Friday, January 25, 2013

A GIANT OF SWEDISH DRAMA | Hanging out with Lars Norén

BRUSSELS and NEW YORK CITY |  Eventually the conversation turns to faith. "Do you believe in God?" the Swedish dramatist and director Lars Norén asks me. Tendrils of cigarette smoke rise to meet the short respite that follows. Dark electronic music, firmly rooted in rock grooves, pulses in the background. The atmosphere in the Brussels coffee shop, situated near the busy central market square of the Grand Place -- the second place Norén and I have alighted this October evening, after closing down the first café-is alternately dreamy, ultra-modern and bright-white.

Noren's question isn't an idle one. It emerges after several hours of talk (which began after rehearsals in a black-box studio of the Théâtre National of the Belgian French community) about his work, his life, his native Sweden and his expectations of coming to New York City. Demonstrating a warm sensitivity that runs counter to the usual portrait of him in Sweden as diffident and press-shy, Noren speaks of the autobiographical sources of the cruel realities and social inequalities that permeate his early family plays. He remarks on the Jewish streak that runs through the terra incognita of his Scandinavian sensibility. He elucidates his theatrical preoccupation with the extraordinary spate of high-profile violent crimes perpetrated by Swedish neo-Nazis in his native country. And he acknowledges the uncompromising gravity evinced in the succession of frankly political dramas he's written of late.

Me and Lars Norén: he is the new August Strindberg of the 21st century
"The thought of God doesn't disturb me at all," Norén says firmly, after I pose the same question to him. "Several days ago I was in a plane, and I could see all the beauty of life in the heavens. I saw the world as very fragile and so beautiful. I saw for myself the miracle of what man has created. The meaning of the word 'beauty' is stronger if the world has created itself, without God. I'm more of an existentialist of the Jean-Paul Sartre philosophy: You have to create the meaning with what you are doing every day. I see it in rehearsals: Actors and modern dancers do beautiful things on stage, but at the very moment they've done it, it's gone. You have to give life meaning in every moment-not in the name of God."

Bald, compact, almost Zen-like in his trademark black jeans and black T-shirt, Norén is the theatrical lion whom Swedes most esteem-and the enfant terrible about whom they are most hotly divided. The author of more than 50 plays, the 63-year-old writer-director is reputed to be the August Strindberg of the 20th century (a comparison he detests) and heir to the auteur mantle left behind by Ingmar Bergman in the 21st (if you accept patriarchal lineages).

Norén's language burns with heat, anger, humor, sexual energy and existential angst, and his body of work is a powder keg of hidden complexes, unconscious desires, corrosive frustration and painful confrontations. He is an entrepreneur of psychologically complex and difficult characters who often torment and humiliate each other. Although glimmers of human compassion do appear in his works, there is very little, perhaps no, salvation in his plays War and In Memory of Anna Politkovskaïa, where sex gives the illusion of protection against death.

For the first time, Lars Norén is directing a contemporary piece other than his own. His lazer-like production of The Fever, the OBIE Award-winning play by Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With André, Vanya on 42nd Street, and Grasses of A Thousand Colors) alights at LaMaMa E.T.C.  Running January 24 to February 3rd, 2013, Lars has cast an acclaimed French-Romanian actress Simona Maicanescu as an unnamed upper-middle-class woman from New York who wakes up fevered and frightened in the bug-infested hotel room of some war-torn country and begins probing the very foundations on which both her way of living and her way of thinking are based. This powerful dramatic monologue, written between 1985 and 1990 but more relevant now than ever, examines. Lars' 80-minute French production is an adaptation by Maicanescu and Norén, drawing both from Shawn’s original text and his 2007 rewrite.

Since 2009, Maicanescu (best known for her work with Andrei Serban in Romania, André Wilms, Lukas Hemleb and Jean-François Peyret at Paris’ famed Odéon Theater) has performed the show to critical acclaim in both French and English throughout France and at international festivals in Sweden, Luxemburg, and Romania. The Fever is her first one-woman show.

