Showing posts with label CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATER. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATER. Show all posts

Friday, February 12, 2016


Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre

NEW YORK – "The New World Symphony: Dvorák in America" is a puppet and object theater work examining the influence of African-American and Native American music upon the great 19th-century Czech composer Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904). The piece is written and directed by Vít Horejš and performed by Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre. It traces how Dvorák helped America accept its beautiful multicultural musical traditions by his enthusiasm for African-American and Native American music during his short but influential time in the USA. La MaMa Theatre will present the play's world premiere run March 10 to 27, 2016 in its Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street (East Village). Composer and Musical Director is saxophonist James Brandon Lewis.

The piece depicts Dvorák's creative and family life during his tenure as the Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in NYC, and the highlights of his three-year stay in the US (1892-1895) in NY and in the "little Bohemia" of Spillville, Iowa where he spent the summer of 1893.

While in America, Dvorák declared that African-American and Native American music would be the foundation on which new American music would rise up. As we all know, this happened, although the contemporary musical idioms (not only in America but throughout the world) based on African-American music are very different from what the Czech composer envisioned. During his time in New York, Dvorák composed his landmark "The New World Symphony," a work inspired by Spirituals and the Hiawatha story. His creation of the symphony is an important theme of the play. 

The characters of the play include Dvorák and his family (including his wife's sister, Josefína Cermáková, the love of his life, for whom he composed the song-cycle "Cypresses"), the founder of the American Conservatory of Music, Janet Thurber, who was his patron; his African-American students Harry Burleigh and Will Marion Cook and various New York musicians--his students and protégés. Chief Big Moon of the Hunkpapa Tribe (one of the seven council fires of the Lakota) discourses eloquently on Native American music. Several African-American luminaries also make appearamces in the play, including poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, soprano Sissieretta Jones, Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells. 

Music ranges from spirituals and work songs to Dvorák's original compositions, to jazz and rock. Composer and Musical Director is African-American saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. Steeped in spirituals, gospel and free jazz, Lewis was hailed by Ebony Magazine as one of "7 Young Players to Watch." Playing with Lewis will be Luke Stewart on bass and Warren Trae Crudup III on drums. Two Dvorák experts, Michael Beckerman (Chair of NYU's Music Department) and conductor Maurice Peress, have provided dramaturgical assistance.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre returns to the Jan Hus Playhouse, 351 East 74th Street, April 10 to May 4 with "Don Juan, or Wages of Debauchery," conceived and directed by Vit Horejs, adapted and directed from an anonymous play of itinerant puppeteers.

In 18th century Europe, Don Juan ("Don Shayn") was among the top "hits" of the Czech marionette repertoire. The only theatre truly available in small towns and villages were shows by itinerant puppeteers. Their plays were a whimsical mixture of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," heroic legends, and rudimentary pre-Shakespearean tragedies. There is nothing very glamorous about the character of Don Juan in the Czech puppet play--he ends up as a common robber, hungry, rejected by all his former conquests and riled constantly by his inept servant Kasparek, the earthy Bohemian cousin of Mr. Punch and Leporello.

The production is perfectly OK for the kiddies. There is no profanity and Don Juan's womanizing is done at the Warner Brothers cartoon level. Reviewing the production's 2003 debut at La MaMa, the NY Times (Laurel Graeber) wrote that children over six "love the slapstick and the insults, which Don Juan apparently honed in second grade. (He calls Kasparek a 'goofy guinea pig.')." The production was deemed "a hilarious interpretation of a classic."

The play takes the basic plot of the Opera "Don Giovanni," even with a little singing from it, and turns it into a platform for a burlesque between Don Juan and his servant, the impish Kasparek. Kasparek, a stock character in the Czech puppet repertoire, is played by Theresa Linnihan in a comic tour-de-force. He has the mentality of Curly Joe and a similar squeaky voice. The bickering between master and servant is most of the play. Don Juan is wonderfully underplayed by the deep-voiced Vit Horejs.

As an historical character, Don Juan is mostly remembered for his womanizing, but in this play it's really incidental: just a single chase scene for a beautiful girl puppet between Don Juan and a rival, his brother. This is just enough to introduce Don Juan's fiancee's father, whom he kills (oops!). This sets up Kasparek's first really hilarious scene, when he discovers the corpse. From there, Don Juan goes on a comic killing spree and Kasparek is in stellar form, particularly when he is charged with standing guard while Don Juan is dealing with the old Hermit. Kasparek is supposed to whistle if there's trouble and the scene climaxes as the little imp meets the devil, who is coming to take Don Juan to perdition.

Under Austro-Hungarian, Nazi and Communist domination, Czech puppetry contained pointed political satire by concealing sharp criticism in familiar tales. For over 30 years, Czech puppet impresarios have experimented with shattering illusion of the hidden puppeteer by having human actors perform opposite their wooden counterparts. Stylistically, Vit Horejs falls in with the prominent modernists of this form. Citing the 1997 production of "Hamlet," Time Magazine (Emily Mitchell) credited Horejs with "uniting the honored tradition with post-modern sensibilities, giving his mute figures from a bygone era a startling new place in the theater." UPI (Fred Winship), reviewing "Hamlet" at the Jan Hus Playhouse, described how CAMT's aproach "reflects a new trend in Czech puppetry. It shatters the illusion of traditional marionette theater, with invisible puppeteers pulling the strings, by having the puppeteers on stage as human actors performing opposite their wooden counterparts."