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Ginka Steinwachs: Georges Sand: An Erotic Odyssey in Seven Tableaux

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September 25 — November 22, 1998



Back Stage West -- CRITIC'S PICK!

Written by: Ginka Steinwachs
Translated by: Sue-Ellen Case, Jamie Owen Daniel, Katrin Sieg
Directed by: Frédérique Michel
Production Design by: Charles A. Duncombe, Jr.
Cast: John Burton, Ruthie Crossley, Jeff Decker, Joel Drazner, Hope Easton, Vanessa Hopkins, Bo Roberts, Valerie Ramirez, Paul Rubenstein, Paradorn Thiel, Doria Valenzuela


review by Miriam Jacobson

"French Novelist Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, a.k.a. George Sand, was at the center of the 1848 European revolutionary movement that gave rise to communism; she was a femme fatale "who changed lovers more often than her shoes" and whose beaux included Karl Marx, Chopin, Schubert, Balzac and Flaubert; she dabbled in lesbianism, left her marriage to a country baron and supported herself through her writings, employing a male pseudonym.

The seven hallucinatory tableaux composing German playwright Ginka Steinwachs' intoxicating, impressionistic study of Sand (brilliantly translated by Sue-Ellen Case, Jamie Owen Daniel, and Katrin Sieg) bleed into each other, each constructed around a single idea taken from pivotal events on the writer's life. We see, for instance, Sand nude from the waist down, obtaining mens's trousers, as scandalized, swishy tailors look on. The play is a wild kaleidoscope of sex, politics and art, sprinkled with allusions to the 20th century.

Director Frederique Michel has found the perfect actor to play Sand in the free-spirited, tattooed Venssa Hopkins, who even resembles the iconoclast, and the stunning ensemble don animal masks to hilarious effect as they slip in and out of multiple roles. Steinwachs' play ultimately indicts Sand's persecutors -- the moralizing, infantile prudes who keep (to this day) attacking drugs, sexuality and art, as though these were really the causes of human misery.

Charles A. Duncombe Jr.'s intricate set and lighting incorporate slide projections and simply take your breath away; the barrage of visuals and wordplay is so forceful that this production should be seen more than once to be fully appreciated."

Back Stage West/Drama-Logue -- CRITIC'S PICK!

Reviewed by Anne Louise Bannon

"The one thing you don't want to do while watching George Sand is think. That can come later. For this City Garage presentation directed by Frederique Michel is not so much a play as a performed poem -- the sort of performance art piece that stretches our definition of theatre.

And it does so brilliantly. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone with an unfashionable but decided preference for plot and narrative. In this case, you can almost close your eyes and lose yourself in the rich language and still get the larger essence of the piece.

The play is about, but not quite, George Sand, the 19th-century French woman writer who adopted men's dress and a brace of lovers, the most famous of whom was Chopin. Postmodern German playwright Ginka Steinwachs has used the character of Sand literally as an icon -- a symbol which, when reflected upon, becomes a window into deeper understanding. Of course, this is where the post-performance intellectual discussion comes in. Because while Steinwachs is definitely looking at Woman's place in the World, what she actually thinks that place is is certainly open to interpretation and debate.

The translation by Sue-Ellen Case, Jamie Owen Daniel, and Katrin Sieg who worked with Steinwachs, is not literal, but uses purely American terms-equivalents rather than word for word. As such, it's filled with tremendously rich images, just on the edge of making sense, and while the effect is often silly, it doesn't devolve into pseudo-intellectual nonsense. The play, which tips its hat to Ionesco at least twice, has pulled off that difficult element of Theatre of the Absurd: somehow managing to play up the ridiculousness of its images without falling into the self importance trap that makes performance art such a joke much of the time. The acting is lyrical, and the players have the good sense to go with the absurdity rather than worry about "the message." As Sand, Vanessa Hopkins, the only actor p]laying a single role, is the linchpin; she carries the play without overwhelming it. While she stands out from the unit that is the ensemble, she is at the same time a part of the cohesive whole.

While the visual elements seem a]most secondary to Steinwachs' words, they are at least as rich as the language. Charles R Duncombe Jr.'s set is sumptuous, playing upon the rich excesses of the Romantic period with red curtains, doors, and mirrors in the background of the spare playing area.The lighting, also by Duncombe, is a triumph of logistics -- not only are there the mirrors to contend with, but slides projected onto a cloth-covered door at up center.

The extensive program notes notwithstanding, it is better to experience the play first, because it is a feast for the senses. Once the experience has trickled through your psyche, there will be plenty to think about."