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A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop at Primary Stages
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A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop at Primary Stages

- Backstage with the Playwrights

A Safe Harbor for
Elizabeth Bishop

A New Play
By Marta Góes

Primary Stages
www.primarystages.com
At
59 East 59th Street
NY, NY

Casey Childs: Exec. Producer
Andrew Leynse: Artistic Director
Elliot Fox, Managing Director

Starring:
Amy Irving

Director: Richard Jay-Alexander
Set Design: Jeff Cowie
Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Design: Russell Champa
Original Composition & Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Production Design: Zachary Borovay
Prop Master: Hillary M. Baldwin
Production Stage Manager: Darcy Stephens
Asst. Stage Manager: Jonathan Donahue
Production Supervisor: PRF Productions
Press: OPR/Origlio Public Relations
Director of Marketing: Louis Bavaro
Associate Artistic Director: Tyler Marchant



Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 27, 2006


(See a New Year’s Eve Party at 59E59 Theaters).
(Read a Wikipedia Bio of Elizabeth Bishop).

Native Brazilian Marta Góes, writer, remembers seeing Elizabeth Bishop, poet, in Samamabaia, Brazil, in the mid-50’s, with her companion, Lota, an architect, who drove a red jaguar. Góes wrote A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop, based on Ms. Bishop’s long-term sojourn in Brazil, an American embraced by the warmth and sunshine, nourishing food and nurturing people. Amy Irving portrays the poet, Elizabeth Bishop, from 1952 in Brazil until the late 1960’s, when she permanently returned to the United States, upon the death of her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares.

With warm, orangey backdrop lighting and a side-stage hammock, Elizabeth Bishop (Amy Irving) arrives in Brazil struggling to speak Portuguese and looking for love. She says she lives in a small private place within herself and is amazed at the inherent ability of the natives to care for her in a hospital, after some kind of food poisoning. She admires the Brazilian lifestyle, the love of children and family, the welcome to foreigners, the samba, the Carnivale. In a variety of simple costumes and spotlights, Ms. Irving literally teaches the audience about Brazilian political crises, short-lived revolution, and apparent corruption.

In a more startling series of vignettes, she also teaches us about her personal crises, her mother’s nervous breakdowns, her father’s early death, her early upbringing in Worcester and Boston, MA, the Swan Boat rides, and her loneliness. Ms. Bishop had writer’s anxiety and sat at an empty typewriter, while her publisher begged for poems. Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry is worth a play on its own, and her One Art, the play’s closing verse, is copied below. A flaw in this production lies in the paucity of poetry and abundance of Brazilian political analysis, with the poetry clearly having an edge on magic and moment. It’s hard to relate to 1960’s Brazilian parks and politicians, but it’s ever so easy to relate to loss and love.

However, Marta Góes first presented this play in Brazil, where political dialogue would be persuasive and palpable. In that respect, the focus on the inspirational years of Ms. Bishop’s writing makes sense. Somehow, Ms. Irving seemed to acutely transform to the poet, herself, each time she shared (never recited) a Bishop poem. Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry and Amy Irving’s solo, one-act performance are both poignant and riveting. Ms. Irving became the meaning of the poems, i.e., dramatizing “the art of losing”. Ms. Bishop “loses” her father, her mother, her happiness in America, her ability to write, and eventually her sobriety and her long-time lover. Ultimately, she loses her existence in Brazil and returns to America, first to Seattle, later back to Boston.

As the estranged American struggling with the language, Ms. Irving gives a tour de force performance, first mangling the Portuguese pronunciations and later speaking fluently. As the agonizing alcoholic, Ms. Irving also profoundly presents the slightly inebriated language, followed by the totally drunk variation. As the quintessential lonely traveler, Ms. Irving stands with a suitcase, stands in a hotel room, stands at the airport. As the quintessential lonely lover, she stands at a neatly set table, sits in a hammock, sits in a chair. Amy Irving becomes the wanderer, the poet, the lover, the bereaved, the professor, and the narrator. Ms. Góes’ play has Ms. Irving “teaching” the audience about Ms. Bishop, as Ms. Bishop, but it also allows Ms. Irving to be Ms. Bishop in one-way dialogue, even the murmuring in a bathtub for two.

In the course of 16 or so years, Elizabeth Bishop wins her self-esteem, survives a battle with alcohol, experiences love, overcomes societal scorn on her homosexual lifestyle, wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, publishes more poetry, travels and lives alone, learns to teach (in college), and absorbs an exotic, foreign culture. Amy Irving brings us on this voyage with pathos, personality, and professionalism. Kudos to Amy Irving. Director, Richard Jay-Alexander has a moving stage that transports Ms. Bishop (Irving) forward and backward in the ever-winding timelines of her life. She finds a chair, a table, a hammock, a radio, a liquor bottle. And, she finds herself.

The intermittent sounds of Samba in Samamabaia and Rio, of rushing waterfalls, of radio news, of a busy airport, and of Carnivale, are significant enhancements to the ambiance and locale. Mr. Jay-Alexander works wonders with the lighting and projection designers, and the projection of Brazilian color, map, motif, are expertly conceived. Fitz Patton’s Samba score is evocative of Brazilian Samba music and dance. The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop is too lovely to synopsize. Rather, see her poem, One Art, recited at the play’s final moments, below:

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.





Amy Irving stars in the one-woman play "A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop" by Marta Góes at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Photo courtesy of James Leynse



Amy Irving stars in the one-woman play "A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop" by Marta Góes at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Photo courtesy of James Leynse



Amy Irving stars in the one-woman play "A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop" by Marta Góes at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Photo courtesy of James Leynse



Amy Irving stars in the one-woman play "A Safe Harbor for Elizabeth Bishop" by Marta Góes at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Photo courtesy of James Leynse




For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net