A few months ago I went to see the Threepenny Opera at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. It’s a “play with songs” based on Brecht’s opera, which is already an adaptation of a German text called “The Beggar’s Opera”. It was re-translated by playwright Simon Stephens and directed by Rupert Norris. The National Theatre was founded by Laurence Olivier and is a prominent fixture in London’s theater scene, which is why, I presume, they were able to curate such a visually stunning production. Even though they had a lot of “DIY-esque”, meta-theatrical qualities (such as putting a small stage on the stage for the opening, expositionary number), everything appeared carefully selected, and, as the play progressed grander and grander (they dropped a giant tapestry with St. George’s Cross on it towards the end). I personally was not familiar with any iteration of the story so it was quite easy to get lost in it, however, the production volume and value made the feel of the piece very clear (albeit somewhat superimposed). I think it was similar to modern Shakespeare productions, where the audience is not expected to understand the words but the meaning (Rory Kinnear, who played Macheath and James D’Arcy who played Tiger were both familiar to me from various Shakespeare productions). However, the contemporary diction of Stephens’ adaptation made the feel of the piece seem at odds with the dialogue; the purposeful anachronism of modern word vs period dress (this production was set in 1920’s London) was overshadowed by the director’s intention of pointing out how much now (politically, socially) is exactly like then. Which, to be fair, in many ways it is but it would have been equally clear without being overexposed.
It was, however, very funny and well executed, as well as, as I said before, really beautiful. They had a very and truly diverse cast which included not only actors of color but also of various ages and abilities. My favorite moment was when, after Macheath mocked one of his henchmen by imitating the actor’s cerebral palsy, the henchmen got back at him by refusing to help him out of a life threatening bind.
I think that a part of the reason that I had a hard time fully liking the piece, which is by all accounts well done, is that the production was very Anglocentric (cf. the giant St George flag) which is expected from London’s NATIONAL, but it was very raw and close to home not only in a post-Brexit, but also in a (then) pre-election America.
On Sunday the 13th I went to see some shorts in the Boston Turkish Festival’s Documentary & Short Film competition. I did not know until they showed an informational documentary after the shorts that these films were made by high school and university students in Turkey. The prize was a scholarship to study film at a program in one of the SUNY schools. I found that this documentary was actually most revealing, because it showed not only the process of selecting the competitors but them filming as well as interviews with them where they got quite open about their opinions on their country and the world. It was interesting to see how they got to the conclusion of making that particular short, showcasing that part of their country.
The movies were very different, some more interpretive than others – such as Sarı Buzdolabı (The Yellow Fridge) which featured a dream sequence. The Spider’s Web (Une toile d’arraignée) took place entirely in France, but was about a Turkish family (and how they defined their identity in emigration).
My personal favorite short was Tuesday (Sali), directed by Ziya Demirel. It is about a high school girl’s day, from walking to the bus stop to walking from it after school. The climax of the movie was towards the end, when she is on the crowded bus home and an old man asks to lean on her so he does not fall. She initially agrees, but the scene is shot through the mass of people on the bus so it’s unclear what is actually happening, but she finally gets very uncomfortable and asks him to let go of her. There is immediate and full scale upheaval in the crowded, contained space of the bus that only stops once the driver lets her slip out by letting her off at a traffic light. She then walks up the street she walked down in the opening sequence of the film and, in her anger, bangs on the hood of a man sleeping in his car (when she was there previously, she only made a face at him). The film cuts after he chases her around the car and she finally runs away. It was a really powerful symbol of a loss of innocence, as well as a society where people often assume women are expected to be and/or be treated a certain way and where they clearly are not (most of the people on the bus jump to her defense, she plays basketball with the boys in gym class). Overall I really liked the strong portrayal of women in the story (the mom in The Yellow Fridge, although presented totally differently, is also a powerful example). Partially, as I learned in the documentary, is because they chose many female students to write, direct and produce these shorts, and they all spoke in their interviews about how, although they were passionate about film making, this is the first opportunity they actually got to do it (and that is far from being exclusive to Turkey).
It was a really interesting few hours and I know that there are many more events as a part of the Boston Turkish Festival so I would really recommend attending one.