandwich board.] Whose idea was it?
KR: The brains behind the cover was Peter Mendelsund. You should Google some of his other covers; you’ll see that the dude is a legit master. I was more than a little skeptical about his idea, but he seemed very sure of it, so I went with it. I knew well enough to give an artist his freedom, and to trust in his vision. Plus, he orchestrated my first (and most likely last) photo shoot!
When I was a teenager and my father realized the true extent of my passion for the movies, he gave me a slim paperback titled simply “Picture.” The author was Lillian Ross. I’d read Arthur Knight and Manny Farber and Bosley Crowther and Stanley Kaufman, and, of course, Pauline Kael. But Ross was new to me. After reading the book, which many consider the best book ever written about the making of a motion picture, I never again missed an opportunity to read anything by Lillian Ross. (Who, not incidentally, while born in Syracuse, was raised in Brooklyn.)
Now, with the publication of “Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker,” with a forward by The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, we have the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the work of Ms. Ross — and to make new discoveries. For me, without doubt, the best of these discoveries is her droll and deadpan profile of the larger-than-life Brooklynite Sidney Franklin, titled “El Unico Matador.” (Not incidentally, this was Ross’s first New Yorker profile that appeared under her own byline.)
At first glance, Franklin, born Stanley Frumpkin in 1903 into an Orthodox Jewish family that had fled Imperial Russia for America in 1888, seems too outlandish to be true. The son of an NYPD cop (who was assigned to Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct), a closeted gay man (interestingly, the Eagle, which closely chronicled Franklin’s rise, was, in the 1840s, edited by another closeted male, Walt Whitman), a student of the legendary matador Rodolfo Gaona and friends with, among others, writer Barnaby Conrad, film director Budd Boetticher and James Dean (a great aficionado of bullfighting), Franklin went on to have an improbable, extraordinary life. The deeper one gets into Ross’s article, the more one realizes what a fantastic story she is telling. (In fact, in his biography of Hemingway, with whom Franklin had a fraught friendship, A.E. Hotchner writes that “Lillian Ross’s career with The New Yorker was founded on the success of her profile of the bullfighter Sidney Franklin.”)
As Ross recounts, Franklin became a matador after running away from home to Mexico. He fought bulls in Spain, Portugal, Colombia, Panama and Mexico. In “Death in the Afternoon,” Hemingway wrote of Franklin that “[He is] brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valor but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skillful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today.”
The reader quickly realizes that Ross is captivated by Franklin; where other reporters might have been barbed and mocking, Ross gives Franklin the benefit of the doubt. Even Franklin’s own sympathetic biographer, Bart Paul, notes that “El Torero de la Torah” (as his legion of Spanish fans dubbed him) was prone to exaggeration and tall tales. Wisely, Ross lets Franklin do most of the talking: “It’s all a matter of first things first. I was destined to taste the first, and the best, on the list of walks of life … I was destined to shine. It was a matter of noblesse oblige.”
Noblesse oblige is a term that Franklin uses a lot. Once, while watching a bullfight in Mexico, he was seated next to a British psychiatrist. They had a conversation, captured by Ross, straight out of Lewis Carroll, by way of Groucho Marx:
“While a dead bull was being dragged out of the ring, Franklin turned to the psychiatrist. ‘Say, Doc, did you ever get into the immortality of the crab?’ he asked. The psychiatrist admitted that he had not, and Franklin said that nobody knew the answer to that one. He then asked the psychiatrist what kind of doctor he was. Mental and physiological, the psychiatrist said. ‘I say the brain directs everything in the body,’ Franklin said. It’s all a matter of what’s in your mind.’ ‘You’re something of a psychosomaticist,’ said the psychiatrist. ‘Nah, all I say is if you control your brain, your brain controls the whole works.’ The psychiatrist asked if the theory applied to bullfighting. ‘You’ve got something there, Doc,’ said Franklin. `Bullfighting is basic. It’s a matter of life and death. People come to see you take long chances. It’s life’s biggest gambling game. Tragedy and comedy are so close together they’re part of each other. It’s all a matter of noblesse oblige.’”
