Theatre Laid Bare

When Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” opened on Broadway, in 1993, in a manufacturing directed by George C. Wolfe, the play ended with a winged angel crashing right into a dying man’s bed room from above, shattering lath and plaster. Subsequent administrators, together with Mike Nichols, who filmed “Angels” for HBO, have additionally hewed intently to Kushner’s stage instructions, which name for unearthly lighting, “a terrifying crash as something immense strikes earth,” and an Angel who floats.

Van Hove as soon as wrote performs, however found that he “could make much more personal work through the filter of a text by Shakespeare.”Photograph by Nadav Kander for The New Yorker

In a radically stripped-down interpretation by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove, which was first staged in Amsterdam in 2008, none of that occurs. Van Hove’s Angel is a wingless male nurse in white hospital scrubs. There is not any ceiling, no mattress. The Angel quietly approaches as Prior Walter, who’s affected by AIDS, writhes on the stage ground. The grand phrases of annunciation with which Kushner’s play culminates—“Greetings Prophet; / The Great Work begins: / The Messenger has arrived”—are delivered by the Angel with conversational mildness.

Van Hove, who’s the final supervisor of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam, town’s principal theatre, typically makes use of few props and employs minimal units. In “Angels,” the stage is naked aside from a file participant and the occasional I.V. pole. When collaborating together with his perennial set designer, Jan Versweyveld, who can also be his companion of thirty-five years, van Hove establishes temper with music, video, and lighting, and makes use of actors’ our bodies to convey the emotional core of a piece. “Angels” takes place in 1985, on the top of the AIDS disaster, however as enacted by the Toneelgroep Amsterdam the play shouldn’t be in regards to the ravages of an epidemic. “Ivo said that the sickness was a metaphor for change,” Eelco Smits, the actor who performed Prior Walter, instructed me lately. Unlike Stephen Spinella, who performed the function on Broadway, and who was so emaciated that audiences gasped when he disrobed, Smits’s Prior didn’t look unhealthy. “It wasn’t about showing people who were sick but about showing people who are in a transition phase,” Smits stated.

Van Hove initially directed the Angel and Prior to take a seat collectively and hearken to music. But this went too far in downplaying the encounter. The day earlier than opening night time, he instructed the actor taking part in the Angel to drag Smits up by the fingers and spin with him across the stage, like kids on the playground, after which launch him violently to the ground. Smits objected. “I said, ‘I think I need protection for my knees,’ and Ivo was just, ‘No—go, go, go, do it,’ ” Smits instructed me. “I got angry with him. We didn’t have time to rehearse it, and I thought, This is stupid.”

But the result’s beautiful. Over a swelling soundtrack of David Bowie singing “The Motel,” the Angel spins Prior and hurls him down time and again. Audience members who’ve misplaced mates or lovers to AIDS generally method Smits afterward in tears. “One man told me, ‘That throwing around—that is what that disease is,’ ” Smits recalled. “Somehow Ivo knew what there was, in the utter simplicity of that movement. He was thinking more about stuff like that—of using abstract movements of the body—more than making up your face to look gaunt.”

Kushner first noticed van Hove’s rendering of “Angels” in 2009, and wept on the scene. “It was shattering,” he instructed me. “By the sixth time you watch this guy get thrown and land on his butt, your butt starts to hurt. The playfulness of it made the cruelty of it so much more sharp and disturbing: you are dying, with this very silly, undignified thing going on. It made the audience work hard to recuperate dignity from the moment, and cherish it all the more.”

Van Hove stated, “I felt very strongly that the appearance of the Angel happens in the mind of Prior. I made it so that everything happens also in the audience’s mind. So we see the Angel just as a nurse. And then the Angel overthrows Prior’s whole life within this moment of swinging him around. I tried to bring out his inner world—of losing his friend that he was in love with, of being alone with AIDS. That is the feeling I tried to express by having him beaten up by this Angel.”

Kushner says that certainly one of van Hove’s items is to “make the audience confront the failure to create completely convincing illusions—and the power of the theatre is that failure to create convincing illusions. It is the creation of a double consciousness. Ivo’s impulse is to take that very seriously, and to ask the audience to collaborate in making this thing real.”

Van Hove’s “Angels” performed at Bam final yr for 3 nights. (“I could have run it for weeks,” Joe Melillo, bam’s creative director, says.) This fall, far higher numbers of American theatregoers can have an opportunity to see van Hove’s work. In November, he makes his Broadway début, with Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” which he staged on the Young Vic, in London, final yr. “Lazarus,” a brand new musical work by David Bowie and the Irish playwright Enda Walsh, opens in December at New York Theatre Workshop, which has collaborated with van Hove because the nineties. Van Hove will even be directing a brand new Broadway manufacturing of Miller’s “The Crucible,” starring Ben Whishaw, in early 2016.