A tragedian by temperament, Norén has exerted the same influence on the contemporary Swedish drama as Bergman did in the cinema. The height of Norén's fame-the 1997 six-hour epic, Category 3:1, mounted by Dramaten (Royal Dramatic Theater) in collaboration with Riksteatern-epitomized the reemergence of socially and politically committed writing in contemporary Swedish theatre. That decade's most celebrated play, Category 3:1 was a large-scale quilt of stories told by about 30 characters on the down side of life. Consciously switching his focus from the troubles of the cultural elite to the plight of Stockholm's underworld, Norén gave powerful voice to the homeless, drug dealers, an alcoholic, a high-school-teacher-turned-schizophrenic, out-of-work artists and executives, as well as a pimp and prostitute.

The label "Swedish playwright" means nothing to Norén, he says. "I'm a European. I know as much about Paris and Berlin as I know about Stockholm. I read the English newspapers. I read the German newspapers. I think my only home is in my language."

That non-conformist stance, that rebelliousness, is, of course, very Swedish. -- randy gener

Running time: 85 minutes

Written by Wallace Shawn
Adaptation by Simona Maicanescu and Lars Norén
Performed by Simona Maicanescu (Paris)
Directed by Lars Norén
Lighting by Jean Poisson
Costume by Chatoon
Sound by Sophie Buisson
Artistic collaboration: Nelly Bonnafous, Bob Meyer

January 24-27 [Thu-Sun] & January 31-February 3 [Thu-Sun]
Thursday-Saturday: 7:30 pm
Sunday: 2:30 pm

La MaMA, First Floor Theater, 74 East 4th Street, New York

Tickets: $18 / $13 for Students & Seniors
Online tickets and information:
Box Office: 212-475-7710

Presented in association with Le Nouvel Olympia – CDR de Tours Théâtre de l’Espace – Scène Nationale de Besançon / Apocryphe Tendance.  With the support of Athénée -Théâtre Louis Jouvet.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

GUEST PERFORMANCE | A Night to Honor the King of Latin Soul

NEW YORK CITY |  On Tuesday, January 15, I will give a performance in "A Night With Joe Bataan," an event organized by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Metro New York. Please come.

The event, a tribute to Bataan, will take place at John Jay College, CUNY (located at 524 W. 59th Street b/w 10th & 11th Room 9.64: aka 9th Floor conference Room).

Joe Bataan, known as the King of Latin Soul, is best known for his musical mashup of Boogaloo, Latin Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Salsa, Disco, Latin Funk, Latin R&B, Latin Jazz, & Rap. He was born and raised in Spanish Harlem in 1942 to an African-American mother and Filipino father. He will receive a lifetime achievement award on Tuesday night.

Performers include:
Ryan "Hydroponikz" Abugan(Hip Hop Emcee)
Liz Cassasola (Broadway Barkada)
Randy Gener (FANHS Outstanding Artist 2012)
Kilusan Bautista (Universal Soul, FANHS Outstanding Artist 2012).

Admission is free although donations are quite welcome and will help sustain future cultural and educational programs and events.

A raffle of various prizes will also help to pay for FANHS events.

Light refreshments will be served.

John Jay College- CUNY
524 W. 59th Street b/w 10th & 11th
Room 9.64 (aka 9th Floor Conference Room)
6PM to 9PM

Please also consider becoming a member of

If you have questions please email:

Friday, January 11, 2013

theater of One World REPORT | Shouldn't the Golden Globe Awards promote a cinema without borders?

LOS ANGELES |  Have you noticed that the French and the Scandinavians once again dominate the 2013 Golden Globe nominees for best foreign language films?  To a disproportionate degree.  Two nominees come from France, two from Scandinavia, with the front-runner (from Austria) easily construed as French.

Normally you get a veritable United Nations sampling. One country, one slot. What makes the foreign-language film category so special is its gloriously wide range and its inclusion of stories American moviegoers don’t usually get to see. Call it Hollywood-style Cultural Diplomacy. Given that the presenter of the Golden Globes is none other than the foreign press, you would expect it to represent a diversity of international cinema.

Unfortunately, the Academy Awards followed suit. Save for Canada (War Witch) and Chile (No), this year’s five nominees for best foreign film in the 85th Academy Awards were notably from Europe, with no Asian or African representation. Among them were the expected likes of Austria’s French-language film Amour, Norway’s Kon-tiki and Denmark’s A Royal Affair — all three films are Golden Globes nominees.
This year, the geographic spread in the best foreign-language category looks thin, meager and too Euro-dominated.

