of Glass at Court Theatre
than 40 years have passed since Philip Glass, AB'56, left Chicago
and went on to establish himself as one of the most important
20th-century figures in the worlds of music and theater. In November
he returned to Hyde Park to present his new minimalist work In
the Penal Colony, an intimate opera directed by his former
wife and longtime collaborator, JoAnne Akalaitis, AB'60.
the Penal Colony, based on Kafka's grim short story of the
same name, premiered at Court Theatre following an eight-week
run at A Contemporary Theater in Seattle. In December Glass and
Akalaitis joined members of the cast and crew for a symposium
in which they discussed their collaboration.
was so interesting about Kafka for me was that in the darkest
place of a human soul there's still room for transfiguration,"
said Glass, who first came across the story as an undergraduate
at Chicago. Akalaitis, the former artistic director of the New
York Shakespeare Festival who currently chairs the theater department
at Bard College, added to Glass's script the character of Kafka
himself, who occasionally interrupts the opera to read from his
diaries. "A director's job is not to do a 'correct interpretation'
of a piece," she remarked at the symposium. "What the
director does is respond as a colleague or as a collaborator with
the author. What we do in theater is we always make something
in a 1907 island prison off the coast of Africa, the dark tale
involves an execution machine that inflicts hours of unspeakable
torture on a condemned prisoner by inscribing his sentence onto
his back with large needles until he dies, and the soldier who
administers the executions with a fanatical sense of duty, believing
the machine to be the perfect dispenser of justice.
for larger works that have played at New York's Metropolitan Opera
and Chicago's Lyric Opera, Glass intentionally wrote this piece
for the small stage. Consisting of only three actors, two singers,
and a string quintet, his "pocket opera" is perfectly
suited for local theater. "It's like a neutron bomb,"
said Glass. "The more compact it is, the more powerful it
is, especially in a theater like this where we can hear every
is one of my favorite environments to work in because the last
row is so close to the stage," Glass said of Court Theatre
at the symposium. "I would never have put a piece like this
in a 600- or 900-seat theater. It would get lost." On June
6 the production will make its off-Broadway premiere at New York's
180-seat Classic Stage Company.-C.S.