“A View from the Bridge” was nominated for seven Olivier Awards, the British equal of the Tonys, after it transferred to the West End; it received three, together with the award for finest director. Like “Angels,” it gives the spectacle of radical condensation: with the actors barefoot on a stage devoid of props, the home actions of the Carbone household unfold inexorably, as in a Greek tragedy. The manufacturing has a disquieting erotic intimacy and the hurtling tempo of a thriller’s climax. Van Hove doesn’t all the time depend on spareness to make a well-recognized play appear new. In a controversial manufacturing of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” at New York Theatre Workshop in 1998, a claw-footed bathtub dominated the stage. The characters talked across the tub, fought round it, bathed in it, and—in a second of theatrical wizardry—dived into it totally clothed.

Earlier this yr, I went to see van Hove at work with members of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s ensemble. They have been rehearsing “Kings of War,” an epic manufacturing wherein 5 of Shakespeare’s English histories—“Henry V,” “Henry VI,” Parts 1, 2, and three, and “Richard III”—are condensed into one four-and-a-half-hour-long drama. This was van Hove’s second Shakespearean distillation: a number of years in the past, he and Versweyveld created “Roman Tragedies,” which mixed “Coriolanus,” “Julius Caesar,” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” Set in an atmosphere suggesting the struggle room of a recent political marketing campaign, “Roman Tragedies” included dwell and recorded video. Large screens confirmed footage from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or closeups of actors’ faces whereas a digital ticker above the stage broadcast headlines from CNN. Between acts, viewers members have been invited to go onstage—the place they may perch on the couches, sit on the ground, or go to a bar that had been arrange towards the again—after which stay there when the play resumed. This had the startling impact of remodeling the viewers into the Roman populace, whose moods and whims the actors have been manipulating.

Whereas “Roman Tragedies” explored the dynamic between politicians and the general public, “Kings of War” highlights the calls for of energy on a person. The set evoked Churchill’s wartime bunker in Whitehall: beige partitions, previous maps, a slender cot with a military-issue blanket. Behind the room was a hidden construction of interconnected corridors, painted white and brilliantly lit. Much of the motion of the play is performed there, captured by a roving cameraman and projected onto a display above the bunker. In the corridors, Henry V covetously fondles the crown of his not fairly lifeless father, and Richard III approaches Henry VI, getting ready to strangle him. “They are like corridors in a big palace, or in the White House, or wherever people are negotiating and making decisions,” van Hove defined on the rehearsal, which passed off in a studio on the outskirts of Amsterdam. “What happens in the corridors is something you shouldn’t say in the public world, in open life.”

Van Hove, who’s fifty-six, is soft-spoken and exact. Slim and upright, he has an air of imperturbable self-possession that’s sometimes softened by a show of humor. He exudes self-discipline. In “Kings of War,” he defined, “a leader has to decide on the most extreme thing—to go to war or not.” He continued, “That is, for a president or a king, the most difficult decision to make. Because you can win a war, and then you are a hero, but even then there may be a lot of casualties. Even when you win a war, in the people’s mind you can have lost it.”

Earlier within the season, the corporate had offered a manufacturing of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” and a brand new play tailored from Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” “Ivo is very interested in leadership,” Versweyveld, who was on the rehearsal, instructed me. Versweyveld, who’s fifty-seven, is compact, with a shaved head; that afternoon, he had been taking images of the actors as they rehearsed. He stated of van Hove, “He reads about other leaders, and he is always trying to make himself a better leader, and so this of course is at the center of his existence.”

“You’re not bending your knees.”

In rehearsal, van Hove normally works steadily by means of the textual content, reaching the tip of the play simply earlier than the primary public efficiency. There are occasional deviations from this apply. Thomas Jay Ryan, who performed Philinte in van Hove’s model of “The Misanthrope,” at New York Theatre Workshop, stated, “I had a very big speech he would never let me do in rehearsal. We would get right up to the speech and he would say, ‘You are not ready yet.’ ” By the time van Hove was keen to rehearse it, Ryan stated, “I had all this emotion that came naturally.” He went on, “It had this other layer and life. I was shouting and throwing things. I would never have been able to do it a week earlier. Afterward, Ivo said, ‘I’m sorry, Tom. That is the way you are going to have to do it.’ ”