Who but Ross could have captured that? And then, with impeccable reportorial instincts, gotten out of the way? One also realizes that, in many ways, she set the template for a certain New Yorker style. (The Franklin profile was written in 1949.) The hallmarks of this style are bemusement, curiosity, meticulous attention to detail and, especially refreshing in our age of internet-fueled snark, generosity. It would have been so easy to mock Franklin; Ross never took that bait.
By email, I ask Remnick about the Franklin piece in particular and Ross’s reportorial prowess in general.
“The Sidney Franklin profile is one of my favorites. You don’t find many Brooklyn bullfighters these days. There must be something in the kale or the air or something. It doesn’t matter. What was so wonderful about Lillian’s piece, and all of her pieces, was her eye for a story and her ear for the way people tell them. She remains a master.”
Even when she is profiling (in “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?,” written in 1950) someone with as huge a target on his back as Ernest Hemingway, Ross never takes a cheap shot. From Remnick’s Introduction: “To her astonishment and Hemingway’s, some readers thought the piece was a hatchet job, a work of aggression that besmirched the reputation of a great literary artist. Which seemed ridiculous to both writer and subject. Hemingway and Ross had become close, and he went to great lengths to reassure her of their enduring friendship: ‘All are very astonished because I don’t hold anything against you who made an effort to destroy me and nearly did, they say,’ he told her. ‘I can always tell them, how can I be destroyed by a woman when she is a friend of mine and we have never even been to bed and no money has changed hands?’ His advice to her was clear: ‘Just call them the way you see them and the hell with it.’”
Ross took Hemingway’s advice, and for the past 65 years and counting, she’s never approached her craft any other way. How fortunate we are to have this new collection (which also includes profiles of Fellini, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench) — and to have this diminutive dynamo (it’s hard to get that Franklin patois out of my head) still out there with pad and pencil. Somehow, I’m sure she doesn’t use a Tablet.
Don Yule was born in Enid, Oklahoma on January, 21st, 1935 and passed away in Brooklyn, N.Y. on July 3, 2015. He was born Donnie Elton Yule to Dr. Arthur Harry Yule and Izell Warren Yule. </br>
He was a popular member of New York City Opera for more than fifty years and a talented artist. Yule was considered an essential part of the core company, participating in more than a thousand performances. He studied Music Performance at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Don Yule began his career with New York City Opera as a bass in the chorus in 1960 and later as a comprimario artist. His talent as a character actor was discernible from the start. He debuted as Gluttony in Six Characters in Search of an Author, starring Beverly Sills and the orchestra conducted by General Director Julius Rudel. Yule sang in several languages, including Italian, French and Russian. His roles also varied, from comedy to drama. He played both the drunken landlord Benoit and the thwarted lover Alcindoro, in La Boheme and the sinister jailer in Tosca. His most memorable roles were that of the emperor in Turandot and multiple parts in Candide.
While on tour with New York City Opera, Yule performed in Los Angeles; Saratoga, N.Y.; and the upper Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., as well as in countries such as Taiwan and Japan. Yule also performed in New York City Opera’s summer musicals and in Gilbert and Sullivan at the City Center of Music.(The Mikado being one of his favorite roles).
Earlier in his career, Yule performed at Town and Country Musicals in East Rochester, N.Y., where he met his first wife, Christine Chernis Brandt.
He sang with Turnau Opera in Woodstock, N.Y. and Sarasota, Fla. His roles included Colline in La Boheme and Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia. He also performed with Central City Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Don Yule was the President of the American Guild of Musical Artists for five years. It is a labor organization that represents the men and women who create America’s operatic, choral and dance heritage.
During his second marriage, to Jaye Adams, Yule resided in Brooklyn, N.Y., with their son Seth. One of Don’s hobbies was collecting and repairing antique clocks and he found a kindred spirit in Aldo Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum of America which Don visited. Don was an avid collector of music-related classical treasures. His collection included antique Victrola’s and rare operatic recordings that he loved to share with his colleagues.
Yule often donated performances with Maestro Vincent La Selva’s New York Grand Opera in Central Park, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music with The Brooklyn Philharmonic and Brooklyn’s Regina Opera Company. Many young singers from both the United States and abroad got a grounding in the American classical tradition with these wonderful companies. Yule shared his wisdom and knowledge of musical history with grateful newcomers and assisted them in establishing themselves here. Every summer he and other veteran singers enabled novices to garner their first reviews by singing with them as part of their presentations. During his long and busy career, Yule also sang in several New York City churches and synagogues.
