Sunday, August 16, 2015


Not only my father’s work but the fact that his family lived abroad meant that some summers when I was not at a camp in Vermont or Maine I was taken with them to Europe.   At about the age of 14, I was sent to a “camp” in Switzerland.  It was not exactly like the camps I was used to.  It was international, a good thing, an Egyptian boy, was the closest person I could call a friend.  The swimming was in a rough cement pool like a basement where they had taken the house away.  We went on forced marches with a British former soldier who carried a crop.  I can’t remember if he ever actually hit one of the boys with it but that was clearly the threat.  It was generally a miserable experience for a spoiled kid from the states.

When my parents came to visit and stayed at a hotel nearby I ran away from camp and refused to return.  Maybe for my future life they should have insisted that I go back but they didn’t and in many ways that was the best decision I ever made.  They did a lot of great things but a few of the best days were at the Salzburg Festival which still today is a summer highlight in Europe.   It is a few days filled with culture in the Austrian Alps.  I remember quite clearly the opera.  We saw Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) the fantasy opera by Mozart conducted by George Szell and the Vienna Philharmonic.  Including the singers Léopold Simoneau, Lisa Della Casa, Kurt Böhme Erika Köth and Walter Berry.  A vinyl recording was made of it a few days earlier so I will always have that as a souvenir.  There was a concert with the then renowned violinist, Erica Morini.  The final event was “Jedermann” (Everyman) staged in the open in front of the Cathedral.  What a spectacle that was with the 17th century sculptures by various Austrian artists outside and skeletons on stage.

This German version of Jederman was written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) in 1911.  Its first performance in Salzburg, Austria was in 1920 and became very popular and it has been performed annually ever since.  The play is thought to have originally been Dutch and written near the end of the 15th century. It was also so popular in England that it was printed 4 times during the 16th century.

The story is a familiar one: god looks down and sees that “Everyman” has only been interested in self-gratification  and wealth and forgotten The Almighty.  He sends death for “Everyman” so that he can give an accounting of himself.  “Everyman”, however, is clearly not prepared to die and uses every excuse in the book to get out of this predicament.   Death is not interested in his excuses but allows that he can try to find someone to accompany him on his journey. He finds no takers!  Sound familiar?  A little bit of the bible story of Noah’s Arc and god drowning the sinners and a lot from the other English Classic, Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol”, (1843). 

Recently, I had another opportunity to see the play, in English this time.  It was the simulcast performed by the National Theatre in London. This eternal message brought to us since medieval-times must always be updated for contemporary audiences.  Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s poet laureate and the author of  the National Theatre’s very free adaptation has decided that the best way to do this is to show the debauchery as, to steal a title from a television series, “Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll.“ Ms. Duffy has a novel way of portraying god, not as an extra terrestrial being but as the cleaning lady.  She is always ignored but sees all! She, of course, notes “Everyman’s” 40th birthday party of drugs and booze and acts accordingly. The role is played by Kate Duchene.

“Everyman” is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has been praised by all critics for this play and before that for his starring role in “12 Years a Slave.”   He is certainly a dynamic actor but it is more than just his craft that we see.  He throws himself into the role in such a way that he becomes the character.  As he goes through his trials and tribulations trying to find his redeeming features one actually sees more and more sweat pouring out from the actor.  You almost fear that Ejiofor, himself, might not survive the evening.

The excitement is accentuated by the frenzy on stage and the frenetic soundtrack.  I found it exceedingly loud but, then, this is the way every older generation feels about the music from their children and grandchildren!  Below is a short sample.

The play is directed by the new Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris with Choreographer and Movement Director, Javier de Frutos.  The latter being as vital to this treatment of the play as is the director and they made an excellent collaboration.

The play continues through August 30 at the National. 

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