Van Hove hates auditions: he makes selections shortly, and resents the time misplaced to politesse. When working together with his everlasting firm, he casts by fiat, assigning actors to play characters who, amongst different issues, might must struggle one another or have intercourse with one another—each pretty frequent occurrences in van Hove productions. “Because he knows everyone very well, sometimes he likes to make explosive combinations—like a kid who lets insects fight,” Eelco Smits instructed me. “Sometimes the chemistry between actors is really sexual, and he uses it.” Actors are anticipated to be “off book”—know all their traces—from the primary day of rehearsal, a apply that Americans typically discover disconcerting. Van Hove likes to rehearse solely 5 hours a day. Juliette Binoche, who’s presently starring in a touring manufacturing of van Hove’s “Antigone,” which was at BAM this fall, instructed me, “It has to print inside you very quickly. You don’t go back often. It is very raw. In a way, it is very frightening.”


A van Hove rehearsal typically begins after many months of forensic preparation. Chris Nietvelt, a Belgian actress and a member of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam, who has labored with van Hove for greater than thirty years, instructed me, “He has one piece of paper—‘That is what the play is about. That is why I want to do it.’ ” When I used to be in Amsterdam, the première of “Kings of War” was simply over three weeks away, and van Hove was nonetheless solely on “Henry V,” rehearsing the prelude to the Battle of Agincourt with Ramsey Nasr, a Dutch-Palestinian actor who had been forged as Henry V. Van Hove described the monarch as “a good leader who listens to his advisers, who puts forward again and again the right questions.”

Nasr is an actor of intense intelligence; he’s additionally a author and a former poet laureate of the Netherlands. He knelt by the mattress, in a recent officer’s uniform, as he delivered Henry’s prayer for his males earlier than battle. At the scene’s finish, van Hove joined Nasr onstage, talking intently to him in a low voice. Van Hove modulates his directives to match the actor’s temperament. “Ramsey is a control freak,” van Hove instructed me later. “If something on the table is here, and tomorrow it is over there, he would be, like, ‘But yesterday this was here.’ So I know I have to deal with that, because then he feels good. If I were to say, ‘Ramsey, I don’t mind where it is,’ that would be disturbing to him.”

In getting ready “Kings of War,” van Hove gave explicit consideration to a soliloquy in “Henry VI, Part 3,” wherein the monarch, getting ready to steer his troops, needs as an alternative for the straightforward lifetime of a shepherd. (“How lovely! / Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade / To shepherds looking on their silly sheep.”) Van Hove, together with Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, their long-standing video collaborator, had determined to dramatize Henry’s failure to shoulder his kingly burden by bringing his fantasy to life. On the overhead display, a flock of actual sheep would immediately materialize inside the white corridors of energy, as if from Henry’s creativeness.

It was not the primary time that van Hove had included animals in a manufacturing: his Macbeth rode a cart horse into battle; a memorable model of O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms” featured eight cows onstage. That night, after Nasr and the opposite actors in “Henry V” had left, van Hove and the manufacturing group stayed on. Outside the rehearsal house, a truck pulled up, from which bleats emanated. Several animal wranglers laid black vinyl matting on the ground of the bunker. When forty-odd sheep got here skittering down the gangplank into a short lived enclosure, the manufacturing group gathered round, everybody exclaiming with delight. Van Hove walked the opposite manner. “I hate animals,” he muttered.

The sheep have been herded stage left, into the white hall. Smits, who was taking part in Henry VI, entered the hall stage proper and, adopted by a cameraman, approached the flock. But, as an alternative of gathering round him, the sheep fled in the other way, bumbling into one another and defecating indiscriminately on the white ground. The crew forged anxious glances at van Hove and Versweyveld. Someone requested if the shit could possibly be cleaned up in postproduction.

“Whoa—you’re gonna need a whole new string!”

Van Hove, trying irritated with the proceedings, gave curt directions to the cameraman, who was supposed to maintain the shot low, filming solely Smits’s legs and again, in order that different actors might finally tackle the function; however the digital camera stored capturing the again of Smits’s head, or his face. Exasperated, van Hove repeated his intentions. Smits persevered with the sheep, whose greasy wool was staining the partitions of the hall. He picked up a lamb in his arms. Finally, the sheep ran towards the digital camera. “This is what we need,” van Hove exclaimed. “This is the enthusiasm I need.”

After an hour, the sheep have been herded again into the truck, and a crew member appeared with a bushel of brooms and mops. Van Hove drove again to the middle of Amsterdam, the place he and Versweyveld dwell in an impeccably ordered house overlooking a canal. Van Hove coughed. “It’s these fucking sheep,” he stated. “I don’t really hate animals. I just cannot communicate with them, really.”

