This week it was to the U.S. premiere of the English production of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk .” an arresting portrait of the relationship between the Russian born, shtetl haunted, artist Marc Chagal had with his wife of early years, Bella.
And as it seems almost always with the stage production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, you expect the unexpected. For me, it makes the Wallis along with the UCLA ‘s Art of the Performance the most exciting venues in theatre today
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I was not disappointed. Though, to be sure, the marvelously acted two character play was challenging, with bursts of dialogue, dancing, and songs exploding on an open stage that shifts with lighting and props to hint of a synagogue, an artist’s studio, wherever.
Challenging, yes, but so was the relationship between Chagal and Bella, fanciful, frustrating, and mesmerizing, certainly to these Russian shtarker’s eyes
With a unique vision Chagal had depicted a magical portrait of his love for his wife Bella, colorfully entwined flying above a Russian fairyland where brush strokes were caresses.
He indeed is once quoted declaring “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette, which provides the meaning of life and art, it is the color of love.” Poetic to be sure, but to the play’s credit also illustrated is the marriage’s turmoil.
Of course the Russia where the couple came of age also was in constant turmoil. There was in Czarist times the pogroms, followed by a world war, a revolution, civil war, and the machinations and madness of an emerging Soviet Union.
For the record, the Chagals left Russia in 1922, for a welcoming Paris, never to return. But Russia never left them, gnawing at their souls, and testing their marriage, to its last days in New York, There escaping the horrors of World War Two the flying lovers eventually landed, and Emma, alas, died.
As a production of the always inventive Kneehigh and the Bristol Old Vic , the play is loosely structured, more of a performance art piece, where knowledge of the Chagals is frankly helpful.
Helping definitely is the multi talented cast: the acting, dancjng and singing of Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, the onstage presence of the musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, all under the inspired direction of Emma Rice. .
Of particular note is that Rice played Emma in the original production of The Lovers 25 years ago, with the writer Daniel Jamieson then her husband playing Chagal.
The production runs for another week at the Wallis, through March 11th, Catch it if you can.