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La MaMa return for Elia Schneider's Teatro Dramma
of Venezuela with "Rooms"

Visual theater production sets three women in a Kafka-esque world of isolation
and everyday obsessions.

L-R: Ricarda Klingelhofer, Bettina Grand, Dad Dager
Photo by Jose Novoa
March 9 to 19
La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa E.T.C.
Th-Sat at 8:00 pm, Sun at 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm; Fri & Sat $20/tdf; Th & Sun $15/tdf
Box office/audience info (212) 475-7710
"There are Kafka-esque situations everywhere," asserts Elia Schneider, artistic director of Teatro Dramma of Caracas. So even when she's not creating theater pieces of stories by Kafka, she might as well be. "He was a visionary of how the world really functions," she says, adding, "Every time I set out to do something else, I come back to Kafka." This is the idea behind hew newest work, "Rooms," which she describes as "a play that delivers the sensations of imprisonment and loneliness, of the distancing actions we do in everyday life."

One year in development, this 50-minute wordless play takes the lives of three women--played by two prominent actresses of Venezuela and one from Germany--and delves into the basic things they do every day. "The significance of the insignificant" is revealed in a play that is pictorial, metaphoric and imagistic. To illustrate the universality these themes, Schneider speaks of Venezuelan life as especially Kafka-esque. It's a place where, she says, "obsessions with the basic elements of life and survival are mixed with intimations of an apocalyptic end." This particular view was brutally brought home in December, 1999 by a catastrophic flood that killed 100,000 in mudslides.

"Rooms" is a three-woman play that explores dependency on time, space and objects. In the play, three women cloister in solitary rooms, ironing, drinking coffee, cleaning, preparing meat, etc. Their everyday routine--rigid and antiseptic--has extreme order. They are cautious and reserved in their obsessions. They don't talk, but spy on each other. In a lucid moment, one decides to cut her dependency on the space and objects of her room and tries to run away, cautiously and suspiciously leaving her room. The other two leave their rooms to spy on her, withdrawing from their lodgings with equal caution. The first woman, once out, begins to feel repressed and guilty. Returning to her space, she is submerged in profound despair and clings to her hope of being free. The other two women resume the circles of their lives and it is apparent from their routines that they have been imprisoned. All three realize that hope is the only way out, but know this hope is not for them. The play is wordless except for a brief quotation from "The Trees" by Franz Kafka: "For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie sleekly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can't be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance."

The actresses are Dad Dager, Bettina Grand and Ricarda Klingelhofer. Dager is a Venezuelan theater, film and TV actress who has been twice nominated as Best Actress for the Casa del Artista Award. Grand is considered one of the best emerging actresses in the country; Klingerhofer is a veteran German actress now living in Venezuela. Set design is by Maitena de Elguezabel, who has won a Venezuelan critics' award and is regarded as one of the country's best designers. Music is composed by Juan Carlos Nunez, winner of the National Award for Modern Symphonic Music. Lighting is designed by Jose Novoa, who as a filmmaker, was nominated for an Oscar for "Sicario" and has won 27 international awards. He has won the Venezuelan Critics' Award for Best Lighting Designer. The production manager, Irlanda Rincon, has managed all productions of Teatro Dramma through the years and numerous other international performances including Disney on Ice and appearances by American classical music and pop stars.

Playwright/director Elia Schneider is known for her hauntingly visual productions which transcend language barriers with strong visual imagery and a dreamlike fresco of movement and design. Her productions at La MaMa to-date include Franz Xavier Kroetz' "Request Concert" (1982) and Franz Kafka's "Blumfeld" (1985). Her last production here was "Gaz," part of the worldwide commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Holocaust, in 1989. All three were critically controversial. Schneider, who never envisioned "Request Concert" naturalistically, divided the play's solo character into two versions of herself played by two different actresses in whiteface. The production was a stark contrast to Joanne Akalitis' photorealistic staging of the play two years before and, to some critics, a superior journey into the play's inner life. The New York Times (Mel Gussow) asserted that, by vindicating the abstract approach to this play, Ms. Schneider had helped establish the work as a classic. "Blumfeld" earned accolades for Schneider for a "troubling, startling and beautiful meditation on loneliness" (Laurie Stone, Village Voice). Critiques raised provocative issues on how the essence of Kafka's writing could rightfully be adapted for the stage. In an article whose headline called the play "beyond Kafka," Steven Hart (Villager) observed, "Kafka was a master of finding the subtleties that lie beneath the endless banality of most human relations, and these undercurrents are what Teatro Dramma seems to be exploiting in 'Blumfeld.'" He analyzed the play as "an exploration of the atmospheric conditions the story produces in the reader," an approach that could have been taken from the director's notes of Schneider's current play. "Gaz," a lavish production with surreal images of Nazi concentration camps, was a digression from Schneider's series of works dealing explicitly with Kafka themes.

La MaMa will take up Kafka again March 30 to April 9, in its second-floor Club space, with a theatrical adaptation of "The Metamorphosis" by American actor George Bennett and French dancer/mime Cati Blanche. That production begins with the qoutidien of the Samsa household but elevates into surrealism with the entrance of the cockroach, which is performed in mime by two actors moving in complete symbiosis. [NYTW]

Related article: La MaMa sets 1999-2000 season schedule

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