It is Friday November 8, one week before the premiere of Protest, the team’s first rehearsal at Flashpoint Theatre. The set is ready. Audience members will be up for a surprise, as their seats scattered around small round tables are now part of the stage transformed into an intimate cafe. Two small platforms, one on each side of the cafe, are designated as stage spaces for actors only. They mirror each other, each furnished in the likeness of Stanek’s home study – writing tables with old-fashioned typewriters, crystal brandy carafes and glasses, magnolias in vases – cozy and affluent. Set designer, Jonathan Rushbrook is in attendance to make any necessary adjustments, if needed. So is Zachary Dalton, lighting Designer and Jim Vincent, Stage Manager.
Following warm up exercises with the actors, Director, Gail Hump
hries Mardirosian starts the rehearsal. Beautiful music, written especially for the production by Jerzy Sapieyevski, opens the performance. It has become an intrinsic part of how the story of Protest is told, giving it additional expression and force. Ivan Zizek (Stanek) and his double Hanna Bondarewska (Stankova) enter and each walks towards their stage. Michael Crowley (Ferdinand Vanek) and his alter ego, Sissel Bakken (Ferdinanda Vankova) enter shortly after. And so the extraordinary performance begins.
In the break, I asked the Director about her thinking behind the innovative idea to introduce female counterparts for Stanek and Vanek. Gail Humphries explained that her concept originated in a feminist perspective which called for introduction of female presence to balance out the all male energy. She also wanted to provide alter egos for Vanek and Stanek and thus making the characters more rounded and powerful, and through this to increase the impact of Havel’s ‘voice’. Gail added that there was an additional advantage in her approach that would benefit the audience. The play’s complex and at times condensed text gets to be broken down and repeated which makes it more accommodating for the spectators.
I mentioned to Ms Humphries that her concept whilst fascinating and bold seemed to be very challenging, especially for the actors. Watching the rehearsed performance reminded me of a carefully crocheted ornamental piece of silk throw, which demanded perfect smoothness as even a slightest irregularity would spoil its beauty. Gail concurred and compared her version of Protest to a musical piece which cannot afford even single bad harmony and agrees that it was a demanding and at the same time searching experience for the actors.
Watching part two of the rehearsal I am in awe of the originality and force of the performance with female actresses mirroring and occasionally challenging the males, lines being echoed, actors moving across the stage, swapping partners as if in a dance. The actors, directed by Ms Humphries, are going through the lines, repeating if necessary; adjusting tones and phrases; perfecting synchronicity, eye contact, pauses and movements – witnessing all this makes me understand how difficult the parts are to master. The rehearsal indeed resembles a piece of a wonderful and very elaborate work, which despite of being almost completed, still requires final adjustments before achieving perfection.
I cannot wait to see this original and powerful piece of theatre in all of its perfect harmony and encourage all of you to come and see it!
Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint
916 G Street NW, Washington DC
WHEN: November 19 – December 15, 2013
November 19, 2013 Preview at 8 pm
No performances during the week of Thanksgiving: Nov. 27 – 30
Opening November 20, 2013 at 8 pm
Press Night: Saturday Nov. 23 at 8:00 pm
Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Matinees: Saturday and Sundays at 2:00 pm
TICKETS: $20 – $40
On line: http://www.aticc.org/home/box-office
For mature audiences