Springtime in Romania

On Thursday, May 24th, the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and Immigrants’ Theatre Project presented Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New, an evening of showings by the Romanian playwrights Vera Ion and Mihaela Michailov. Vera performed her one-woman show, youshine.youarebeautiful, directed by Marcy Arlin, and there was a staged reading of Mihaela’s Family Offline, directed by Katrin Hilbe. I helped to moderate a brief talkback after the performances, which offered two snapshots of life for contemporary Romanians.

A year ago on May 24th, a Tuesday, I was actually in Romania, my first visit to a country that I found utterly foreign and yet, in some small ways, oddly familiar, especially with regard to the artists I met in Bucharest and Cluj. Mihaela, who is also a theater and dance critic, was my indefatigable and ever-delightful guide.

I found Romania to be beguiling. I don’t claim to have any real sense of the realities on the ground there, and I recognize that I’m offering a romanticized, tourist’s versions of things … but despite all of the immense, obvious, glaring, etc. differences between the contemporary performance scenes there and in New York (not to mention the underlying historical differences, which make in-depth comparisons rather absurd), there was something about the hard-scrabble intensity and vibrancy of the dance and theater and hybrid work I saw there, often in run-down and out-of-the-way spaces, that seemed to possess a real kinship with what’s being made here. Not that the issues are the same, nor the ways and means. Only that, on some gut or maybe energetic level, I recognized something.

But one thing that felt very different, not surprisingly, was the explicit political critique running through much of the work being made by young artists in Romania. I was reminded of this last week, listening to these two theater pieces that so directly addressed fraught sociopolitical realities. The last time the Performance Club gathered, we discussed the difficulties artists face when earnestly tackling issue-driven performances. I feel those difficulties all the time in theaters here. But I didn’t feel them Thursday night … and I’ve been wondering about that the last few days, what that has to do with…

I’m still thinking about it. While I do, would love to hear other people’s thoughts, however tangential ….

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