Van Hove grew up in rural Belgium, amid farmers and coal miners. His father was the pharmacist within the village the place the household lived, which had a inhabitants of two thousand. “In such a small community, that is considered as being of the higher class,” van Hove instructed me one afternoon over espresso at Café Stanislavski, within the foyer of his theatre, which is on a busy sq. crisscrossed by clanging trams and insouciant cyclists. “The doctor came to our house, and the architect, and sometimes the mayor, and the priest, and they drank Cognac every morning at eleven o’clock. I remember that happening every day—though of course it’s not true.” Van Hove says that he felt like an outsider amongst his working-class schoolmates, and instructed himself, “I have to go from here. This is not my place.”

At eleven, he went to boarding faculty. “For the first three weeks, I wept,” he stated. “Then it became the best time of my life.” Van Hove found theatre there. “On Wednesday afternoons, there was no class, so you could do sports, or you could go to the city to meet girls, or you could join the theatre company,” he stated. “We would work on a play that we would present at the end of the year. It felt like the boarding school was a walled world within the world, and the theatre was another walled world within it. That felt so warm, so good.” He went on, “I learned there the awareness that, once you close that rehearsal-room door, everything is allowed—I can express every fantasy and obsession. It is total freedom of your mind, of your life.”

At boarding faculty, he realized that he was homosexual. It was the early seventies, and homosexuality was not overtly mentioned. “But boarding school is a perfect place, of course,” he stated. He fell in love with a classmate who later died in a bicycle accident. “I have the feeling that I lived my life once through already, in boarding school. That I experienced everything—deep unhappiness, deep mourning,” he instructed me. When certainly one of van Hove’s academics taught a category in regards to the atomic bomb, he did so not by exhibiting photos of atrocities however by explaining how an atomic bomb labored. “I didn’t sleep for three nights,” van Hove stated. “In my fantasy, I could imagine it.” From this, he realized that “you don’t have to show everything in a graphic way.”

He went to regulation faculty, at his dad and mom’ insistence. “But I am glad I studied law, because in Belgium, for the first two years, you do philosophy, you do psychology,” he instructed me. “I studied American law, with all these precedents—and I loved that, finding your way into a system. But, in the third year, at a certain moment I looked up and thought, I am in a library. I was in a library yesterday. I will be in a library tomorrow. And I will be in a library in ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time. I stopped that day.” His dad and mom have been dismayed by this resolution, and by his popping out. “They didn’t know how to cope with it, and I didn’t discuss it with them,” van Hove stated. “I think they are allowed to feel how they feel—I cannot make them feel something that they don’t feel. And so I kept my distance.”

He transferred to an arts faculty, in Antwerp, the place he started to check directing. Soon thereafter, he met Versweyveld, an aspiring artist, at a modern-dance workshop within the metropolis. “We started as a couple, but it was immediately clear that to survive as a couple we had to do something together,” van Hove instructed me. “Two young men of twenty—it’s a lot of testosterone going on. And two people who are ambitious in a deep way—not ‘I want to be’ but ‘I want to do something in life.’ ” The partnership has been remarkably sturdy and productive. Van Hove has by no means made a play with out Versweyveld, and directors and actors with whom they work testify to the inextricability of their abilities in producing the ultimate outcome. “We never broke up,” van Hove instructed me. “That is amazing—as a homosexual, in that time, working in the theatre. I think we did well.”

“I hoped your father had missed the latest men’s-fashion supplement in the New York ‘Times,’ but—alas—he did not.”

While finding out in Antwerp, van Hove was studying the work of such theatre theorists as Antonin Artaud. “He talks much about the hidden things in human beings, and says that the theatre is about bringing out these darker sides of us,” van Hove stated. He and Versweyveld have been additionally impressed by new work popping out of the United States; amongst different issues, they noticed the Wooster Group carry out “Point Judith,” a theatre piece based mostly on “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” at a pageant in Brussels in 1981. “There was video, there was dancing—it was a totally new attitude toward theatre,” van Hove stated. At the time, Belgian theatre was very typical, and the path to success was to use for presidency subsidies. “There was a new generation who were dissatisfied, and they started to make their own theatre,” Johan Thielemans, a professor of theatre historical past on the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, stated. “They didn’t work in established theatres. They thought they had to work in the margins.”

