Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

A Man of Good Hope – An Enduring Refugee


While impossible to wrap one’s mind around extremes of worldwide refugee/immigrant suffering, the experience of a single man hits home with unerring aim. When A Man of Good Hope was scheduled at BAM, President Obama was still in the White House. Little did its host or creators realize how much more the play’s powerful message would resonate in what has become a toxic atmosphere of isolationism and bigotry.

The production can arguably be called a people’s opera – which is to say it features operatic arias in tandem with traditional African music and pop. Indigenous percussive movement, freewheeling staging, and costumes made of street clothes with African touches, give it the aura of being put on by itinerant players which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Actors sing (in several languages), rhythmically dance, and play seven marimbas – mallet-struck wooden xylophones, occupying both sides of a raked stage surrounded by corrugated metal. The only scenery/props are door frames, cardboard guns, placards, and boxes. No more is needed.

As told to South African writer and scholar, Jonny Steinberg (a white man) over the course of a year, A Man of Good Hope (after his 2015 book) dramatizes the inadvertent pilgrimage of Somali Asad Abdullahi. Then living in a Cape Town shanty, its protagonist was cobbling together a living making deliveries when Steinberg paid for his subject’s time in order to make it feasible for him to be off the hustle. Every interview was conducted in the author’s western car with clear view of oncoming trouble. Abdullahi had learned his lesson well. (By the end of the process, he and his family were admitted to The United States – after which, alas, we know nothing.)

At eight years-old, Abdullahi witnessed the murder of his mother, was put on a truck by his uncle and then separated from an accompanying cousin when the 15 year-old was conscripted into the army. Shown kindness by a tea seller, at nine, he found himself nursing (feeding, wiping, washing) her through a gunshot wound to the leg. She would eventually abandon the boy.

As he (often unwillingly) moved from Somalia through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, the boy grew up facing poverty, xenophobia, repeated violence by both a diverse roster of rebels and his “own” people (the Somali “clan” system is omnipresent), married, had a child, divorced, and married again.

Still, this is not a piece made up solely of cruelty and racism. Our hero perseveres. Every village presents a fresh start, every human connection a new opportunity to work with others. He’s hard working and resourceful. There are hopeful welcomes, reunions, and successes along the way. Nothing is taken for granted, yet the character himself is not portrayed as flawless. Pragmatically Abdullahi put one foot in front of the other, never becoming like those who made his life serially horrific. Somewhere over the horizon was America where it’s always safe, there are no guns, everyone is rich…

A Man of Good Hope is a testament to human spirit and the power of brotherhood almost as much as an historical warning against discrimination, violence, and utter lack of compassion. It’s illuminating, entertaining, and exhausting. (It could successfully be cut by at least half an hour.) What ultimately keeps us (the audience) from being enveloped by fatalism is likely musicalization  – often buoyant, pulsing tunes, empathetic vocals, and gestural dance. Still, if one prays or has an inclination to political action, this offers ample reason to do both.

A Man of Good Hope, Isango Ensemble

The Isango Ensemble – all sizes, shapes, ages and colors, is terrific. Director Mark Dornford-May does a wonderful job of making ebb and flow seem organic; keeping energy high, focus complete. Drama is visceral. Hope is happy. My single caveat is that it’s difficult to understand a great many of the strong accents; we get the gist, but particulars are too often lost. (Speech & Dialogue – Lesley Nott Manim)

Abdullahi is played by the appealing Siphosethu Juta as an eight year-old, Zoleka Mpotsha as a youth, Luvo Tamba as a young man and Ayanda Tikolo as a grown man. The succession is seamless. Busiswe Ngejane and Pauline Malefane have particularly beautiful voices. Mandisi Dyantyis is a marvelously visual conductor.

