Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play…and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform.
Czesław Miłosz (proonouced Cheswav Meewosh), who died in 2004, was perhaps the best known of Polish literary men in the U.S., thanks to his 20-year tenure as a professor of Slavic languages at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley, where he carried on his work as an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and translator. While he could communicate and occasionally write in English, his poetry became familiar to American readers through translations published in magazines like The New Yorker. He became widely recognized as an ambassador from the land of exile, continually bearing the cross of his numerous emigrations. A Lithuanian Pole, he left for Warsaw under the German occupation. He received his education in Wilno (Vilnius), a city which was long a part of Poland, with many Polish associations, above all literary, since the two great nineteenth century poets, Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, like Miłosz, spent their formative years there. A diplomat of Communist Poland in the U.S. and France, he sought political asylum in 1951 and lived as an expatriate intellectual in Paris until 1960, when he emigrated to the United States and claimed citizenship in the great everywhere and nowhere of academia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. After 1989 he divided his time between Berkeley and Kraków.
Williams College professor, Omar Sangare, who is currently starring in John Guare’s “Erased” with Glenn Fitzgerald at the Atlantic Theatre Company, has been selected by the U.S. Department of State for a video project that will appear as part of President Obama’s trip to Poland in May 2011.
This series of short documentaries focuses on Polish Americans who contribute to the innovation, creativity and vibrancy of America, featuring a wealth of prominent Polish Americans who are proud of their heritage while having an impact on America’s social and cultural fabric.
There can be no doubt that Tennessee Williams was the preeminent American playwright of his time—at least for a period which, sadly, covered only eighteen years of his life, beginning with his first great Broadway success, “The Glass Menagerie” in 1944 and ending with his last great Broadway success, “The Night of the Iguana,” in 1962. Between those years Williams wrote a series of profound, deeply-affecting works, in which a heady atmosphere originating from his deep southern origins proved irresistable to New York critics and audiences, not to mention certain Hollywood producers and enough people in-between to bring him wealth and celebrity. After “Night of the Iguana,” it all ended as swiftly as it began. His later productions irritated critics and audiences with their lush language and melodrama, if it made much of an impression on them at all.
Professor Omar Sangare reimagines Tennessee Williams’ classic American play. A Streetcar Named Desire forces us to confront some of the most difficult themes in our lives; dreams, nightmares, illusions, gender dynamics, betrayal, rape, sexuality, and the ever elusive American Dream. Professor Sangare leads a dynamic ensemble of students and faculty, shining a spotlight on the essence of Williams’ characters through a distinctive and original set of performances.
Omar Sangare founded the Dialogue One Festival for solo theater in 2007 at Williams College, where he had just assumed a position as Assistant Professor of theater studies. Before that, he had built up a stellar reputation as a writer, poet, singer, and actor in his native Poland, receiving a Ph.D. from the Theater Academy in Warsaw, where he studied with the great film director, Andrzej Wajda, among others. His many talents came together in solo theater, a field in which he is well-known in Central Europe and at international festivals. He was voted Best in Acting by the New York International Fringe Festival in 1997 for his one-man drama, True Theater Critic. The same year Sangare was invited to the Jerzy Grotowski Theater in Wroclaw, Poland, where he won four prizes at the Theater Festival. The monodrama was presented in Poland, Canada, England, Ukraine, Germany, and the United States, where it recently received the Best Performance Award at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
When Americans celebrate their more significant secular holidays with art, they notoriously reach for hackneyed expressions which are at best well-intentioned and at worst, totally empty. Williams College, however, produced a notable exception to this in New Morning for The World, a concert piece for winds, percussion, and piano, with recitation, by the distinguished American composer Joseph Schwantner. Regrettably I missed the performance, but I recently came upon a video of the event, filmed by the Mexican video artist and activist Berta Jottar, who is a member of the Williams faculty, along with Omar Sangare, who recited the texts by Martin Luther King, Jr. to the accompaniment of Schwantner’s music. The music and the selection from Dr. King’s speeches was work of a high order, powerful in its effect, as was Dr. Sangare’s recitation and the performance of the Williams Symphonic Winds under their director, Stephen Dennis Bodner, who has been responsible for a series of ambitious, original programs over this academic year and before.
The pleasant, but potentially mind-numbing routine of holiday entertainment was relieved most satisfyingly this past weekend by Dialogue One, a new international theater festival of solo performances at Williams College. Its founder, Omar Sangare, Assistant Professor of Theater at the College is to be thanked warmly for this serious and extremely stimulating festival, which will be an annual event. It consists of an evening of performances by four of Professor Sangare’s students, Mme. Tussaud, LIVE, which took place on Thursday evening and was repeated on Friday and a day of performances by professional actors from New York, Chicago, and Germany. The festival concluded with a ceremony at which three prizes were awarded by a jury consisting of Williams faculty and students as well as outsiders, one for a student performance, another for a domestic performer, and the third for an international performer. The solo performances were without exception serious, even intensely so, and they provided some extremely welcome intellectual ballast for the season. We had an opportunity to appreciate the impressive talent which exists among the Williams students, both as actors and writers, and to see some of the best and brightest among the young professional actors, who are working in this extremely challenging genre. These were joined by a distinguished mature actor from Poland, Herbert Kaluza, who has been working in Germany in recent years. His linguistic abilities had ample scope in the quadrilingual version of Isaac Babel’s “The Story of my Dovecote.” Americans get regrettably little exposure to theater in other languages, and this solo performance brought together the distinguished traditions of Poland and Germany in a concentrated and accessible form. And what a powerful contrast to the American approaches we’d seen earlier in the day!