From Film to Stage
Charlie Chaplin’s beloved character the Tramp jumps from the screen and onto the stage in “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature,” by Don Nigro, as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016.
For those of you who have been living on Mars for the past century or so, Charlie Chaplin was a British actor, screenwriter and filmmaker. He rose to stardom during the Silent Film Era in the early part of the 20th century with his character the Tramp, a lovable, well-meaning vagrant that both provided a sympathetic figure for the common man and a poignant message about class structure in capitalist societies. Chaplin is largely considered one of the major proponents in bringing films into the artistic sphere, and his later works served to fuse political messages and satire into the fabric of the genre. His role in founding United Artists and supporting the idea that directors can and sometimes ought to produce their own work has influenced countless filmmakers since.
Yet, despite his accomplishments, Chaplin spent nearly twenty years of his career in obscurity, detested by fans who had once considered him a filmic icon.
“The Chaplin Plays” are focused on the idea of stardom, positing the question if we ever truly own our reputation. For this query, Chaplin’s Tramp fits perfectly, as the first play, “Tramp on a Tightrope with Monkeys” is a one-man show, in which Chaplin reflects on his experiences with the cinema, and how in uplifting his career it also condemned it. Chaplin explains how he was drawn into stardom, how his name and image became commonplace, and how it was almost a natural progression for him to begin fusing his actual personality into his characters, resulting in him bringing politics into his work, a decision that would cost him popularity throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
“The second play, ‘Charlie and the Siberian Monkey Goddess,’ deals much more with identity,” Ivette Dumeng, the artistic director of the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company and the actor playing Charlie Chaplin, said, “I’ve always loved Chaplin – his films – I could sit and watch him all day.” Indeed, Chaplin became an icon, a polarizing one that has audience in a love-hate divide even today. Don Nigro wrote “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” for Dumeng and Tatyana Kot; the company decided to perform it after recognizing the play’s fixation on themes of identity, a fixation shared by many modernized societies around the world.
“Identity is always drifting away from us in the dark…” Dumeng said reflectively, “Chaplin was highly flawed. He was a perfectionist. I feel like the people that come to see something like ‘The Chaplin Plays’ will either love Chaplin so much and want to get swept away by him, or they’ll come not really believing.”
The greater narrative of the plays is about identity, as everything from the concept of the tramp to the genders of the actors portraying the characters becomes skewed. In the second play, Chaplin is hounded by Anastasia, the self-proclaimed Siberian Monkey Goddess, who is driven to disprove the notion that he is actually Charlie Chaplin. Both sides have a point, and Chaplin’s identity as the tramp in the play is almost surrealistically ambiguous.
The play also deals with gender identity, seen most readily by the fact that the actor portraying Chaplin is a woman. This casting decision feeds into the themes of identity, as it
not only seemingly justifies Anastasia’s claims that the Tramp in front of her is a hoax, but also leads the audience to disbelief. “I talked to people, and they said if they didn’t know I was a woman, if they didn’t know it was me playing Chaplin in advance, that they would have gone with it,” Dumeng said after talking to audience members after an earlier production of the play.
Dumeng if the artistic director of the Nylon Fusion Theater Company. Started in 2007 with a name derived from the cities of New York and London (NYLon) the company strives to support emerging artists, and specifically produces plays that deal with social, political and culture awareness. While the company originally produced classical plays, like the works of Shakespeare, they now produce plays written by company members or for company members. The current issues regarding identity politics and the way we find identity in American society prompted the company to produce “The Chaplin Plays.”
“I mean why do we go see theatre? It’s not just to be entertained. It’s something else. We want to be swept away,” Dumeng said.
“The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” will premiere at TNC on September 14 at 6:30 PM in the Community Theater. For a full performances schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “The Chaplin Plays” please visit http://www.nylonfusion.org/.
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