The Flying Lovers Of Vitebsk


Review by Willard Manus

Rating: ****
Opened: February 23, 2018
Ended: March 11, 2018
Other Dates: Touring Show
Country: USA
State: California
City: Los Angeles
Company/Producers: Kneehigh/Bristol Old Vic
Theater: Bram Goldsmith Theater/ Annenberg Center
Address: 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd
Phone: 310-746-4000
Running Time: 90 mins
Genre: Physical Theatre (with music, song and dance)
Author: Daniel Jamieson
Director: Emma Rice

Romance is in the air at the Wallis, both literally and figuratively. Kneehigh, the British company known for its imaginative and crowd-pleasing productions of such works as “The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” and “Rapunzel,” has revived its 1992 version of THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK and brought it to the United States. In its stop at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills, Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood take on the roles of Marc and Bella Chagall, one of the most loving couples in history. Backed by two musicians, James Gow and Ian Ross, Antolin and Maywood are magical in their roles, singing, dancing and acting with seemingly effortless ease and flair. The creators of VITEBSK, playwright Daniel Jamieson and director Emma Rice, were the original Marc and Bella; now some 25 years later they have recast and remounted the play with all the respect and affection they can muster. As Rice said in a program note, we have also tried “to dig more deeply into the politics of the Chagalls’ lives: personal and political.” Chagall, a great artist, often painted himself and Bella flying together, as if (as Jamieson noted) “their shared joy had such force it defied the laws of gravity itself. In his painting “Birthday,” they appear surprised by their flight, rising toward the ceiling like two astonished bubbles of ecstasy.” Working on Sophia Clist’s clever set---a tilted platform criss-crossed with wooden spires and dangling ropes—Antolin and Maywood often take flight when expressing their love for each other. They also, as if in a version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” burst into song, sometimes in English, other times in Russian or Yiddish. Antolin, costumed to faintly resemble Buster Keaton, has many clown-like moments. Maywood , a gamin with an expressive face and manner that calls to mind Imogene Coca, favored innocence over humor but also managed to capture the deep pools of humanity and strength in Bella, a wife and mother who fought ferociously to keep her family together in the face of oppression and war. VITEBSKY swiftly and deftly delves into the relationship between the Chagalls: growing up together in the pre-WW I Russian city of Vitebsk, falling in love there, wedding in the face of opposition from her bourgeois family (“marry an artist, are you crazy?”), sitting out the war in St. Petersburg, getting caught up in the communist revolution, being hailed and then pilloried by the fickle arts commissars of the Stalinist regime, fleeing to Paris only to have to uproot themselves again when Hitler over-ran France, and eventually making their way to the USA. Through it all their love for each other was the dominant factor in their lives. Jamieson and Rice depict that love with large, colorful strokes that give a slightly cartoon-like quality to the story, but that’s balanced by the darkness and reality of death. Thus, sentimental and romantic as it is, THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK still manages to touch one in a deep, meaningful way.

Cast: Marc Antolin, James Gow, Daisy Maywood, Ian Ross
Technical: Scenic & Costume Designer, Sophia Clist; Lighting Designer, Malcolm Rippeth; Composer & Music Director, Ian Ross; Sound Designer, Simon Baker; Ass’t Director, Keziah Serreau; Choreographers, Emma Rice and Etta Murfitt; Production Manager, Aled William Thomas; Company Stage Manager, Steph Curtis

Date Reviewed: February 25, 2018