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The Emperor Kathryn Solitarily Surrounded by her Loyal Servants

The Emperor Kathryn Solitarily Surrounded by her Loyal Servants

Theatre for a New Audience, much to my pleasure, dives into their new season with a fascinating, although slightly distancing investigation on what it means to be Emperor of a small African nation in the early 1900’s. In the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, directed with structure and simplicity by Walter Meierjohann (the site-specific Romeo and Juliet in The Victoria Baths), the life and eventually downfall of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, born Ras Tafari Makonnen, is chronicled through the compelling and humorous stories of those who operated under his rule. Based on Ryszard Kapuściński’s celebrated and controversial 1978 book of the same title with a solid adaptation by Colin Teevan (Netflix’s “Rebellion“), The Emperor explores political and supreme power by giving voice and clarity to Selassie’s many servants (including his pillow-bearer, purse-bearer, and dog-urine wiper), to government bureaucrats, and finally, to the students and citizens that eventually opposed Selassie’s supreme sovereign power, and forced the ending of his imperial reign in 1974.

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Kathryn Hunter,Temesgen Zeleke. Photos by Gerry Goodstein.

Deliciously portraying each and every one of those sublime characters is the shape-shifting virtuoso, Kathryn Hunter (Puck in Julie Taymor/TFANA’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with a musically strong assist by Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, founder of Krar Collective. He ushers us in at the very beginning with his melodic authentic melodies of the krar (music: Dave Price), setting the stage for Hunter to wander out into the spotlight, designed by lighting guru, Mike Gunning (set design: Ti Green; sound: Paul Arditti), to give us a depth of focus to this strong-minded parable about power in decline. This co-production from the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, seldom rises too far into the land of greatness and superiority, but the overall effect is worthy of our attention. It is odd that a British white woman is playing these numerous Ethiopian characters, but as I am all for color blind casting, the overall effect is minimally complicated. The program notates that by having a “Western woman play all, or most of, the roles, the production states from the outset that this is not the thing itself. The illusion of this distant world must be created by the actress and the production, we are invited to suspend our disbelief“. She does her transformations like a rubbery Bill Irwin, beautifully and hilariously becoming each with such clarity that reminders are not required. The range and stylistic approaches to all is inspired, making the choices clear and definitive.

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Kathryn Hunter. Photos by Gerry Goodstein.

Structuring the piece around the typing of Kapuściński’s tarnished view of Ethiopian history (beautiful work by video designer, Louis Price), Selassie’s illusionary and mystical placement of self as the King of Kings, his distinguished Highness of the court, a God among men, is solidified with the bows of others servicing the man for a higher purpose, usually their own. The music and the men float through, like a “mute rebuke to the excesses of the court“, and with the pedigrees running wild, this fairy tale of the dignified Imperial starts to show signs of cracks and tremors of fantastical disbelief. The loyalty of his court that holds reign over the deep corruption of the King and his followers, seen as a blatant parallel to the GOP of today, is a beautifully relevant theatrical creation of their greedy illusions, formulated solely for the purpose of keeping the Wizard of Oz aloft and out of reach. It’s a smart angled look at a slice of history that bursts into our present day dilemma. Hunter delivers the true and more convoluted subject; the nature of power and contemporary demagogues and the heavy burden of his greatest achievements, with a shattering attention to detail and essential play that joyfully and intelligently resonates into the air of the Theatre for a New Audience.

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Kathryn Hunter. Photos by Gerry Goodstein.For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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