Photos of The Company by Rebecca Greenfield

A Man of Good Hope                                                                                                                

Based on the book by Jonny Steinberg
Isango Ensemble/Young Vic
Directed by Mark Dornford-May
Music- Mandisi Dyantyis with the Ensemble
Movement- Lungelo Ngamiana
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Through February 19, 2017

The Hard Nut– Wrecking Cheerful Havoc with The Nutcracker


In 1991, at 35, Mark Morris was still thought of as an enfant terrible by many dance aficionados. His retelling of the iconic Nutcracker includes party guests wearing disco garb who get drunk, grope, grind, copulate on the floor, and steal gifts, a bratty boy, a nymphomaniac teenager, a bored maid, a magic television, Barbie and GI Joe dolls, a robot, lots of men playing women, and pop dances like the Stroll, Bump, and Hokey-Pokey.

The Hard Nut

The program synopsis describes things one doesn’t see/understand while watching. According to text, the Rat Queen in Drosselmeier’s fable destroys heroine Princess Pirlipat’s face. When a young suitor successfully cracks the hard nut, it’s restored. He then steps back onto said queen killing the rodent. Pirlipat becomes beautiful again, while her savior grows ugly like a nutcracker. She rejects him. I recognized none of this.

There are also puzzles we do observe like Pirlipat’s briefly becoming a pig or a baby carriage from which (I think) a child is kidnapped. Whether accustomed to the original story or turning to the program for help, you may find yourself somewhat lost.

The Hard Nut

In Act I, children Marie (Lauren Grant), Fritz (June Omura with an Alfalfa cowlick) and Louise/later Princess Pirlipat (Lesley Garrison), dress up to join their parents’ party. Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum (a well-padded, unrecognizable Mark Morris and John Heginbotham, who looks distinctly like Eve Arden) host, as maid/nurse (a striking Brandon Randolph, the only original cast member) keeps an eye on the kids. Gifts are opened and summarily discarded. Drosselmeier (Billy Smith) brings Louise a nutcracker which Fritz breaks. Act II: Drosselmeier returns at midnight. Finding Louise distressed, tells her a bedtime story which comes alive. A graphic, hypnosis spiral indicates dreaming.

The Hard Nut

There are some touchstones of the original: Louise shrinks, making her proportionate to the Nutcracker hero, who turns into a handsome prince (Aaron Loux). They have several pas de deux. Rats, lead by their King (Utafumi Takemura), and GI Joes (in place of gingerbread men or toys) do battle. Don’t hold your breath for The Sugar Plum Fairy. I thought I caught a glimpse of her, but she gets no cast call out, so what was once a celebration of sweets from around the world becomes something else.

First, we see dancing snowflakes who toss handfuls of glittery snow on perfect cue,  moving back and forth )and back and forth and back and forth) across the stage creating a beautifully programmed fountain. Then, pirouetting flowers, and finally, characters from Spain, Arabia, China, Russia, and France, separately and together.Morris’s updated fairytale ending is extremely clever.

The Hard Nut

There’s as much theatrical mime as choreography in Morris’s work here. Enjoyment depends entirely on your personal taste. If you attend, jettison preconceptions.

Adrienne Lobel’s Set Design consists of comic drawings that look as contemporary in today’s world of graphic novels as they must’ve originally. (Sets and Costumes are or copy the originals.)

Martin Pakledinaz’s Costumes are a mixed bag. Fantasy and international characters are well realized, but party guests look discordant in an effort, one presumes, to be flamboyant. Wigs are wonderful.

James F. Ingalls’ Lighting adds atmosphere and focus.

Photos by Julieta Cervantes
Pas de Deux: Aaron Loux and Louise Garrison
Ending: Aaron Loux & Louise Garrison
All others The Company

The Hard Nut
Based on the book by E.T.A. Hoffman: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky- The Nutcracker OP. 71
Mark Morris Dance Group
Choreography by Mark Morris
MMDG Music Ensemble and The Hard Nut Singers conducted by Colin Fowler
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave
Through December 18, 2016