VIEWPOINTS – THE FOUNTAINHEAD and SLEEP: Two smashing stage adaptations of literary works seduce at BAM

After a couple of disappointing offerings (notably Thaddeus Phillips’ uninspired A Billion Nights on Earth and the Wales Millennium Centre’s stylish staging of Manfred Karge’s otherwise tedious Man to Man), BAM’s Next Wave Festival has come back with a vengeance in the past week with two absolutely smashing stage adaptations of literary works. 

Naomi Iizuka's stage adaptation of Haruki Murakami's "Sleep" at BAM Fishman Space.

Naomi Iizuka’s stage adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s “Sleep” at BAM Fishman Space.

First up was Naomi Iizuka’s seductive theatrical adaptation of Sleep (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), Haruki Murakami’s 1994 short story about a housewife who opts to bypass sleep altogether to mind-opening, albeit dangerous, effect. The production, hypnotically devised and directed by Rachel Dickstein and the Brooklyn-based theater company Ripe Time, does an ingenious job of theatricalizing our heroine’s increasingly surreal mindscapes via spare but evocative choreography (magnetically performed by the ensemble cast), evolving perspectives (kudos to the expert design team), and an eerie score (performed live, terrifically, by the NewBorn Trio). But the real achievement was the seamlessness with which each element is weaved together into a haunting whole. I left BAM’s Fishman Space shaken by the ambivalence of the piece, which is agnostic about the liberation afforded by excessive behavior, despite the harrowing, unknown consequences. Indeed, the production makes palpable the undeniable thrill of standing at the edge of nothingness, or a whole new dimension.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam's stage adaptation of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s stage adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House.

I followed up that Next Wave experience with a vastly different – but equally brilliant – literary stage adaptation, Toneelgroep Amsterdam messy, gloriously unsentimental version of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. The four-hour production (Dutch-spoken with English surtitles), extravagantly directed by the theatrical auteur of the moment Ivo van Hove and blazingly performed by his fearless company, managed to transform Rand’s seminal, if didactic, novel into an irresistibly entertaining pulp epic. We all know that Mr. van Hove is prone to audacious directorial flourishes, but here it works dazzlingly to highlight the inherent selfishness of man, regardless of philosophy (including the Rand-advocated individualism). In this Fountainheadall men are objectively ridiculous, juvenile creatures no matter how aggressively they debate their points of view. In its irreverence, Rand’s piece attains, perhaps unintentionally but nonetheless successfully, a certain jaded clarity – and pitch black fatalism.

Off-Broadway, Play
BAM Fishman Space
1 hours, 25 minutes (without an intermission)

Off-Broadway, Play
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
4 hours, 15 minutes (with one intermission)


Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

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