Summer Scholar: Juliet, Visky and Orvieto, Italy

Gordon students aren’t the only ones who see summer as an opportunity for fun or new experiences; many, in fact, are heading overseas, interning in professional settings or gaining valuable work experiences. (More on those soon!)  Gordon’s faculty are busy too. They use June, July and August for special projects, study trips and ongoing research they’re passionate about. This is the first in a series of stories about Summer Scholars, exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

“Juliet, Visky and Orvieto, Italy”                                                                                                                                          By John Skillen, associate dean of European Programs in the Office of Global Education

An exciting project of my summer is to produce, in Orvieto, Italy, a play by one of the most esteemed contemporary playwrights of Eastern Europe, András Visky.

Visky’s play Juliet is a riveting 90-minute solo work, a monologue spoken by the title character in near-delirium as a Job-like cry from the heart at the end of her endurance in a labor camp with her seven young children. The play is based on the experience of the author’s family under the brutal Communist regime in Romania during the early 1960s.

In 1939, Visky’s father had fled Romania for Hungary, where he met his future wife. After World War II, the couple returned to Transylvania, by then a part of Romania. There, Visky’s father, a pastor in the Hungarian Reformed Church, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the crime of “organization against socialist public order.” Soon after, his wife and their children were themselves deported to a Romanian gulag a thousand kilometers to the east. Visky was only two years old at the time. In 1964, the family was reunited when his father and other political prisoners were released during a short-lived period of relaxation of repression. Visky’s father’s ministry in the Protestant churches of Eastern Europe continued all the more powerfully after his release.

Visky–as poet, playwright and essayist–carries on in a different mode his family’s deep and mature Christian faith. He is the author of more than a dozen plays, staged variously in Romania, Hungary, France, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and the United States. Juliet premiered in 2002 at the Thalia Theatre in Budapest, where it ran for several seasons. His play Long Friday is a stage adaptation of Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertész (winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature), and received awards for Best Play and Dramaturgy at the Hungarian National Theater Festival. A recent play, Born For Never, was rated as the best performance of the Festival d’Avignon (France) according to the critics’ votes. In 2009 Visky was awarded the prestigious József Attila Award by the Hungarian Minister of Culture. His 2010 play I Killed My Mother is set in the context of the Romanian orphanage crisis.

Visky is also the associate artistic director at the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania. He teaches in the Department of Theatre and Television at the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj, and is co-founder of Koinónia Publishing. Visky lives in Cluj with his wife–principal of an inter-ethnic Montessori school–and their four children.

Karin Coonrod (Gordon Alumnus of the Year recipient in 2010) has established a close friendship and professional relationship with Visky, having already directed Juliet in Chicago at the Royal George Theater with Theater Y, and I Killed My Mother at the Green House Theater in Chicago (2010) and La MaMa Theater in New York (2012).

This project of producing Juliet in Orvieto continues Coonrod’s longstanding collaboration with Gordon’s initiatives in Orvieto, both as a guest teacher in the semester program and as director of a number of theater productions sponsored by the Studio for Art, Faith & History and the Festival of Art & Faith. Her several productions of the medieval mystery plays gave birth to the international theater company “de’ Colombari” (named after the dovecote niches carved into the cliffs of Orvieto).

Our production will make use of the semester program’s headquarters in Palazzo Simoncelli (pictured here), where the students in the semester program have earned the appreciation of the landlord family Petrangeli. Juliet will be performed in the courtyard of the palazzo on three consecutive evenings, June 22, 23 and 24, in two languages.

American actress Melissa Lorraine plays the title role of the version in English. Cristina Spina, an accomplished young actress from Rome, will perform the Italian version in a translation commissioned by the Studio for Art, Faith & History for this Italian premier. We hope that a festive reception between the two versions will lure the audience to stay for both.

Although most of the semester students will have returned to the U.S., Hannah Armbrust–Orvieto alumna, now residence assistant and creative writing graduate student–will serve as production manager. Program director Matthew Doll is the production’s graphic designer.

One of my reasons for producing this play concerns the changing demographics of Orvieto. The town is not unique in witnessing a notable influx of immigrants (stranieri) from eastern Europe, in Orvieto’s case mainly from Moldova and Romania. These folk are willing to take lower-level jobs rendered vacant by an aging and shrinking population, jobs distasteful to young people who leave the cliff-top town in search of modern industrial jobs down below. The economic crisis exacerbates the situation for all, and the presence of the stranieri is not friction-free. The proprietor of Café Montanucci, for instance, has shown some courage in filling many of the barrista positions with hard-working and Italian-fluent Moldovans.

I’d like Gordon to have a role in welcoming these immigrants, in recognizing their dignity and highlighting the contributions that East European artists can make to the local culture. Visky and his wife are coming from Romania for the performances, and I hope that their interactions with Orvietani and stranieri alike may bear fruit.

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