Of interest, Yule was a third cousin on his father’s side to Mickey Rooney, whose birth name was Joe Yule.
Don Yule is survived by his son, Seth, and two former wives, Jaye Adams of Palm Beach, Fla., and Christine Chernis Brandt of Asheville, N.C.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be donated in Don Yule’s memory to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, c/o the IU Foundation, P.O Box 500, Bloomington, IN 47402.
Since 1964, when it became the second building constructed on the new Lincoln Center campus, the New York State Theater (known since November 2008 as the David H. Koch Theater) has been home to the New York City Ballet, one of the city’s, and the world’s, great cultural treasures. As one walks into the lobby, (and now that THE NUTCRACKER has begun its annual holiday season, through January 3, 2016, there will be multitudes entering) on the right wall closest to the entrance, in alphabetical order, are black and white photographs of NYCB’s principal male dancers. The first photograph is of Jared Angle, who has been a principal since November of 2005. Next to him is a photograph of his brother Tyler Angle, who has been a principal since since October of 2009. (The hierarchy in ballet is “apprentice,” “member of the corps de ballet,” “soloist,” and, finally the highest ranking attainable, “principal dancer.”) Although they are originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania, they both now reside in Brooklyn, as does a third brother Bradley. It would seem the Angles of Altoona have colonized the borough of Brooklyn.
(Interestingly. NYCB has two other sets of siblings: Megan and Robert Fairchild and Abi and Jonathan Stafford, although Robert Fairchild is on temporary leave starring in AnAmerican in Paris on Broadway and Jonathan Stafford recently retired from his principal dancer role and is now a ballet master for the company.)
Tyler, in particular, has become a diehard Brooklynite, living in Brooklyn Heights since 2012. In truth, however, his family’s Brooklyn connections goes back much further.
The Eagle spoke by telephone recently with Angle, who will be dancing a selection of performances in this season’s production of The Nutcracker.
Eagle: What drew you to live in Brooklyn?
Angle: When I first came to New York in the Fall of 2001 to study at the School of American Ballet (Note: SAB is the official school of the New York City Ballet), in order to be close to the School, I essentially lived at Lincoln Center. By 2009, when I became a principal, I wanted to put some geographic and pyschic distance between where I worked and where I lived, and because my father’s sister, my aunt Rosie, raised her family in Brooklyn, the borough was my first choice. In fact, another sister of my father’s, my aunt Shirley, also lived in Brooklyn; her husband was an NYPD beat cop. I had been visiting Brooklyn since I was ten. There was not the slightest doubt that was where I wanted to live.
Eagle: What are some of your favorite Brooklyn restaurants, cafes, activities?
Angle: My friends and I love having lunch or dinner at Jack the Horse, on Hicks. Excellent food, super great atmosphere. We also like Frankie’s, Roman’s, lots of restaurants in Williamsburg, which is where my other brother, Bradley, lives. We also like just wandering around, especially in the Heights. I really like the smaller scale, compared to Manhattan, of Brooklyn neighborhoods. And I like the way you can just be meandering and discover a plaque telling you that “Walt Whitman lived here” or Hart Crane wrote “The Bridge” on the fourth floor of this apartment. It makes these landmarks feel accessible. Afterwards, I like to go to Atlantic Avenue to buy Lebanese or Turkish food for dinner. Since purchasing the apartment, I’ve become a bit of a homebody; I enjoy cooking for friends, staying in, decompressing from rehearsal and performance.
Eagle: Although you dance the full repertoire, from Balanchine to Wheeldon, I’m always knocked out by your performance as one of the three sailors on shore leave in Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” On your profile page on the New York City Ballet website, you describe how one of your favorite aspects of this ballet is that, when it’s clicking, “the dancer is not aware of performing and the audience is not aware of watching a performance.” Is this only applicable to “Fancy Free” or do you also feel this way about other ballets you perform?
