It remains a major theatrical tragedy that Lorraine Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at age 34 in 1965, less than six years after A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway – and the question is often asked: What other classics might she have written if she had lived longer?
But the great Black American writer did, in fact, leave behind other plays, finished and unfinished. In 2016, the National Theatre of Great Britain produced a new version of Hansberry’s posthumously premiered play Les Blancs, a critique of colonialism set in a fictional African country on the brink of civil war, and it received great reviews.
A well-filmed archive recording of Les Blancs is streaming on YouTube until Thursday – featuring a tremendous performance by Danny Sapani as a man who returns home from Europe to bury his father.
The director of the production in question is Yaël Farber, the Canada-based South African theatre artist who was head of the directing program at the National Theatre School of Canada for several years. In a New York Times article, she explained how she, dramaturge Drew Lichtenberg and Joi Gresham of the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust met up in Montreal to rework the play from the drafts Hansberry left behind.
“I felt that I was given something that was like a child being born at the moment of its mother’s death,” Farber told The Times. “You see in Les Blancs that [Hansberry] is reaching for something more expressionistic, something that engages with something that perhaps Europe was having a reckoning with in its theatre at the time.”
Speaking of plays about sons returning home to bury their fathers on the stage at national theatres, Wajdi Mouawad, the Lebanese-Québécois playwright who now runs the La Colline national theatre in Paris, has chosen his play Littoral to re-open his stage to live performance (tonight to July 18). Yes, France is reopening some performing-arts venues already.
I don’t expect anyone reading this newsletter to be able to attend (Parisian subscribers, drop me a line to say bonjour if you’re out there), but it is nice to know that somewhere in the world, a Canadian play is about to be performed by 15 actors in front of a live audience (that will be wearing masks). Here’s my review of Mouawad’s last production of Littoral – the first of his celebrated Le Sang des promesses trilogy – from back in 2010, on which this one will be based.
I generally find Romeo and Juliet a bit of a tedious watch from the moment Mercutio dies. The rest of Shakespeare’s play can feel like a protracted denouement, a slow inevitability.
But director Scott Wentworth’s 2017 production for the Stratford Festival showed that what I’ve often thought of as the script’s weakness could be a strength, emphasizing throughout how Romeo and Juliet seem aware of their doomed fate and are almost eager to embrace it.
The Stratford Festival will upload a film of Wentworth’s production to its YouTube channel on Thursday at 6:30pm ET, and it will be available to watch there for the three following weeks. Sara Farb and Antoine Yared play the star-crossed lovers – and there was a real sense of intellectual connection between their characters on stage, I wrote in my 2017 review.
Kidoons, a live entertainment company creatively directed by Canadian playwright/performer Rick Miller, has found a lot of success touring stage adaptations of classic novels.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a Kidoons adaptation of the Jules Verne classic by Miller and Craig Francis that first premiered at the PANAMANIA festival in Toronto in 2015. A version specifically for young audiences then toured many theatres in the United States and Canada, including an off-Broadway run at the New Victory Theatre. A film of that version will be free to watch on the specialty streaming service Broadway on Demand on Saturday.
Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.