Van Hove and Versweyveld opened a brasserie in Antwerp to fund theatre tasks. Their first manufacturing, in 1981, titled “Rumors,” was someplace between a play and efficiency artwork, and was staged in a abandoned laundry facility. Written by van Hove, it featured a younger man named Matthias, who’s presumably schizophrenic, and who should navigate amongst medical doctors, controlling girls, and punk teen-agers. The manufacturing got here to the discover of David Willinger, who teaches theatre at City College, in New York. “I didn’t know Flemish, but it didn’t matter—I walked out saying, ‘This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen,’ ” Willinger instructed me. “It was totally original, and had a level of abstraction I would not have expected. It used all the levels in this warehouse, and Jan’s lighting was like a character in the play.’ ”


“Rumors” was based mostly, partially, on a drama in van Hove’s circle of relatives: his brother, two years youthful, had been given a prognosis of schizophrenia in his late teenagers. As kids, van Hove and his brother have been very shut—“I bullied him, he bullied me, you know”—however they’d grown aside. “His illness happened at the same time as my detachment from our parents was happening,” van Hove instructed me. “I regret that I couldn’t be there for him much more. I was selfish, probably. But I was developing my own life more, in quite difficult circumstances, and I couldn’t help my parents deal with it.” As a younger man, van Hove was “more arrogant and cold and driven,” Willinger says. “I think he wanted to accomplish something really hard in life, and he sensed all the resistance—bureaucratic, environmental. I think he was wearing blinders. He would allow in only what was going to serve him. I imagine the young Brecht was like that, too.”

Van Hove started to adapt and direct the work of different, normally long-dead writers. “I discovered I could make much more personal work through the filter of a text by Shakespeare that was four hundred years old—that it was much more directly about me, and about my life,” he instructed me. “My productions are my massed autobiography: if you look at all the plays I’ve done since I was twenty, you know who I am.” In 1987, he staged Euripides’ “The Bacchae.” “The performance started with the prologue, and Dionysius completely nude,” Pol Arias, a Dutch critic, remembers. “Later, we saw him in pumps, wearing a small transparent cloth, with little wings on the back of his head—a very ambiguous character, neither good nor bad.” At intermission, Arias was approached by a pair he’d by no means met—van Hove’s dad and mom. “His mother told me, ‘Let us say we are quite a bit more conservative than what our son is doing in theatre.’ I answered that there was no need to be ashamed—that they could be proud of what their son was doing, because he was a little genius.”

More lately, he and Versweyveld have staged variations of films, with variations of movies by Antonioni, Bergman, and Cassavetes. “When you get to do a movie script onstage, it is like a world première,” van Hove instructed me. “It is like you get to be the first director to do ‘Hamlet.’ You have to invent a theatrical world for the first time.”

For Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers,” which van Hove directed in 2009, he set himself the problem of representing demise onstage in an sincere manner. “Death is always nothing in theatre—it is very difficult to do,” he stated. His father had lately died, and his reminiscences of that have guided his imaginative and prescient of the central character, Agnes, who’s an artist succumbing to most cancers. As Agnes, Chris Nietvelt flung herself across the stage, smearing her physique with Yves Klein-blue paint. Lying lifeless, she was stripped bare and washed by her maid. “I had her die twice—once the way you want to die, like my father died, with people all around him, caring for him,” van Hove stated. “And then there is the other moment of the horrific death struggle—alone. The way I am afraid it will be.” Nietvelt stated of van Hove’s strategies, “We go very far, physically, mentally. But that is the way we want to make theatre. It is what we call, in Dutch, waarachtig. It means something that’s not true but feels so true that you believe it. And that truthfulness can also be conveyed by your body.” Nietvelt added, “I never fall on my knees in normal life. I fell on my knees, I think, five hundred times for Ivo.”

“Incredible Hulk, Invincible Iron Man, Mighty Thor, meet Unremarkable Ed.”

In the mid-nineties, his productions got here to the eye of Jim Nicola, of New York Theatre Workshop. Nicola started inviting him to remount his productions of works by O’Neill, Williams, and different American playwrights, however with American actors as an alternative of Dutch ones. The younger American director Sam Gold says, “It was seeing American plays filtered through a director whose vision wasn’t mired in the conventions of contemporary American revivals—a director who wasn’t married to the text, and was trying to tell the story about how the plays related to him and his consciousness.” Gold, who received a Tony this yr for “Fun Home,” is a visitor director on the Toneelgroep Amsterdam this season, engaged on a brand new, Dutch-language manufacturing of “The Glass Menagerie.”

