Directing Aspazija

Atriebēja / The Avenging Woman, Latvian Drama Critics Award for Best Production, 1991

My relationship with the Latvian writer Aspazija, née Elza Rozenberga, is very special . I’ve written essays  about her and she was a major character in Tango Lugāno. I’ve staged her plays three times. The first time was as a founder-member of The 1982 Theatre Company, a radical collective based in London, which toured her play , The Silver Veil across England, Europe, and in North American sities in our English translation. I was still performing then with flaming pink hair. 

My second encounter was Aspazija was one of the most important productions of my life, the 1991 production of Atriebēja, or The Avenging Woman, which I co-directed with my colleague Neil Bartlett (with whom I'd launched the 1982 Company) The 1991 show was produced by invitation from the Kabata Theatre, the very first independent theatre company in Latvia, in the year that the Soviet Union finally collapsed. I invited Neil to join me and we planned to tour the show in the UK and Canada. 

Kabata gathered an extraordinary group of actors for our show, an all-star team from across the country: Dina Kuple, Ausma Kantāne, Juris Strenga, Juris Bartkevičs, Indra Burkovska, Niks Ērglis, Ilze Blumberga, Ivars Stoņins. We rehearsed at a time when Riga was barricaded against the Soviet military,while the city mourned seven people slain by snipers in a nearby park,including a popular cinematographer. . Nobody knew what would happen next.  

Aspazija's play, written in 1888,  is a melodrama about Latvian peasants rebelling against their oppression by German barons. In the Bartlett/Rubess version, the play became a nightmare, dreamt by people yearning for freedom. TWe rehearsed at a time when Riga was barricaded against the Soviet military,while the city mourned seven people slain by snipers in a nearby park,including a popular cinematographer. Nobody knew what would happen next.  The production received the Latvian Drama Critics Award and toured to the Berkeley Stage in Toronto under wild circumstances as the Soviet Union fell apart. 

I directed Sidraba Šķidrauts / The Silver Veil again, in 2005 at the New Riga Theatre. I wasn't as happy with that production, as colourful as it was. I couldn't make the drama at the heart of the piece feel urgent. 

And yet. That's when the cover image for this  website was made in which I'm dressed as Aspazija's look alike. I'm seated at a sewing machine, because so was she. She ruined her eyesight toiling at a sewing machine to support her family. The designers of this picture handed me a cigar, the only one I’ve ever smoked. It reminded me of Bertolt Brecht’s ideal spectator: a man with a hat, smoking a cigar. I also like my audience to be engaged and detached at the same time. Instead of smoking, I imagine my ideal spectator knitting, or sewing. On their way to create something of their own. 

Photos from the 2005 production of The Silver Veil by Gints Malderis.

About The Avenging Woman

"Watching this production-mystery, in which each character dreams their own revenge play, a thought gripped me like an incubus - this game of self-destruction, this swamp in which they all sink, pulling us the AUDIENCE along with them, this game will never end, even when the play is over. „Why?" I asked myself. Is the suffering of these people, tortured by their own egoism - is it mine, too?

The people working in the theatre (this creative ensemble) - these people are happy because they want to ask questions, are able to ask questions, and know how to ask questions to which they don't know the answers. To relate your deepest secrets, to reveal your own happiness and your crimes - that is courage and pleasure. I have to admit, I'm jealous of their happiness." Normunds Naumanis, Sestdiena

"The work possesses the haunting power of an excursion into dreams of passion and vengeance.
... splendid theatre, thanks to a series of strong performances by the Latvian actors, a design that emphasizes candlelight and red walls that echo the hot emotions of the text... This kind of drama - as fine as anything that Toronto audiences have seen as part of international festivals such as the World Stage - makes it clear that drama isn't dependent solely on spoken language." Jon Kaplan, Now

Alan Scholefield, Annie Griffin, and Sean Cranitch in The Silver Veil 1982

Banuta Rubess and Annabel Arden in The Silver Veil 1982

Ausma Kantāne, Juris Bartkevičs, Atriebēja, 1991

Ilze Blumberga, Atriebēja, 1991

Guna Zariņa, Sidraba šķidrauts, 2005

JRT ensemble, Sidraba šķidrauts, 2005

Ģirts Krūmiņš, Inga Alsiņa, Sidraba šķidrauts, 2005

Iveta Pole, Regīna Razuma, Sidraba šķidrauts, 2005