Angle: That’s a good question. Ideally, what I always strive for is naturalism over “exhibition.” For example, I remember dancing with Wendy Whelan (it was my debut dancing with her) in the pas de deux from “Diamonds,” and experiencing that same sensation, being totally olivious of the audience. That is such a rare feeling and one that every dancer strives for. Both “Fancy Free” and Jerry’s (choreographer Jerome Robbins) “In the Night” permit that transcendence to happen. With “Fancy Free” there are many other elements at work as well. My grandfather joined the Navy when he was 17 and fought in World War II. Talking with him about his experiences informed my approach to the ballet. Also, the first time I did “Fancy Free” I was still a very young dancer working with two seasoned veterans. Now I have the great fortune to dance with my contemporaries and this heightens the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps. The ballet is wrapped up in all these memories, so, as I said on the website, it remains very special and significant for me.
Eagle: Six years ago, in an interview with Claudia LaRocco of The New York Times, you mentioned that, at your career’s end, you had no ambition to found your own company or to become a choreographer. Has your thinking changed? And have you thought about what you would like to do?
Angle: My thinking hasn’t changed about not wanting to run a company or to choreograph, but I also know I don’t want to reach 35 and think “What am I going to do next?” I want to be prepared for the “next.” For the past four years, during the summer, after the company’s residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, I’ve been the artistic director of the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival. There are lectures, dance recitals, children’s classes. We’ve attracted prominent dancers from American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Miami City Ballet. We don’t have a big gala or benefit; it’s all very local and low-key – we perform in the Mary Walker Auditorium at Nantucket High School. What the Festival is all about is the concentration, discipline and diligence that ballet demands. This is the kind of career path I see for myself after my professional dancing comes to an end.
Watching Angle dance, exquisitely, the role of the Cavalier at last night’s performance of The Nutcracker, one hopes he puts off that decision until he’s eligible for AARP membership.
The Nutcracker continues its run at the David H. Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center Through Sunday, January 3rd. Tickets available at www.nycballet.com
On Feb. 21, 1948, at the Brooklyn Little Theater on Hanson Place, a production of “Therese,” adapted from Emile Zola’s 1867 novel “Thérèse Raquin,” opened for a limited run. It was a brave move for the Little Theater; the premiere of this adaption had occurred three years before in 1945 at the Biltmore Theater on Broadway. Starring the grande dame of the American stage, Eva LeGalliene, as Therese; Victor Jory as Laurent, her lover and partner in murder; and Dame May Whitty (well-known to American film audiences for playing Miss Froy in Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” and Lady Beldon in William Wyler’s “Mrs. Miniver”) as the formidable Madame Raquin, the play was not well received, both critically and commercially.
Now, a new adaptation by the esteemed English playwright Helen Edmundson, starring Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut, has opened at Studio 54. In the interim between the Brooklyn Little Theater production and this new adaptation, there have been many other “Thérèse Raquin” incarnations, including a 2001 Broadway musical called “Thou Shalt Not,” with a score by Harry Connick Jr.; a 2007 production by Quantum Theater in Pittsburgh, staged in an empty swimming pool; and “The Artificial Jungle,” a 1987 reimagining of the Zola work as a James M. Cain novel by the enfant terrible of Off-Broadway, Charles Ludlum.
Edmundson’s prodigiously impressive credits include stage adaptations of “Orestes,” “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Life is a Dream” and “Mephisto.” In addition, Edmundson has written many acclaimed original plays, among them “The Clearing,” “Coram Boy” and “Mother Teresa is Dead.” Earlier this year, she was the recipient of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Drama. In announcing the award, the Selection Committee celebrated her “[A]mbitious plays [that] distill historical complexities through characters whose passions and ethical dilemmas mirror and illuminate a larger political landscape.”
Recently the Eagle spoke by telephone with Edmundson from her home outside London:
Brooklyn Eagle: What was your greatest challenge in adapting a novel written in 1867 and making it relevant for a contemporary audience?
Helen Edmundson: Whenever I think about adapting something, I first ask myself if the play will still resonate today. Aside from whatever period the play is set in, the ideas in it must be able to leap through time. “Thérèse Raquin” is a study in guilt and the consequences of what happens when we give in to our primal, animal instincts. That is a timeless theme.
BE: Because so much of Zola’s novel portrays the characters’ hidden passions and interior thoughts, how did you handle the challenge of dramatizing these emotions?