In New York, van Hove established virtually an alternate firm: a coterie of acquainted actors, a lot of whom he has now been working with for years. “He never asks me to do what I can do—he leads me to do things I didn’t know I could do,” the actress Elizabeth Marvel instructed me. In his 2010 manufacturing of “The Little Foxes,” at New York Theatre Workshop, Marvel was directed to play Regina as somebody whose anger at her relations was so intense that she appeared on the verge of shedding all self-control. “We were surfing this crazy Jungian tidal wave,” she stated. “It was hypersexual. I would literally climb the wall, and hump the wall. It is hard to explain. It is a dream state that is more real than reality that I sometimes find myself in, that Ivo helps create.” When the present ended, Marvel stated, it was disorienting to work once more with extra typical administrators: “I remember Neil Armstrong talking about what it was like when he returned from space, how it took him a very long time to reassimilate. The earth was not what he knew it to be anymore—he knew there was this whole other realm. That is very similar to my experience with Ivo.”

In 2005, Hans Kesting, who has performed many essential roles in van Hove’s productions, performed Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew.” In a scene wherein the title character, Katherina, was meant to be enraged, the actress taking part in her, Halina Reijn, stood on a desk, screaming. “In rehearsal, we were pushing to the limits,” Kesting instructed me. “And Ivo said, ‘Something should happen that she can’t hold it in anymore. Her anger is not sufficient anymore, screaming is not sufficient, she is so frustrated now. What should she do now?’ ” Jan Versweyveld equipped a solution: “She should pee on the table.” Kesting instructed me, “It was water, of course—we had to find some sort of contraption to put on her.” In an added diploma of boundary crossing, Kesting licked up the urine. The staging wasn’t merely surprising, Kesting stated, for it wittily captured the delirious one-upmanship of Katherina and Petruchio. “In the show, it was always such a strong moment,” he stated.

Physical accidents will not be unusual amongst van Hove’s actors. Joan MacIntosh nonetheless sees a chiropractor for a neck harm that was exacerbated by the calls for of taking part in Alice James in Susan Sontag’s “Alice in Bed.” She spent the entire play in a specifically constructed chaise longue that was molded to her physique however off-kilter, in order that her pelvis was completely cocked at an odd angle. It was palpably clear to the viewers that Alice, although reclining, was not relaxed. MacIntosh has no complaints: “I would do anything Ivo asked me to do that was humanly possible onstage.”


Van Hove doesn’t choreograph his fights. In “Scenes from a Marriage,” an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s TV miniseries, which he directed in New York final yr, three pairs of actors—every representing the identical married couple—engaged in fifteen-minute brawls. Alex Hurt, one of many actors taking part in the husband, Johan, instructed me, “It was one of the most unsafe, and particularly fantastic, things I have ever done in a play. Ivo just said, ‘Now you kill her—kill her with your words.’ So we’d all be veining at the neck, screaming our heads off, going at it. And then he would go up to the wives and say, ‘Kill him. Now you kill him.’ ”

“I can no longer tell the difference between what’s real football and what’s fantasy football.”

With Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, the videographer, van Hove typically makes an attempt to subvert obtained knowledge about well-known works, generally to very controversial impact. He directed a Dutch-language manufacturing of “Rent,” in 2000. In the unique manufacturing, which ran on Broadway for twelve years, the character of Mimi virtually dies however is miraculously resurrected. In van Hove’s pitiless model, Mimi dies, along with her final moments represented on video. Van Hove’s iconoclasm is, partially, a operate of his place as a local speaker of Flemish working principally in Dutch, which has comparatively few audio system and a restricted literary canon. Just as, when working in English, van Hove feels no responsibility to Elia Kazan in his interpretation of the works of Tennessee Williams, he doesn’t really feel certain to the textual content of an English-language masterpiece when he’s utilizing a Dutch translation. There is inevitably a poetic diminishment when Shakespeare is rendered in a language apart from English, however there may also be a restoration of a play’s elemental drama. Van Hove’s “Roman Tragedies” eliminates the primary scene of “Antony and Cleopatra,” which features a voluptuous embrace and depicts “the triple pillar of the world / transform’d into a strumpet’s fool.” But this elided verse is later enacted, throughout Antony’s passionate leave-taking of Cleopatra earlier than battle. As Antony attire, the couple snort and fumble cupidinously; they kiss passionately for a full minute because the music—Bob Dylan singing “Not Dark Yet”—surrounds them, and Antony’s advisers look sternly on. Joe Melillo, of BAM, stated of the manufacturing, “People couldn’t talk at the end—the death of Cleopatra was so emotional that people were sobbing.” Van Hove’s “Kings of War,” which had its première in Vienna in June, eradicated the buildup to the War of the Roses—a reduce that an English director would most likely have discovered more durable to make. What remained was “like watching a great cable miniseries,” Sam Gold stated. “It has this populist thing—this page-turning energy. You feel like you are watching Netflix, and when you get to the end of ‘Henry V’ you just hit ‘Next Episode.’ ”

