Saturday, September 21

“˜Toska’ takes namesake play to insane new level


Version centers on inherent difficulties of putting work on the stage

  Alan Marks Christine Kludjian and
Frederick Landau perform in "Toska," a new play
set in a rest home for insane artists whose careers have ended.

By Siddarth Puri

Daily Bruin Reporter

“Toska.” No, it’s not a new Italian pasta
dish. It’s not even a new designer making his debut in Milan.
In fact “Toska” is a new play set in an insane asylum
for artists whose careers have ended.

Presented by The Group at Strasberg and producer David Lee
Strasberg, The September Company makes its American premiere of
 “Toska.” Directed by Juan Carlos Malpeli, the
play recounts the inner struggle of Alessandra Mantero, an actress
who is touring with her own version of “Tosca” and
gathers patients from a mental hospital to play the other roles in
the play.

Malpeli’s “Toska” fuses together Victorien
Sardou’s play, “La Tosca,” Giacomo
Puccini’s opera, “Tosca” as well as incorporates
his own life experiences.

Sardou, a French playwright, first wrote “La Tosca”
in late 19th century as a mixture of a light comedy and historical
drama. Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” adapted from
Sardou’s play, tells the tale of the life of actors filled
with cheating, doubt and ideas of losing identities and seeing
through the shams of many of the characters.

After the Argentinean native Malpeli studied acting in Milan for
two years, he had had enough of the traditional roles in acting and
wanted a different perspective on performance. Malpeli’s
“Toska” builds on these ideals held by Sardou and
Giacomo as he adds his own spice to create a new flavor to the
play.

“I was inspired to write this play 13 years ago when I was
a frustrated actor in Italy,” Malpeli said. “I had too
many stories to tell and describe and I didn’t know how to
start them. When I went to Rome and saw “˜Tosca’ as an
opera, I decided to fuse the play and opera together to create an
expression of my feelings as an artist.”

The play follows the trail of Alessandra Mentero, played by
Christine Kludjian, and her struggle as a once famous artist who
has recently fallen in the ranks of popularity at the hands of the
media. Hopeless, Mentero starts touring with her own, new version
of “Tosca” after she arranges to use insane people as
her actors. In this nightmarish experience, Mentero elucidates all
feelings an actor encounters: rejection, despair, gaiety and
pleasure.

“Playing the part of Alessandra was challenging,”
Kludjian said. “There are so many layers to this character
that I’m still trying to figure out and
incorporate.”

With an international cast, most of whom were trained in Lee
Strasberg’s  “method,” the play is
Malpeli’s gallant attempt at exploring and expressing the
innermost thoughts and struggle of the artist. Malpeli combines his
own personal experiences as a struggling actor in Italy to
construct this play about actors who, in many cases, find it
impossible to express themselves honestly.

“The ability for a director to tap into his own experience
and make himself vulnerable appeals greatly to an audience,
especially when we can see ourselves in that same position,”
Natalie Liberatore, a first year communication studies student
said.

Malpeli uses an avant-garde approach in the play with everything
from the cast and plot to the way the actors think and incorporate
their thoughts. As he aimed to accomplish creating a theatrical
performance that quiets many earlier traditions, Malpeli hoped to
craft a unique way for actors to express themselves through
off-stage interaction and to have fun doing so even with the
convoluted story.

“(Our production) is definitely an unusual way to do
theater, but it is my way of expressing myself,” Malpeli
said. “I want everyone involved, even the audience. I want to
touch their inner child and for them to see that the play is about
love, about hope and about the hope of life which is no different
for me.”

Malpeli further develops the play by adding personal anecdotes
into the plot. He describes how it feels to be waiting and waiting
for the press to call and how the anxiety builds up and fades when
they don’t call. He also includes how it feels to succeed as
an actor. Through these tumultuous changes, Malpeli takes the
audience on this roller coaster of an adventure through the lives
and emotions of artists.

“It is a wonderful piece for actors to experience and
explore,” Kludjian said. “It gives us the full range of
emotions with the music and the dance it incorporates, while it
affects the audience with the material that has both deep things
and light things making it rich.”

THEATER:“Toska” plays at the
Lee Strasberg Creative
Center
located at 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.
Performances are given now through April 28, Thursday-Saturday at 8
p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by
calling (323) 650-7777.

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