Whoever wins, you won’t even get to enjoy the cynic’s satisfaction of accusing the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards for being radical chic, since there’s no chance for a politically correct winner to emerge from an exotic conflict zone like Iran, Palestine or Afghanistan.

So what exactly happened that only the French and Scandinavians grabbed most of the booty? This question comes to mind, not just because of this yesterday’s announcement of the Academy Award.  As it has for 10 years running now, the American Cinematheque is presently screening all five Golden Globe nominees for Foreign-Language Film at the Egyptian Theater and Aero Theater in the Los Angeles area. The screenings of the nominated foreign-language films take place through January 11.  See the American Cinematheque website for details.

And there will be a public discussion on Saturday, January 12: To mark this 10th year of this film series, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (in association with Cinematheque and Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television) is presenting a “Golden Globes Foreign Language Film Symposium.”  The January 12 symposium features the directors of the five nominated films. They are Jacque Audiard (Rust and Bone), Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg (Kon-tiki), Michael Haneke (Amour), Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) and Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano (The Intouchables).

The 70th Annual Golden Globe® Awards will take place on Sunday, January 13, 2013, live coast-to-coast on NBC from 5:00-8:00 p.m. (PST)/8:00-11:00 p.m. (EST) from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For more information, please visit

Moderated by a Swede — Lasse Halmström (My Life as a Dog) — the GG symposium will be streamed live on the Golden Globes site on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM PST (Los Angeles). In Paris, that schedule translates to Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8:00 PM CET.  If you would like to submit a question to the panelists, you may email your question to Please include your name, city, and country.

Do you think someone will actually ask why the geographic representation among this year’s nominees is so remarkably limited? I think not. After all, the directors slated to speak didn’t self-nominate; they had no real say in the matter.

Look at the stats: In both the Golden Globes (GG) and the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, France has been one of the most successful countries in the world, followed by the United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden. Excluding 2013, France has garnered the most number of Golden Globe nominations: 73 total nominations (including the Samuel Goldwyn International Award). Number 2 and 3 are United Kingdom and Italy.

In terms of actual Golden Globe wins (since 1950), the most honored country remains the United Kingdom (with 16 wins), followed by France (11 wins), and followed by Italy, Sweden and West Germany (8 wins each).

As I said, these figures do not include this current award year. They are based on the results I generated from the official GG website, which allows for quick database searches. Looking more globally, the search results reveal furthermore that:

  1. France  — 73 nominations, 11 wins
  2. United Kingdom  — 60 nominations, 16 wins
  3. Italy — 41 nominations, 8 wins
  4. Sweden — 15 nominations, 8 wins
  5. Japan  — 14 nominations, 6 wins
  6. Spain  — 12 nominations, 3 wins
  7. West Germany 12 nominations, 8 wins [before German reunification]
  8. Germany  — 12 nominations, 3 wins [after reunification]
  9. Mexico — 12 nominations, 1 win
  10. Denmark  — 7 nominations, 3 wins
  11. Israel  — 7 nominations, 3 wins

What does it say about our film culture that the same European countries that have historically dominated the foreign-film category are, by design if not by intent, systematically given preference and greater recognition? Amour may be one of the year’s best films, but the unfair dominance of the French and Scandinavians among this year’s GG and AA nominees for best foreign language films does not suggest to me that the best of the best cinema comes mainly from Western Europe. I don’t know about you, but such an assessment seems hard to believe. To me it suggests that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did not look far enough. Nor did it dig deeper enough into the film traditions of other countries.

Jean Hersholt once argued that “an international award, if properly and carefully administered, would promote a closer relationship between American film craftsmen and those of other countries.” And yet in foreign policy as in cultural matters, marginalized countries and weaker film industries are often unable to present their views and visions effectively due to lack of resources, experience or expertise. The Academy Award’s one-country-one-film rule may be problematic to some filmmakers, but at least it has the virtue of systemically ensuring that every country receives an equal chance at being recognized.

Shouldn't the Golden Globe Awards promote a cinema without borders?

Today, I posted a cultural analysis and investigation of the Golden Globes best-foreign-language-film category in theater of One World to explore the problem: click here.