When David Lan, the creative director of the Young Vic, first steered to van Hove that he may direct “A View from the Bridge,” he resisted. As Versweyveld remembers it, van Hove stated, “It’s a well-made play. I hate it. There is little room for any roller-coaster ride.” Lan had needed to work with van Hove after seeing “Roman Tragedies.” “I like theatre that is as complicated and as intellectually and emotionally contradictory and complex and challenging as my life,” Lan instructed me. “ ‘Roman Tragedies’ was like that—the ludicrous ambition of it, and the craziness of it. It’s a cliché to say you want art to change you, but I didn’t know you could experience things onstage in that way.”

For the Young Vic, Lan needed van Hove to tackle a widely known work. “I wanted people to see what he could do, and I thought, If they see a play that they think they know, or think they know what it should be like, then they will really see what he is capable of,” Lan instructed me. He additionally needed English actors to play the inhabitants of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “English theatre is often tentative, hesitant, commercially driven, wanting to be loved,” he stated. “If we used American actors, I would be apprehensive that people would say, ‘Oh, you have to be American to do that.’ ” (A New York viewers might take a couple of moments to regulate to the forged’s accents; van Hove referred to as for them to be generically American relatively than particular to Brooklyn. “It is not a historically accurate production,” he instructed me.)

Miller’s play facilities on an Italian-American longshoreman, Eddie Carbone, who turns into suspiciously hostile when certainly one of his immigrant relations expresses romantic curiosity in his niece. Versweyveld remembers telling van Hove to not dismiss it: “I said, ‘I see a lot of layers: the incest relation, the matrimonial relationship, the workers from Italy, the poor who come to a rich country.’ ” Eventually, van Hove established some private connections with the textual content. The milieu of Italian immigrants coming to work in another country reminded him of his residence village, the place Italian neighbors crammed the mining jobs that Belgians disdained.

Versweyveld’s set is an enclosed sq. house, like a boxing ring. It alludes to the footprint of a row home in Red Hook. “It is a house, but it is a ruin of a house, almost like Pompeii,” van Hove instructed me. “It is a house that has been. You see a wall, a door—you can imagine there has been a kitchen, a table, but it is all gone.”

The rehearsal course of was an unusually intense three weeks. The authentic plan had referred to as for 5 weeks—already a decent schedule. “Then I get this phone call from Ivo saying, ‘David, I have completely fucked up, I forgot to tell you I am going to be in Australia the beginning of the second week of rehearsal,’ ” Lan instructed me. “I said, ‘Well, you do the first week, and then you go to Australia.’ He said, ‘Look, I have got a better idea. I won’t do the first week, or the second week, either.’ It was the only time he got a bit cross with me. He said, ‘You have to trust me. Now you are coming into my territory.’ ” In the center of tech rehearsals, with previews solely days away, van Hove knowledgeable Lan that he wanted to make a visit again to Amsterdam. “I thought to myself, O.K., there is something else going on here,” Lan stated. “He doesn’t want the time.”

The actors labored in an empty studio. “In another room, we had all the props, but the actors didn’t know it,” Versweyveld stated. Mark Strong, who performs Eddie Carbone, instructed me, “The first day, we all arrived and said hello, and were shown a model box of the set, with the absence of furniture. We all kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Oh-kaaay.’ But, as time went on, if they told you a prop was unnecessary you began to tell that they were right. There wasn’t any need for props.” About per week into rehearsal, Strong stated, van Hove commanded the forged to go barefoot: “Ivo said, ‘We don’t need shoes,’ and we took them off, and we never thought about them again.” Initially, a knife was introduced out for the climactic struggle between Eddie and his spouse’s cousin Marco. “But it just seemed absurd,” Strong stated. In the present, the battle is staged and not using a weapon: there’s only a bloody, obscure clashing of our bodies, a nightmare out of Caravaggio.

“I just wonder if yet another pincer movement might be just what they are expecting.”

On Broadway, as within the West End, probably the most prized seats could also be these that are arrange onstage, on both facet of Versweyveld’s area, virtually inside attain of the actors. “You really felt as though at any moment Eddie Carbone could come off that stage and grab your throat,” Joe Melillo instructed me. “It was, like, ‘Oh, my God, I am given license to be a witness to a murder. I am really going to see someone kill someone.’ ”

In September, van Hove was again on the Young Vic with a smaller manufacturing: “Song from Far Away,” a one-man play by the younger British playwright Simon Stephens. It was written particularly for Eelco Smits, who first carried out it, in English, earlier this yr in São Paolo. Van Hove hardly ever directs a brand new work. He doesn’t prefer to fee performs, for worry of receiving one thing that he doesn’t like after which feeling obligated to current it.

