REVIEW: Embrace SpeakEasy Stage Company’s illuminating ‘English’

Learning a new language brings all kinds of emotions to the surface.   One is swept out of one’s own element and that can be as exciting as it is daunting. It can also become a long and awkward struggle to capture the essence of a new culture while steeped in a new language. Though one is gaining something new, one might also be losing a bit of themselves.

Thoughtfully directed by Melory Mirashrafi, Speakeasy Stage Company continues Sanaz Toossi’s English at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts live and in person through Saturday, November 19.  The performance reviewed was audio described and one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

One of the most fascinating messages in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s English is the realization that one can learn many languages, but can only know one. That one native language is the foundation for all the rest.  In learning to speak a new language, it can reshape what comes naturally.

English delves into the lives of four students living in Iran who are learning the English language for TOEFL, a standardized test that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The production is mostly in the English language with no subtitles.  It takes a moment to catch on, but Mirashrafi cleverly depicts when characters are speaking in their native tongue.

Leyla Modirzadeh as Roya in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This multi-generational cast has various and deep seated reasons for learning English and this production resonates universal truths of having to learn a new language whether by choice or necessity. English does explore the political climate of learning English in Iran, but what is most memorable are the hardships, victories, competitiveness, and the often flustered frustration of learning a peculiar new facet of life.  Each individual demonstrates a different degree of longing to belong. It is not difficult to relate to this small and dynamic cast in their obstacles, earnestness, but most importantly, in the strength in who they are.  Deniz Khateri depicts complicated Marjan, who seems to firmly place herself in the world of the language she teaches. In a multi-layered performance, Khateri as Marjan is engaging and encouraging, but also firm and mysteriously guarded.  She lends to the show’s tension and subtle humor and has unique chemistry with each student. Lily Gilan James portrays wide-
eyed and optimistic Goli with effervescent candor. She stands on her own mistakes while earnestly articulating the nature of her wishes. 

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Leyla Modirzedeh as wise and headstrong Roya is strongly urged to learn English to communicate with new members of her long distance family.  A sympathetic character, Modirzedeh powerfully evokes Roya’s sincerity and her struggle between her heritage and this new way of communicating.   Zaven Ovian depicts Omid with easygoing charm and he shares some compelling scenes with Khateri as Marjan and with witty, outspoken and understandably frustrated Elham, a standout performance by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Elham is a complex individual who is as compassionate as she is bold and is often hardest on herself.

Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Elham in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nina Vartanian’s culturally sound and vivid costumes pop in Janie E Howland’s realistic classroom staging and enhanced by an elegant, multicolored portrait in teal, orange, red, brown, and beige.   

English is an honest, straightforward, warmly funny, and universally relatable journey of discovering a new language and in all of its difficulties, deciding whether or how to embrace it.  See English and embrace its life lessons. 

Deniz Khateri (left) and Zaven Ovian in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Sanaz Toossi’s English live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA through Saturday, November 19.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema talks Fortune and greed in classic satire ‘The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France’

With a dose of comedy and memorable music, The Boston Camerata kicks off its 64th season with an enduring satire on hypocrisy, abuse, and greed called The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Based on a 14th century poem the Roman de Fauvel, this compelling piece focuses on corrupt rulers and the effect they have on society.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

 

The Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema portrays Fortune in this political fable.  She describes her pivotal role, the show’s contemporary significance, and plans for the future.

Sleepless Critic:  You took on the role of Fortune in Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France. No doubt Fortune must play a powerful role in this piece.

Anne Azema:  Fortune or Lady Luck, a kind of pagan Goddess surviving into the Christian Middle Ages, is a powerful presence and presented as a female in medieval literature. According to the Carmina Burana text, she holds the world in her hands, sits on her wheel, will raise some and crush others – and will leave you shirtless, with a bare back.  Fauvel, the Orange-Maned Horse, has put in his mind to conquer the entire world by wooing and then marrying Fortune.  Little does he know Fortune’s answer to his courtship is a severe put-down.

SC:  This show is a satire, but it carries a contemporary significance ahead of the midterm elections.

AA:  Fauvel began Camerata’s long series of story-telling programs, an effort that continues to this day.  I think Fauvel’s truculent criticism of hypocrisy, abuse, and greed in public life continues to be as relevant as the headlines in today’s newspapers. Some of the lines from 1310 seem so relevant, it will give you shivers.

SC:  What was it like working with the cast?

AA:  A complete joy!  Our core team has performed this piece in various configurations before.  Aside from our three singers, we will have two instrumentalists and a narrator, who will share, in irreverent English verse, the adventure of our Horse, Fauvel.

We are also happy to include Longy School of Music of Bard College students and Brandeis students.  They will all take part in the revels of Fauvel’s Wedding Night!

SC:  What inspired you to bring it to the Boston Camerata stage this season?

AA:  Its manuscript source is interesting on many levels so it is well known both to musicians and literary types who have an interest in early repertoires.  It’s a vehement diatribe in verse against the abuse of power in Paris of 1310, but there is a visual aspect to the book which includes beautiful illuminated miniatures. The music, an anthology so to speak, of varied genre and style of pieces, were songs that were circulating in Paris at the time.  They were either recycled from other sources to fit the narrative or composed to illustrate the purpose.

Camerata developed a first version of Fauvel in the 90s as a commission for Warner/Erato.  Within the Boston Camerata’s repertoire are programs both recently created and ‘classic’. Our Fauvel falls into this latter category. We are delighted this production continues to be in demand both here and in Europe.

SC:  What sort of music will this show offer?

AA:  Written many centuries ago but very accessible, the music is direct and acoustical.  It’s a mixture of voice(s) and instruments in a small setting. The public is close to the performers and has an ‘organic’ access to them.  The trademark to our performances is a blend of spontaneity, energy, and emotional commitment with careful research and scholarship.

SC:  Though this show has its moments of humor, this piece is message-driven. What is the best reason you think people should see this show?

In the end, I believe what is important is spending an entertaining hour or more together. Although the music is seven centuries old, it is totally enjoyable.  Its beauty and energy will bring you to another powerful place and frankly, speaking of humour and satire, we all need to blow off a little steam in this highly fraught moment.

Boston Camerata Fauvel (2)

The cast in action. Photo courtesy of the Boston Camerata

 

SC:  Boston Camerata’s 64th season boasts a wonderful lineup including Christmas performances Puer Natus Est: A Medieval Christmas and Gloria! An Italian Christmas in December. How do you select each season’s performances?

AA:  My choices are driven by my personal interests, the teams we have, the repertory book we want to keep alive, and by our mission to create new programs combined with touring and recording demands. The idea is to keep us and our audiences alert, perky, and open to new experiences.

SC:   I understand you are also a soloist, often writing your own pieces, touring, or recording. Please tell me about that.

I just returned from touring Canada with a One Woman Show, a show which presents music of the 12th and 13th century. These recitals, alone or with colleagues, offer a different way of connecting with the public and demand a deeper relationship with the music.

SC:  What work you are currently working on?

AA:  I will continue to look at narratives/storytelling and prepare several recording and media projects in the coming seasons.  Besides our medieval shows, we’ve been involved in early American music. We are also working on the release of our Naxos CD recorded last season in the context of a Canadian, American, and Dutch project. We recorded The Harmonia Mundi CD in September and that will contain some powerful, motivating American songs of resistance and rebellion!

For one day only, The Boston Camerata presents The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Click here for more information and tickets and be sure to follow The Boston Camerata on Facebook for all their latest news.