Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's THE REPUBLIC, OR MY DINNER WITH SOCRATES Set for La MaMa, 11/29-12/15
In Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's "The Republic, or My Dinner with Socrates," playwright/director Vit Horejs dramatizes the historic role of the renowned philosopher with toga-clad puppets, shadow figures and live music. The play's world premiere will be presented by La Mama E.T.C. in association with GOH Productions from November 29 to December 15 in its First Floor Theater at 74A East Fourth Street.
Plato compared the nation-state to a slow and heavy horse, that needs the sting of a gadfly to wake up. Socrates was that gadfly, serving as a self-appointed conscience to the state. Athens rewarded him for this service with a hemlock cocktail.
The same could be said today about American whistleblowers, whom we can now view with a chilling sense of deja-vu. The play examines historical and contemporary questions of justice, government and the rights and duties of citizens and the deeper questions of "metaphysical truth beyond the world as it appears." Playwright and director Horejs feels it is time to revisit these ageless issues in the words of the philosophers themselves. "We may not come to any conclusions, but we hope to open a dialogue in a true Socratic method," he says.
His script adapts Plato's "Republic" with some elements from two of Plato's dialogues: "Crito" (in which Socrates refuses to escape from prison) and "Phaedo" (about Socrates' death). The six performers assume multiple characters and interact with shadow puppets and traditional Czech marionettes in sizes ranging from eight to 26 inches.
The puppets include marionettes designed by Jakub "Kuba" Krejci and toy marionettes designed by Milos Kasal. The performer-puppeteers are Deborah Beshaw, Christopher Broholm, Vít Horejs, Theresa Linnihan, Jonathan Mastrojohn and Alan Barnes Netherton. Set design is by Tom Lee, shadow puppets and costume design are by Theresa Linnihan and lighting design is by Federico Restrepo.
Socrates observed Athens' transition from its height before the Peloponnesian War to its decline and defeat by Sparta and its allies. As Athens struggled to stabilize and recover, the polis began to murmur of democracy's inefficiency as a form of government. Calling for a "philosopher-king," Socrates appears to have been a critic of democracy so some scholars view his trial as a sign of political infighting. Horejs, who majored in French and Philosophy in college, confesses to a love-hate relationship with Plato's "Republic," which is the principal source of our knowledge about Socrates. As someone who lived in Communist Czechoslovakia until his late twenties, Horejs is sensitive to the way Plato "in some ways designs a totalitarian state, neither left nor right. His ideal is a government that intrudes tremendously in civic liberties and uses censorship."
He adds, "In today's world, with governments and constitutions being overhauled all over the place, we are expressing doubts about our own political system that purports to be an example to the rest of the world. Just as in the 5th century B.C., political movements led by demagogues and sophists are taking over from the voice of reason."
The old philosopher defended his role as a gadfly until the end. At his trial, when asked to propose his own punishment, Socrates suggested a pension and free dinners for the rest of his life as compensation for his work as Athens' benefactor. Instead, he was sentenced to death for corrupting the minds of Athenian youth and for the crime of impiety ("not believing in the gods of the state").
The playscript makes abundant use of Socratic irony: leading on your opponent in an argument by simulating ignorance, so that he "ties himself in knots" and eventually falls an easy prey--a form used with great effect by Socrates. Horejs acknowledges that the dialogues in the play are dense, but advises that if you get lost, there's no reason to panic. He says, "If you don't catch the whole argument, take it as fireworks. Become the person who says 'Yes, Socrates, of course, Socrates.'"
Horejs conceives each character as a double--live performer and puppet--with inner dialogues being revealed amidst several levels of subtext. For over twenty years Horejs has been perfecting these doubling techniques--which provide an onstage counterpoint resulting in the audience's heightened awareness of character's personality. This production concept explores basic human nature: the puppets express the psychology of each character; characters and puppets shadow each other, commenting on the general action and sometimes blurring the boundary of who is in control. Horejs's use of differing puppet sizes create cinematic close-ups, long shots and zooms.
ABOUT CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATER: Vit Horejš, an emigré from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) in 1990, utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found at Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. His trademark is using puppets of many sizes, from six-inch toy marionettes to twelve-foot rod puppets which double as scenery. CAMT is dedicated to preserving and presenting traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry.
At La Mama E.T.C., the company has performed "The Little Rivermaid Rusalka" (1999), "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" (2000), "The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Joan of France" (2001), "Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery" (2003), "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald" (2004), "Once There Was a Village" (2007), an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London; "Twelfth Night (or What You Will)" (2009) and the troupe's most successful work, "Golem" (1997, 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival, and 2011), which also had a score by Frank London.
Theater for the New City has presented the company in four productions. "Mr. M" (2011) was the first American stage adaptation of "Mr. Theodore Mundstock" by Ladislav Fuks, a postwar Czech writer of psychological fiction. "Revolution!?" (2010) was performed with AGENTURA DELL'ARTE (from Prague); it was a theater spectacle that examined revolutions throughout the history of mankind as a backdrop for the extraordinary peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. "The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes..." (2008) explored the Rosenberg trial with a manipulated set but few puppets. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, "Vit Horejš has written and directed a first-rate, thoroughly original production and made it look effortless. The cast gives charged, cohesive performances, and the staging is expert." Last season, puppets and live performers enacted an enigmatic tale of early World War II in "King Executioner," written and directed by Vit Horejs, loosely based on "When you are a King, You will be an Executioner" (1968) by the Polish magical realist novelist Tadeusz Nowak (1930-1991).
Productions in other venues have ranged from Czech classics to Shakespeare to fairy tales. "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" premiered in its first season (1990) and was re-staged in 1994 as part of NADA's Obie Award-winning "Faust Festival" in Soho. It was revived at La MaMa in 2000 and at Manhattan's Bohemian Hall in 2007. "Hamlet" debuted at the Vineyard Theater in 1995, was performed at outdoor venues in NY, and toured to the 2004 Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle. It was revived on Jane's Carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn in 2007. "The Bass Saxophone," a WWII fantasy with music based on a story by Czech-Canadian writer Josef Skvorecky, played 11 weeks at the Grand Army Plaza Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Brooklyn during the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006. CAMT's productions for young audiences include "A Christmas Carol--OY! Hanukkah--Merry Kwanzaa," "The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman," "Kacha and the Devil," "The White Doe - Or The Piteous Trybulations of the Sufferyng Countess Jenovefa," "Snehurka, The Snow Maiden" and "Twelve Iron Sandals."
CAMT has also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center, the Smithsonian Institution, The World Trade Center, the Antonin Dvorak Festival in Spillville, Iowa, the 2012 inauguration of The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Heart of the Beast in Minneapolis, the Lowell Folk Arts Festival in Massachusetts and in international festivals in Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, and the Czech Republic.
Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre is a program of GOH Productions, a NYC based arts services organization. This event has been made possible in part with public funds from the The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with The City Council, New York State Council on the Arts and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Additional support comes from the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Materials for the Arts, Czech Center New York and private donors.
La MaMa is introducing a new initiative, 10@$10, through which ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if the 10@$10 is not an option, you can still get a ticket for as low as $12. Use the DISCOUNT code: WEEK1 applicable for the first week of the production only.
WHERE AND WHEN:
November 29 to December 15, 2013
La Mama E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
Presented by La Mama E.T.C. and GOH Productions.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:30 PM
$18 General Admission, $13 students and seniors. Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis.
Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org
Recommended for ages: 12 to 112.
Runs :90. Critics are invited on or after Saturday November 30.
Pictured: Deborah Beshaw and puppet of Socrates. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.