Stephens had spent per week in Holland, at van Hove’s invitation, and had devised a narrative a couple of younger Dutch banker, residing in New York, who returns to Amsterdam after the surprising demise of his brother. Smits had carried out “Song” in Amsterdam, in Dutch, a couple of weeks earlier. For the London manufacturing, which was in English, van Hove had scheduled only some days of rehearsal earlier than the play’s first preview. The present is emotionally and bodily demanding: Smits spends forty-five of the play’s seventy-five minutes bare, his nudity underscoring his character’s vulnerability. “It’s what you want to do, because you feel that what Ivo creates, and what Jan creates, is at that level,” Smits instructed me in London. “It is taken to a certain point, at which you don’t want to say, ‘Can I keep my underwear on?’ You don’t want to be that actor—you want to go there.”

As the crew readied the stage for a run-through of the play, van Hove sat on one of many upholstered benches that had been arrange for the viewers. He had been busy since I’d seen him engaged on “Kings of War.” In Amsterdam, he had been rehearsing a brand new play, and, for as soon as, it was based mostly on a Dutch supply: a novel, from 1900, titled “The Hidden Force.” Set within the colonial East Indies, the e book was written by Louis Couperus, whom van Hove compares to Thomas Mann. In New York, he’d been casting for “Lazarus,” the Bowie challenge, and for “The Crucible.” Despite the logistical calls for of mounting so many works in succession, van Hove anticipated the publicity with pleasure. “I want to make the most extreme, personal theatre, but for as big an audience as possible,” he stated at one level. “I am not the kind of theatre-maker who likes it for small audiences. I don’t do something to please, or to entertain. I don’t think theatre is there for entertainment, purely.”

Van Hove instructed me that he and Versweyveld had already devised the “universe” wherein “The Crucible” was to happen, and that he had been working together with his dramaturge to tease out deeper implications from the textual content. To clarify his course of, he laid his fingers on the bench in entrance of us. “If this bench would be a play, I would look at it first in total, and I would say, ‘Wow, there is something that is striking here’ ”—he stopped on the brass plaque naming a sponsor—“and say, ‘Look, this one has a name, but they do not all have names.’ And then I would take this backrest down, and unscrew it, and see what is inside. I would undo it, and then put it back together again.”


His preliminary dismantling of “The Crucible” had highlighted among the themes that it shares with “A View from the Bridge.” Van Hove remarked, “It is very strange—in both plays, at a certain moment, the leading character says, ‘I want my name.’ Your name is your identity, and you don’t want to lose your identity in society. You don’t want to be pushed aside into the margins of society. You want to be at the center of society. And that need, that urge, is also deep in me.”

The home lights went down. Although preparations have been nonetheless below manner, the voices of the crew dropped. “That’s the beauty about theatre—it can be silent suddenly,” van Hove stated, with a slight smile. Nonetheless, he continued to talk.

“Before we discuss destroying the competition, screwing our customers, and laughing all the way to the bank, let’s begin this meeting with a prayer.”

“With ‘The Crucible,’ I want to make you believe,” he continued. “For instance, the hysterical outbursts of the girls. I want to make it really frightening.” Miller has a popularity as a moralist who needs to make his opinions in regards to the characters clear. “I want to try not to do that, so that you can make up your own mind at the end,” van Hove stated. “For me, it is not a play about good and evil. It is about evil within goodness, and goodness within evil.” He spoke in regards to the character of Abigail Williams, a teen-ager who accuses others of witchery with the intention to avenge her spurning by John Proctor. “Abigail—she is in pain,” he stated. “She is not an evil person. Abigail wants to be somebody, and a girl cannot be somebody in this society. This is the way that I think about it: this society, which seems to be a society, is a bunch of individuals with totally different stories.”

“Ivo?” Versweyveld referred to as from the darkness.

“Yes?” van Hove responded. The crew was prepared to start the run-through of “Song from Far Away.”

The monologue, van Hove instructed me at one level, was knowledgeable by Stephens’s observations about Amsterdam, such because the behavior among the many Dutch of leaving their curtains open to the road. “I always close my curtains,” van Hove stated. “I don’t want people to look inside, because I have a lot to hide. The Dutch, being Calvinist, don’t look inside one another’s windows.” He smiled. “I always look inside. I cannot hold myself back from looking inside.” ♦


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