HE: There is quite a lot of repetition in the novel, indecision, repressed emotions. In a play, everything has to keep progressing. So, it was important for me to keep things moving, almost inexorably. So much of this production is steeped in the characters’ physicality. For example, the sequence where Therese, Camille and Laurent go to walk by the river. Zola has pages and pages of description. In my adaptation, I wrote physical directions for the actors. The actual look of the scene — the river, the embankment — I left up to Evan [Cabnet], the play’s director, and Beowulf [Boritt], the set designer. When I write my plays, I don’t devote a lot of attention to the sets. In fact, sometimes the plays, as I’ve written them, are set in bare, empty spaces.
BE: In watching the play, I was struck by its modernity. Parallels with such examples of roman noir as “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Rings Twice,” were inescapable. Do you feel that “the affinity of blood and lust” that Zola refers to in the novel is a universal and timeless theme?
HE: We spend much of our lives controlling our instincts, struggling with the contradictions of societal restraints and human desires, dealing with conflicting forces and emotions. This struggle knows no boundaries of time, place [and] nationality. People have, and always will, wrestle with these strong, elemental forces.
BE: You certainly don’t seem at all intimidated about stepping into the ring with the heavyweights: you’ve written adaptations of Euripedes, Tolstoy and George Eliot. Audacious, brave choices. What makes you so fearless?
HE: No matter how large the canvas — and I like large canvases — at the core, I have to always feel that I can take the essence of the work and run with it. As monumental as the setting may be, it’s always the ideas that I pursue and want to depict. Ideas as embodied by character. That is my way in, whether it’s “Orestes” or “War and Peace” or “The Mill on the Floss.”
BE: Finally, were you ever tempted to have an animatronic version of Francois? [Note: Francois is Madame Raquin’s black cat, who, in the novel, bears mute witness to Therese and Laurent’s passions.] Or to recreate Laurent’s fear of Camille’s portrait?
HE: (Laughing) I have to be realistic about what things are possible on the stage. It would have been extremely difficult to have had a cat, whether real or animatronic, without having the audience giggle. As for Camille’s portrait terrifying Laurent, I left it out because I wanted to strictly follow Therese’s story. She is the fulcrum of the play; Camille, Laurent, Madame Raquin, all rotate around her. It is her story.
Marking the centennial of Ingrid Bergman’s birth, her daughter Isabella Rossellini will perform a theatrical tribute to one of the 20th century’s most iconic actresses. The event will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m.
Originally presented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (where towering images of Bergman, the official “muse” of the festival, dominated the Croisette), the staging incorporates Rossellini’s own memories of her mother, plus interviews, unpublished letters, personal film footage and previously unreleased video clips and images from Bergman’s private archive. Accompanying Rossellini will be actor Jeremy Irons, in what promises to be an unforgettable evening.
In anticipation of the event, the Eagle recently spoke with Rossellini by telephone.
BROOKLYN EAGLE: How far in advance did all of this start coming together?
ISABELLA ROSSELLINI: Originally about four years ago, then much of the co-ordination of materials about two years ago. It involved so much archival material that required film rights,
legal issues. There were many studios involved. My mother worked in Hollywood, of course, but there were many independent production companies and European studios as well, from which we needed approval for certain archives.
BE: How did Jeremy Irons become involved?
IR: The tribute at BAM will involve readings of excerpts from my mother’s autobiography, newsreels, visuals that require voice over, and there are many voices participating. But you asked about Jeremy. And, thank God, first and foremost, he was available. And I was looking for the right “lead voice” — one that uses impeccable English but has a definite European accent and timbre. How could one do better than Jeremy for that?
BE: What do you think accounts for the “emotional transparency” of your mother’s performance style? What qualities did your mother have that made her so believable, that made her such a consummate actress in such a wide range of roles, from Ilsa Lund, Alicia Huberman to Sister Mary Benedict?
IR: My mother worked in five languages. Her Swedish and German were impeccable, of course, and she spoke French well enough to perform it on stage. Her English and Italian had an accent. But through any language she used, I think, rang a genuine, heart-felt honesty about the role she accepted. (We all believe that great line about truth and beauty, right?)
BE: How did your mother’s archive come to reside at Wesleyan?
IR: The film department at Wesleyan has one of the most comprehensive paper archives revolving around film — the posters, scripts, letters, contracts, etc. My first husband, Martin Scorsese, was very passionate about film preservation and had a connection to Wesleyan. He helped organize my mother’s collection, which was extensive. The effort was also helped greatly by Professor [Jeanine] Bassinger, who is the Corwin Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan.
