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The man with a mission to bring Meisner to Cuban theatre

The man with a mission to bring Meisner to Cuban theatre


The video above is a behind-the-scenes look at the performance of La Peña Meisner at El Sótano theatre in October 2011.

Blue/Orange by La Peña Meisner de la Habana
Blue/Orange is a multi-award winning play written by British dramatist Joe Penhall, and first performed at the Royal National Theatre in 2000. The play is set in a British psychiatric hospital. Christopher, a young Black man from a poorer district, has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder following a psychotic episode. After 28 days in the care of young registrar, Dr. Bruce Flaherty, Chris is due to be released. But Bruce fears that his patient’s belief that his father is Idi Amin, and the fact that he insists that oranges are blue, are warning signs of schizophrenia. If Chris is released into the community he could well suffer a terrible breakdown. A power struggle ensues…

Blue/Orange is not so much about mental illness – although that is its framework – as it is about power. And ego. And racial prejudice. As the two psychiatrists — one young and scrupulous, the other older, set on his own agenda, and utterly ruthless — square off, the patient becomes the battleground. It’s a wonderful chess game of sorts.

La Peña Meisner de la Habana is an unofficial group consisting of actors and directors who have studied previously with Stephen Bayly at the Escuela Internacional de Cine in San Antonio de los Baños. It was formed in January 2012 and is dedicated to creating realistic performances in film and theatre. In the Spring of 2012 the group mounted its debut production, Las Tumbas Olvidadas, an adaptation of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, as part of La Semana Británica. In addition to the British Embassy, the group received support from the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televlsion, and the Cuban Council of the Arts. The work was very favorably received, and commended for its refreshingly direct and truthful performances.

The Presentation
The work – a three-hander – has been translated by Cuban scriptwriter Julio Carrillo, and will be presented with two casts – one all-male and one all-female – playing alternate nights. Top Cuban stage and film designer Alain Ortiz will create the set and costumes. The players are, of course, all Cuban, a mix of up-and-coming and well-known actors:

Robert: Hector Noas/Maridelmis Marin
Christopher: Yarlo Ruiz/Idalmis Garcia
Bruce: Ernesto Fidel del Cañal/Yeny Soria

Blue/Orange will be mounted at the Teatro Bertold Brecht from 6 June 2013 for one month, as a presentation of Teatro del Publico. The intention of La Peña is to tour the production both nationally and internationally.

The 100×100 Club
La Peña, as an unofficial group, needs to raise funds in order to mount its productions. In the case of Blue/Orange, we have support from the British and Norwegian Embassies, the EICTV, the Escencia Group, and several UK private patrons – representing about 50% of the production budget.

Several Habaneros business people and arts patrons have decided to get behind the production and have formed a sponsorship group, the 100×100 Club, with the idea of asking for donations of 100cuc as a form of patronage. Members will be invited to the premiere and opening night party, and their patronage will be recognized in the theatre program and all printed publicity. Will you join this illustrious group, support Cuban talent, and become a sponsor of this unique endeavor?

How to Give
For further information or offers of patronage please contact Idalmis Garcia at idalmisgarcia82@gmail.com or phone 052835586.
For remittances outside of Cuba, please send to the account of Directing Arts Ltd., Nat West Bank, sort code: 60-30-03, a/c: 26153483, IBAN: GB84NWBK60300326153483, SWIFT: NWBKGB2L Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology
Beyond what some people knew about Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, the publication of this book in Cuba by the Arte y Literatura Publishing House in 2007 and meticulously translated by Susana Haug and Jesús David Curbelo, aroused the interest of young readers who discovered that 244 former citizens of the fictional small town of Spoon River, Illinois could speak from the epitaphs on their tombstones.

Edgar Lee Masters (1868, Kansas – 1950, Pennsylvania), a lawyer, had published several of his books of poetry and narrative; however, the book that has transcended all boundaries is this one in which the residents of a graveyard unburden themselves and relay details from their lives. Passion, hatred, rancor, reproach, dissatisfactions, pettiness, frustrations and disappointments all emerge.

The argument of this tableau of the dead who bare their souls was an excellent basis for a theatrical production, whose challenge was to link the personal drama of each of the characters so that the play could achieve unity and coherence in the representation of poetic realism that reveals the fabric of the conservative American society of the early 20th-century.

The American actor and professor Sanford Meisner (1905-1997) used these texts to train his students in the search for organicity in the characters. Meisner’s techniques are the foundation of current best practice in terms of producing a truthful performance by the actor.

Review of La Peña Meisner de La Habana
A follower of Meisner, the American director, actor and producer Stephen Bayly, has put this experience into action in Cuba through La Peña Meisner de La Habana, which is conducted by him and his colleague Mary Gowland, and coordinated by actress Idalmis García with the support of actor Fernando Hechevarría, along with other enthusiastic sponsors.

