'Alma' redeemed by fractured narrative

Alma redeemed by fract

By BRIAN BLONDY
October 11, 2009 13:02
3 minute read.

 
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In 1950, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa released Rashomon, a samurai picture that was perhaps one of the first in cinema history to visually question the nature of individual truth. The narrative of the film repeats a singular crime multiple times, presenting four different human perspectives to explain how perceptions can vary from person to person in viewing the same event. The film was unique when it was released and continues to be influential in modern cinema, which has incorporated the flashback as a narrative device whereas a character's past perceptions of reality is explained. Today, Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol continues Kurosawa's line of questioning reality with his play Alma, which is based on the life of Alma Schindler Mahler-Werfel, and traces Alma's various love affairs and her dominance over some of the century's most successful artists, including Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt and Walter Groupus, who all played significant romantic roles in her life. As the subject of the play, Alma's emotional relationships of the first half of the 20th century are theatrically chronicled and portrayed by multiple actresses as representing the various time periods of her life. While initially confusing to understand, the concept eases comfortably as the three actresses do a marvelous job embodying the various aspects of Alma's personal evolution. The play is presented at the underground prison in the Russian Compound of Jerusalem. Walking through the building is eerily haunting - despite the set being decorated in period décor, it is hard not to forget the history of the location. The prison is an interesting and difficult canvas to ignore, and an excellent location for staging the play due to the irony generated by the freedom of interpretation afforded by the storyline. Similar to Rashomon, Alma's structure is non-linear. Sobol intentionally jumbled and directed the scenes out of chronological order in order to give the audience the role of constructing the play in the sequence they desire. Viewers pass arbitrarily from room to room to watch and listen as the story unfolds, and at every moment of the play, four different scenes are taking place simultaneously. EVERY CHARACTER in the play has his or her own narrative, which they interpret on their own terms. Although it's perplexing to follow the dozen different orbiting storylines which seamlessly flow into each-other, often without warning, each scene's individual truth is relative unto itself, and realizing this makes the play that much more fun. Essentially, Sobol is striving with this unique presentation to make the parts greater than their sum. A clever endeavor indeed and a goal expertly accomplished. Sobol considers Alma to be a "polydrama," meaning that the truth rests in every minute of the structure of the entire story rather than found in the totality of the storyline itself. Alma maximizes all of these possible moments throughout the almost four-and-a-half-hour performance with long winded scenes that impressively carve out distinct slices of the personalities of the characters. The play moved along so smoothly that the daunting length did not detract from the enjoyment, which actually deepened with the pleasure of discovering the idiosyncrasies of the various characters during the often uninterrupted 15-20 minute scenes. As a literal fly on the wall, it often felt as though the audience was spying on the players' complex life dramas, whih was presumably one of Sobol's central goals with regards to the audience. Nevertheless, near the end of the play, there were moments when Alma's drama reached an emotional flashpoint and the voyeuristic nature of the audience's presence seemed to violate some the most intimate moments between the couples. For this reason, Sobol should be commended for his script and for giving life to such intense feelings in a theatrical setting. Was reality an illusion or was illusion a reality at the performance? The idea of "not breaking the fourth wall" indeed did not apply. At Alma, the audience has a front row seat in the theater of life. Alma is a Rashomon theatrical experience and it should be lauded and appreciated for its intense originality in capturing the realness of life, love and drama on stage. Alma will be playing at the Russian Compound through October 31. Tickets can be purchased through http://www.alma-mahler.com/engl/tickets/tickets.html.

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