“A woman must never forget about her lingerie. You never know when you might have to undress.”
Mrs. Benjamins. Tips For Modern Living, or, in Latvian — Benjamiņa. Kā dzīvot modernam cilvēkam — is the rags-to-riches story of Emīlija Benjamins (1881-1941), an enormously successful newspaper and magazine publisher, a fashion maven with a nose for bestselling authors. Together with her husband Antons Benjamins, she built a financial empire in Latvia, defying wars, revolutions, and dictatorships, until she was deported by the Soviet regime and perished in Siberia.
In 2009, I was invited to create the production for the (now defunct) Hotel Europa Royale in the former mansion of Mrs. Benjamins. I devised the text by working closely with the actress Indra Burkovska. The production was conceived as an immersive production, full of spontaneous twists and turns, involving the audience in conversations and switching their roles from gatecrashers to illustrious guests.
When played on the premises, the ghost of Mrs. Benjamins haunted the sterile conference room; the audience followed her to the dining room, where she unveiled the stained-glass window made in her honour; finally, she presided over a glittering reception in her salon, complete with string quartet. During intermission, a documentary video played of survivors of the Soviet deportations of 1941.
The show was produced by Laila Baumane and the Support for Music and Art Fund and toured a string of Latvian chateaux. Later Benjamiņa returned to the Hotel Europa Royale and toured Germany, the United States and Australia, with some 100 performances.
More than a decade later, I wrote about Mrs. Benjamins again, for the television series Emīlija, Queen of the Latvian Press.
Critic Undīne Adamaite wrote: This eccentric collage says much more about one person's destiny and the frailty of life than a large-scale chronological biography. Diena, April 2009
A version of the play in English is available.
Photos by Santa Liepa.