Bayly, who has been director of the School of Film and Television in Great Britain and professor at the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba, was responsible for a unique experience at El Sótano Theater from February 21 to 23 together with a group of young Cuban actors. Spoon River and its graves was an interesting attempt to assess the stage and technical mastery of each of the performers, and bring Cuban audiences into contact with the director’s aesthetics and Meisner’s technique.

At the beginning of the play, Herbert Marshall’s monologue (Ernesto del Canal) revealed the true cause of his pain when he turned to Annabelle and left Louise (Jenny Soriano), who would later acknowledge that, blinded by jealousy, she had tortured and poisoned Herbert. Attorney Benjamin Pantier (Yasmany Guerrero), who was buried next to his dog Nig, complained that he had been left all alone and only his faithful dog had remained by his side. Mrs. Pantier (Najla Raydan), however, lamented that she could not stand the reek of whiskey and onions that emanated from her husband, or live with a dog in a dingy back room of an office.

Emily Sparks, an old maid and a teacher with a “virgin heart” (Alicia Hechavarría) passionately remembered the young boy whom she had prayed so much for; and in his monologue, Eugene Carman (Idalmis García) explained the frustration of having been a slave of Thomas Rhodes, the church leader, all his life. Dora Williams, the milliner’s daughter (Lynn Cruz), told about the extraordinary life that she had led as a rich woman, married first to a drunk and then a scoundrel, both of whom had left her considerable fortunes when they died, until the last of her husbands, Count Navigato, poisoned her. Her mother, the milliner (Najla Raydan) had an excuse for women to be happy wearing hats.

Other Spoon River deceased residents told their tales: Paul MacNeely (Yasmany Guerrero) passionately thanked his Jane for her care in his last moment. The aspiring artist Archibald Higbie (Marydelmis Martín) cursed Spoon River and was ashamed of his birthplace for its lack of culture, but the work which he had carried out in Europe had no spiritual grip and was never authentic. By refuting his epitaph, which spoke of a peaceful life, Cassius Hueffer (Joset Posada) reveals a homosexuality that is barely implied in the poem.

Spoon River’s dead interact in the play: Tom Merritt (Reinier Hernández) was killed by his wife’s lover, and Mrs. Merritt (Yaima Morfa) committed suicide after being wrongfully convicted to thirty years in prison for killing her husband. Nancy Knapp (Lynn Cruz), who had mortgaged the farm to keep it going, died by setting fire to the house, while Barry Holden (Ernesto Canal), Nancy’s brother, led by the despair that is often engendered by poverty, killed his wife who was carrying their ninth child in her womb.

Other tragic stories complete a cast of characters that keep the monologues deftly linked together to the end: Aner Clute (Idalmis Garcia), a victim of ruthless judgment by the townspeople; Lucius Atherton (Reinier Hernandez), a decadent ladies’ man turned into a beggar; the German peasant Elsa Wertman (Marydelmis Marín) who to avoid scandal, allows her seducer, Thomas Greene (Rigel Salema), to take her son—Hamilton Greene, judge, member of Congress and leader in the state—away from her; and Harry Wilmans (Ariel Albóniga), a young man who is dragged into war.

The production stands out for the meticulous realism of the sets and costumes, which contrasts with the abstraction that involves the lost souls who reel off their stories to the audiences; the concise but effective music and the value of silence; the strong dramatic structure. The play, however, suffers from uneven performances, especially when it requires introspection, but that was an anticipated risk for bringing together actors from diverse backgrounds and experience. Nevertheless, the appropriate balance is a tribute to the excellence of Edgar Lee Masters’s poetry and cause for gratitude to all who made this production possible, especially Stephen Bayly, for offering his expertise, and opening new avenues for Cuban theater.

If you are interested in tickets for the show and / or supporting Stephen’s work, which needs sponsorship or other support to enable it to continue, please contact:

Idalmis Garcia Rodriguez
+53 5 283 5586 / +53 7 261 3357 /
idalmitass@yahoo.es


ABOUT STEPHEN BAYLY, Producer, Writer, Director, Former director of the NFTS and Ealing Film Studios. As consultant, he helped establish the highly regarded Actors Temple in London, a training ground for actors specializing in the techniques of Sanford Meisner. He has study Meisner intensively for years and now specializes in teaching directors how to work with actors using these methods. He has worked alongside directors such as Tony and Ridley Scott, Claude Chabrol, Volker Schloendorf, Marleen Gorris… His films have received several Baftas, Oscar nominations and a Golden Bear in Berlin. He is a member of the Industry Panel of the Skillset Media Academy Wales

Stephen may be contacted at stephen@directingarts.com October 2011

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