6 minute read
Emily Mitchell


The Night They Invented Maxim’s

Damned Cocaine

Written and directed by Filipe la Feria; Teatro Politeama, Lisbon

POP OPEN THE CHAMPAGNE and toast Lisbon’s Teatro Politeama. The once shabby 795-seat theater has been delightfully done over, and is now the ornate showplace for Portugal’s first homegrown musical. To the Portuguese, who daily see new headlines about political corruption, Damned Cocaine (Maldita Cocaina) is less madcap romp than pointed satire. The Roaring Twenties return, with characters modeled on colorful real-life denizens of that era, and the setting is Maxim’s, then a well-known Lisbon night spot. Through its doors parade a fascist army general with an eye for beautiful women, a count who has gambled away his fortune and a swindler who boldly tricked the London printer of Portuguese banknotes to run off an extra 100 million escudos for him. The money set him up in banking, mining and a railroad in the Congo before he landed in jail.

Composer Nuno Feist keeps things moving with a peppy score of jazz, rock and fado. Critics have airily dismissed the show; nonetheless, it has already broken Lisbon attendance records, with more than 100,000 tickets sold in its first six months. An elegant 1912 dowager, the Politeama had fallen on sad days, becoming a seedy home for kung fu and soft-core-porn films. Restored for $3.3 million by producer-director Filipe la Feria, it is now occupied by the $ 65 members of Damned Cocaine’s cast, and the entire orchestra level is a stylish cafe where audience members dine at 8 and are ringside at Maxim’s by 10.


Past Forgetting

Kindertransport by Diane Samuels; Directed by Abigail Morris; Manhattan Theater Club, New York City

FOLLOWING KRISTALLNACHT IN 1939, when Nazi mobs in Berlin destroyed synagogues and shops owned by Jews, a small window to freedom briefly opened for German, Austrian and Polish children. Over the course of eight months, nearly 10,000 Jewish youngsters under 18 were evacuated to Britain to stay with foster families until it was safe to return. Most never saw their parents or homeland again. While the Kindertransport saved them, the separation from everything they had cared for would be a kind of death.

From her interviews with the grown children of the Kindertransport, British dramatist Diane Samuels has written an affecting drama about a girl whose past was severed as though cut by a knife. “England is quite tolerant in many ways,” Samuels notes, “but when aliens try to retain their differences, there is not much tolerance.” Her play, now in New York City after its premiere at London’s Soho Theatre Company, takes place in an attic, where a middle-age woman sorting through her belongings reluctantly confronts who she had once been. As a nine-year-old named Eva Schlesinger, she says a last farewell to her German mother. Brought up by a good-hearted Englishwoman, young Eva clings to the hope of returning until salvation comes to seem like abandonment. To survive, we see, she turns her back on every aspect of her heritage and becomes frozen in emotional coldness, a rigid perfectionist who cannot give or accept love.


Vicissitudes in Videoland

Channel V

MUSIC VIDEOS CAN BE CULtural bullies, crushing local sensibilities with pop globalism. In India, for example, where MTV was broadcast over the Asian network STAR TV, the sexual images alarmed prudish Indians and made sponsors skittish. So, after ending its contract with MTV May 27, STAR TV launched V, its own video channel. For eight hours a day, two separate V beams are sent north and south. Hindi and English are heard on the southern beam to India, while Mandarin- and English-speaking veejays chatter to China, Mongolia, Taiwan and Korea. A repeated message heard over V: “Just as you learn our language we learn yours; just as you change by watching us, we change by watching you.”

In India STAR TV reaches 10 million households. Having its own channel gives STAR TV freedom to monitor the videos used and tailor its programs, which may encourage more local makers of toothpaste, soft drinks and television sets to sign on. Still, V looks much like its predecessor, and Calcutta’s weekly Sunday lamented that “nothing much has changed in terms of the program content.” The appearance of former MTV veejays gives a further sense of deja- V. Oye BPL features videos of songs in current films; but Vibe is a new program specifically geared toward Indians, interspersing music segments with news and gossip from Bollywood. STAR TV officials will not say what the single letter stands for. Video? Veejay? Vibe? No, sniff many Indians, it means vulgar.


Triptych of Neuroses

Francis Bacon

Choreographed by Johann Kresnik and Ismael Ivo; Theater Festival Freiburg

TALKING ABOUT THE VIOlence in his paintings, Francis Bacon once said, “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can.” Two years after the British artist’s death at age 82, the coagulated flesh and quivering neuroses of his canvases are a danse macabre for three performers. Co-choreographed by Austria’s Johann Kresnik and Brazil’s Ismael Ivo, who performs one of the two male roles, the production premiered in Stuttgart last year, and is touring German cities before performances in Austria and Scandinavia. The effect, says Berlin’s taz, is that of “hard-core Beckett.”

To a taped collage of groans, dissonant music, screechy sounds and human voices, the 70-min. Francis Bacon presents a series of dread encounters. Intermittently three severely simple beds unfold from a high metallic wall, leaving behind them blank spaces that evoke Bacon’s famous triptychs. Within a claustrophobic space, the dancers meet and savagely break apart. The two men fight like beasts over a piece of raw meat, tearing at it with their teeth. Bare-breasted, with her skin ashen white and her hair disheveled, the female dancer is wrapped with fabric below the waist and, looking like a legless torso, drags herself along the floor with a steel knife as a crutch. A man frantically tosses on his narrow cot, turning in upon himself, unable to escape unbearable reality. At the finale, Bacon’s voice is heard saying he is aware of life and death and finds both equally interesting.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at