BE: Do you find that younger film audiences don’t really know the breadth and range of your mother’s work? Is one of the goals of this film series and the BAM tribute to introduce your mother’s work to this audience?
IR: Yes, in a word. But remember that in Europe younger film fans are being exposed to her work through film schools and festivals, which always include the many movies she made there. I would guess that younger audiences know her [better] there than here. Time and history have a funny way of rewarding quality, even if not recognized when the film is first released. I am thankful that the quality of my mother’s work in so many independent productions is seen in film schools and festivals.
BE: With your mother’s fluency in so many languages, do you think she could more easily adapt to global film-making, which has become, with so many co-productions, the norm? What current film directors do you think she would want to work with today?
IR: That’s a hard one — naming names? I would not presume. Let me just say I believe she would have flourished in today’s world. Remember that film is a universal art form. We certainly have technology and ability to add translations to the words. But let’s not forget that silent film, before they had to worry about words, was even more universal. No matter how many languages my mother spoke, I think she understood the language of images even more.
BE: Finally, let’s end on a light note: Have you seen the brief homage to your mother in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?”
IR: Yes, I saw it. And I met the Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays the spy named Ilsa Faust in that movie. At a European film festival there was a screening of a documentary about my mother, “Ingrid In Her Own Words.” Rebecca was there. We met and had a delightful discussion about that little homage in “Mission Impossible”…I thought it was wonderful that she, and the director Christopher McQuarrie, used that in the movie.
BE: Thanks so much for your time, and your Brooklyn fans will pour forth to see you at BAM.
Through Oct. 4, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is presenting the Barbican production of poet Anne Carson’s new, colloquial translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” starring Oscar Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche and directed by Ivo van Hove (who is also directing two major Broadway revivals this season, “A View from the Bridge” and “The Crucible.”) The play is presented in association with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam and co-produced by Theatre de la Ville, Paris, Reclinghausen, Germany and the Edinburgh International Festival. With this illustrious pedigree, Antigone is one of the highlights of this season’s Next Wave Festival at BAM.
Since her electrifying breakthrough role in 1985 in Andre Techine’s “Rendez-vous,” followed three years later by her first English language performance in Phil Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Binoche has gone on to make an astounding 42 movies, including such noteworthy films as Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, trumping the odds-on favorite Lauren Bacall), Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Blue, White & Red” trilogy, Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat,” Michael Haneke’s “Cache,”Olivier Assayas’s “Summer Hours”and last year’s “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” also directed by Assayas. He has said of Binoche “Hunger and passion are her defining traits … [she] is honest, straightforward, trusting and naive. Once she decides to give, she gives all the way.”
If ever there was a role that demands that commitment it is Antigone. As politically and emotionally urgent today as when it was first produced in 441 BC, the play posits the ultimate existential question: loyalty to state or to family?
By telephone, the Brooklyn Eagle started by asking Binoche about the special challenges of performing a Greek tragedy for a modern audience — and why she decided to take on this challenge.
Juliette Binoche: What Greek tragedies give us are myths, and myths are timeless. They are not just stories. They are towering works about transformation. They reflect a tradition that is beyond time. They ask eternal questions. For me, to do “Antigone” is an awakening, a journey. I hope the audience joins me on this journey.
Brooklyn Eagle: You return frequently to the stage in the midst of your busy film schedule. Do you find working in the theatre revitalizes you?
JB: Because my real roots are in the theater — both of my parents were involved with theater — I feel like when I return to the stage I’m returning home. My original goal was to be a theater actor. My film career just sort of happened spontaneously. I enjoy the challenges and satisfactions of both and I feel lucky to have that freedom to go back and forth between stage and film.
BE: Finally, it seems like you are always working — touring in Antigone, filming “Slack Bay” and “Polina,” recently completing the films “The Wait,” “Nobody Wants the Night” and “The 33.” When do you come up for air? Do you allow yourself some down time for family, friends, just sitting in a comfortable chair, reading a good book?
JB: My pleasure is to work. It is a source of constant joy. My kids, who are grown up now, come to see my work. My choice is, and always has been, to dedicate myself to telling stories. We need these stories to learn about ourselves. And then we take what we learn into our real lives. It’s a sort of circle.