La MaMa to Present Vaclav Havel's AUDIENCE With Czech Marionettes

"Audience," a dark comedy of spying in a brewery, is staged with live actors, giant puppets and live projected closeups of smaller puppets from security cameras.

By: Dec. 27, 2022
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La MaMa to Present Vaclav Havel's AUDIENCE With Czech Marionettes

From February 2 to 19, 2023 La MaMa will present the world premiere of Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's puppet version of "Audience" by Václav Havel, translated and directed by Vít Horejš, in its Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East Fourth Street.

"Audience," a dark comedy of spying in a brewery, is staged with live actors, giant puppets and live projected closeups of smaller puppets from security cameras in order to suggest surveillance. The production's concept is by Vít Horejš and Theresa Linnihan, who act the play together.

Havel's classic autobiographical play follows Ferdinand Vanek, a distinguished playwright forced to perform manual labor in a brewery because his writings have been banned by the Communist regime. He is repeatedly called into the bleak office of his boss, the brewmaster, who regales him with irksome, circular monologues, washing them down with endless rounds of beer. Tiresome bureaucracy and constant fear under Communism have driven this hapless boss to alcoholism and fits of rage and despair, which are often turned against his inferiors. The writer must endure a delicate game of cat and mouse -- pointless chat, clumsy interrogation and flattery -- with implied threats of dire consequences such as the loss of even his menial job or imprisonment. One way out of his predicament is for Vanek to help his boss by supplying weekly reports on himself. The playwright refuses, further offending his superior.

The play reflects on the time when Havel actually had to work in a brewery as penance for writing critically of the Czechoslovak communist government. He ultimately went from prison to the castle, becoming president of Czechoslovakia.

Vít Horejš plays Vanek and Theresa Linnihan plays the Brewmaster. Production design is by Alan Barnes Netherton. Marionettes are by Milos Kasal and Jakub "Kuba" Krejci. Costumes and the Vanek marionettes are by Theresa Linnihan. Producer is Bonnie Sue Stein/GOH Productions

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) is a resident company of La MaMa. This production debuts at that storied East Village theater following two developmental productions at Bohemian National Hall, NYC: in 2021 as part of the Rehearsal for Truth Festival and in 2022 in collaboration with Václav Havel Library Foundation. Rehearsal for Truth is a showcase of Central European theater organized annually at Bohemian National Hall since 2017. Last fall, it was also mounted in Colby College's Conference, Havel and Our Crisis. All these previews drew admiring notices that encouraged La MaMa to present a full three-week run.

Vinson Cunningham, writing in the New Yorker, called the three-day presentation at Bohemian National Hall in September, 2022 "short-lived but wonderful," marveling how Vanek's "long, comic, increasingly menacing conversation with the facility's brewmaster" showed "how even innocent-seeming language can be made to bend to the authoritarian Big Lie." Beate Hein Bennett (NY Theatre Wire) wrote, "It is hard to imagine a more ingenious rendering of this play than CAMT's." Karen Bardash (NY Theatre Wire) added, "Vít Horejš' subtle, staid interpretation of Vanek wonderfully contrasted with Theresa Linnihan's loud, unhinged portrayal of the Brewmaster, and both actors channeled their energies through the strings of their marionette counterparts in a way that made them come alive with the same nuances."

Following the Colby College conference Milan Babík, a visiting professor of international relations at Colby, wrote "I have seen many productions of Havel's Audience, whether in Prague, London, or elsewhere around the world. CAMT's stands out not just by virtue of incorporating the lost art of puppetry, but also by virtue of saturating the play with surveillance technology, cameras, screens, and images. The result is a captivating fusion of traditional and postmodern elements opening Havel's masterpiece to contexts and interpretations beyond his era, including to our liberal-democratic present: in certain respects perhaps even more totalizing than Czechoslovak communism in the 1950s and early 1960s."

Attending the June 2021 version at Bohemian National Hall, John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards (Thinking Theater NYC) declared, "Florida's recent (and likely unconstitutional) legislation demanding documentation of student and faculty political beliefs at public colleges and universities comes to mind when one thinks about how 'Audience' continues to resonate powerfully across national and temporal boundaries. CAMT revives this still vital play with humor, empathy, artistry, and invention."

Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a playwright, essayist, political dissident, and, after 1989, president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. His first full-length play performed in public, "The Garden Party" (1963), won him international acclaim. Soon after its premiere came his well-known "The Memorandum" (1965) which was produced in 1968 by Joseph Papp at The Public Theater in New York, earning Havel the first of his three Obie Awards and helping to establish his name in the US. During the repressive period that followed the 1968 Prague Spring, communist authorities forbade the publication and performance of Havel's works. He refused to be silenced and became an outspoken human rights advocate. He transformed his experience of working odd jobs into the so-called "Vanek Trilogy" (named after Ferdinand Vanek, a stand-in for Havel), which premiered clandestinely in the author's living room, and three screenplays which circulated in samizdat throughout Czechoslovakia. Havel's reputation as a leading dissident crystallized in January 1977 with the publication of the Charter 77, a Czechoslovak manifesto that called on the government to honor its human rights commitments under the Helsinki Accords. Havel was arrested many times throughout the remainder of Communism for alleged anti-state activities and sentenced to over four years in prison. His seminal essay, "The Power of the Powerless" (1978), had a profound impact on dissident and human rights movements worldwide.

Vít Horejš was born in Prague and escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia in 1978. In 1990, with fellow émigrés, he founded Czechoslovak American Marionette Theater (CAMT) in New York. He has translated, written, adapted, and directed over two dozen marionette plays for CAMT. He is a resident artist at La MaMa Theater and has performed on stage, in films, and on TV. His published works include "Twelve Iron Sandals" (1985), "Pig and Bear" (1989), and "Faust" (1993). He co-produced "Faust on a String," an award-winning documentary about Czech puppetry, and wrote the lead essay for Czecho-Slovak-American Puppetry (GOH Productions, 1994). Horejs has received commission grants from The Henson Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Foundation for Jewish Culture, Columbia University, and New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2018, he received the Czechoslovak Society for Arts and Sciences (SVU) Award in recognition of his lifetime achievement in fostering the art form of Czech and Slovak puppetry. In 1989, Mr. Horejš and Bonnie Sue Stein interviewed Havel in Prague, days before he became president, for an article that appeared in the Village Voice January 16, 1990. (áclav-havel-the-new-king-of-absurdistan/)

Theresa Linnihan joined the company of Czechoslovak American Marionette Theater (CAMT) in 1996 playing Polonius in their production of Hamlet. For the next two decades she served as a performer, designer, and associate director as the company developed original, provocative productions, re-imagined classics and toured to puppet festivals in Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, and the Czech Republic. In 2016 she relocated to Minneapolis, MN. There, for the past five years she has worked with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater and Barebones Puppets, building and performing for parades and pageants which reflect the sorrows and celebrations of a community that ignited a global call for justice and healing. She is a long standing member of The Puppeteer's Cooperative and recently collaborated with Sara Peattie on an online, animated version of "The Tempest" as well as "The Decameron of Now."

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry. At La MaMa Theatre, where the company is in residence, it has performed "Golem," with score by Frank London (1997, 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival, and 2011), "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 of The Klezmatics; "Twelfth Night (or What You Will)" (2009), "The Republic, or My Dinner with Socrates" (2013), "A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa" (2014) and "The New World Symphony: Dvorák in America" (2016). Other works include "The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes, and about Their Untymelie End while Sitting in a Small Room at the Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y.," "The Bass Saxophone," "Hamlet," "Twelfth Night," Kacha and the Devil," The White Doe, Or, The Piteous Trybulations of the Sufferyng Countess Jenovefa, and "Twelve Iron Sandals." The company has played in 37 states in the U.S.A. and at international festivals in Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea and the Czech Republic.

A retrospective of 30 years of the company's work was the subject of a Coffeehouse Chronicles program at La MaMa on May 28, 2022, moderated by Leslee Asch.

CAMT is a program of GOH Productions, a nonprofit organization, and receives public funds from SBA, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Council Member Carlina Rivera. Additional support comes from Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, and Materials for the Arts. The company offers thanks to Captain Lawrence Brewery for providing the large beer barrel.


La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theater. La MaMa's 61st "Remake A World" Season believes in the power of art to bring sustainable change over time and transform our cultural narrative. At La MaMa, new work is created from a multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, and disciplines, influencing how we think about and experience art. The flexibility of its spaces, specifically the newly reimagined building at 74 East 4th Street (La MaMa's original permanent home), gives local and remote communities access to expanded daytime programming. The digital tools embedded in the space allow artists to collaborate remotely, and audiences worldwide to participate in La MaMa's programming.

A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists and resident companies, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Bette Midler, Ed Bullins, Ping Chong, Jackie Curtis, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Andrei Serban, Diane Lane, Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Tom Eyen, Pan Asian Rep, Spiderwoman Theater, Tadeusz Kantor, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Mabou Mines, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Kazuo Ohno, Tom O'Horgan and Andy Warhol. La MaMa's vision of nurturing new artists and new work from all nations, cultures, races and identities remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961.


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