From Film to Stage: The Chaplin Plays at the Dream Up Festival 2016

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.

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“The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” by Don Nigro. To be presented by Theater for the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016. Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin. Photo by Al Foote III.

“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

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Chaplin (Ivette Dumeng) is interogated by Anastasia (Tatyana Kot). Photo by Igor Maloratsky.

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/.

The glamour of it all! New York! America!

By Tim Esteves

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The Cuban Revolution at Dream Up 2016

The Cuban Revolution at Dream Up 2016

Step aside Castro, there’s a new revolution brewing, and it’s happening at TNC’s Dream Up Festival. “Alpha 66” by Robby Ramos is a new drama that explores the ways a Cuban family is thrown into disarray in the wake of the communist revolution in the 1960s.

Cuba is now, as it has always been, a hot topic in the American sphere. From the beginning of the nation’s history, when Cuba was a colony of Spain, America displayed ambitions to annex, or at least gain de facto control over the island. After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, the US declared Cuba a protectorate, installing a government whose initial pro-American attitude dissolved into bitter dislike. As a result, it’s little secret to the average passerby that the US and Cuba share a bit of an abusive relationship. Cuba had a rough breakup with America in the 1950s after Dictator Batista’s regime was overthrown by Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement. Tensions would continue to build between the nations culminating in the Missile Crisis of October 1962- a thirteen day showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union concerning the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. And things have been shaky between the two ever since. It wasn’t until the later years of the Obama presidency that a reestablishing of relations between America and Cuba has occurred.

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Papo’s choice between nation and family.

Hence, “Alpha 66” comes at a time when there is a resurgence of interest in Cuba and Cuban goods in the mainland United States, after nearly fifty years of embargoes and travel bans. Tourism in Cuba is expected to increase sharply over the coming years, and famous imports such as Cuban rum and cigars are expected to begin filtering into American markets.

The narrative of the play follows a single family of common people during the apex of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the American radio host Bill Kenny sends anti-Castro broadcasts into the island nation, the cruel warden of a prison, Madre, has the soldier Papo interrogate his own brother, Rafa, an illustrator who stands accused of distributing a propaganda poster of Che Guevara in drag. As the two brothers confront one another, their younger sister Ava is brought in for interrogation by Madre. As the play progresses, the family’s association with the terrorist group “Alpha 66” becomes evident, and Papo must choose between nation and kinship.

The parallel of the nation and the family is constant throughout the play, and the line between them is often blurred despite it never being crossed. The government in the play focuses on “control through nourishing,” said Aminta de Lara, artistic director of the Sinteatro-Intimus Company and the actor playing Madre, “dictatorships make and effort to turn people into children.” Hence, the play sees the government taking on stern, almost motherly, qualities while Papo’s family begins to resemble politics, focusing on issues of freedom of speech and thought.

The play is also concerned with democracy and freedom and the fragility with which they exist. “We’re hoping very much that we can make them think about such important values about freedom…how important democracy is, and how quickly it can go away,” de Lara said, “People take it for granted.”

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From L to R : Katia Martin as Ava, Txai Frota as Rafa, and Robby Ramos as Papo. Photo by Remy.

The title of the play is derived from Alpha 66, an anti-Castro paramilitary group formed in 1961. Largely based in Miami, Florida, and active during the 1960s and 1970s, Alpha 66 planned several assassinations of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Though none of these attempts materialized, and hopes of an invasion to free Cuba from communist rule dissipated with the failure of the United States’ Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, the group is officially still active today.

“Alpha 66” is written by Robby Ramos of Sinteatro-Intimus, whose family migrated to the United States from Cuba. Sinteatro-Intimus is dedicated to preserving and rediscovering the most basic essence and elements of theatre. “Theatre is about taking photographs of the human soul,” Aminta de Lara said. “Alpha 66” is the first original play the company has produced that is not written by de Lara, and the first play directed by company member Marion Elaine.

“Alpha 66” will premiere at TNC on September 9 at 9:00 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 “Alpha 66” please visit http://www.sinteatrointimus.org/.

By Tim Esteves