East Coast Artists in ‘Waxing West,’ a Surreal Journey Between Romania and NY

From April 5 to April 22, La Mama E.T.C. will present East Coast Artists (Richard Schechner, Founder and Artistic Director) in the New York premiere of “Waxing West” by Saviana Stanescu, a new play by a prominent new-wave Romanian playwright that explores the tragic-comic journeys of her compatriots caught up in the cultural and economic dislocations of post-Iron Curtain Eastern Europe.

In “Waxing West,” Romanian cosmetologist Daniela Popescu arrives in the United States as the soon-to-be bride of the sexually repressed computer engineer, Charlie Aronson. As Daniela seeks to adjust to her new life with Charlie in the land of dreams, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu-formerly Dictator-and-Wife of Romania, but now vampires-haunt her, making her life miserable. This comic yet socially and politically relevant drama journeys between Romania and New York, between past and present, between “the American Dream” and the American nightmare. Will Daniela be able to escape the ghosts of her past to move on?

“Waxing West” offers a remarkable glimpse into the surreal world of contemporary culture. Daniela-culturally, sexually, and personally disoriented; seemingly displaced within a confused landscape of dreams and nightmares-embodies the destabilization of self prevalent in today’s fluid society, with its porous political borders, and where physical space collapses to be replaced by the virtual.

In “Waxing West,” Stanescu parallels Daniela’s story with Romania’s struggle to find itself in the wreckage of freedom it seized through the bringing down Communism. Both Daniela and Romania are lost amid contradictory ideals of progress. However far Daniela and Romania attempt to advance, Stanescu reminds us that the specter of Ceausescu’s regime, personified by the return of Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu as vampires, haunts the unconscious memory as an indelible feature/phantom of the collective mind, sucking the living marrow out.

On a personal level, the age-old conventions of boy-meets-girl are subverted into a witty and funny parable of dislocation. It ends in a surreal recitative, blending images of the fall of Ceausescu with the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001. Individuals’ lives are always affected by unexpected collective traumas. No longer teased between New York and Bucharest, finally connected with Charlie on a deeper level, Daniela is painfully braided into the bad-hair-roots of the American Dream.

Saviana Stanescu is an award-winning playwright with Macedonian-Albanian grandparents, who draws on her own tangled roots in the Eastern European experience to fashion a witty and incisive commentary on one segment of the Romanian diaspora. She is arguably the most prominent playwright to have emerged in Romania after 1989. Her plays have been presented in the United States, Great Britain, France, Austria, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Switzerland and, of course, Romania. AHer short play “Aurolac Blues,” performed at HERE Arts Center in New York, was published in the anthology “Plays and Playwrights 2006.” Two of her monologues have been published in the Playwrights’ Center’s “Monologues for Women.” Stanescu won the Antoine Vitez Award for her play “Final Countdown,” (translated and published in France) and also won the Best Romanian Play of the Year UNITER Award in 2000. She is a TCG fellow with the Lark Play Development Center, where “Waxing West” had a barebones production two years ago. She is also a NYSCA playwright-in-residence with Women’s Project. Over five years, Stanescu has served as Playwright-in-Residence of East Coast Artists.

From its inception, East Coast Artists has been committed to the development and presentation of works that explore and illuminate an intercultural and global perspective. With ECA Founder and Artistic Director Richard Schechner, Stanescu developed “YokastaS,” an outstanding production that was lauded by The New York Times and Backstage among others. She is also collaborating with novelist Paul Auster on a dramatization of his critically acclaimed novel, “Timbuktu,” tentatively scheduled for performance in 2008.

While “Waxing West” has had numerous workshops around the country (the New York Theatre Workshop, The Women’s Project, the Lark Play Development Center, Travelling Jewish Theatre and the Playwright’s Foundation), the current East Coast Artists production at La MaMa E.T.C. marks the professional debut of this important work in the United States. John Clinton Eisner, the producing artistic director of the Lark center, has written, “Ms. Stanescu’s world is wonderfully absurd, profound, human, and hilarious, all at the same time; she writes with awe-inspiring style, wit and poetry. . .The play mixes genres, combining dark absurdism in the vein of Beckett and Eugene Ionesco…”Waxing West” is both thought-provoking and hysterically funny, with wide audience appeal.”

“Waxing West” is also supported by the Romanian Culture Institute-New York through its New Drama Program. Thanks to the generous support of the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the play will be presented in June in Romania as part of the Sibiu International Theater Festival which has been designated as “Europe’s Capital of Culture” for 2007.

Director Benjamin Mosse has directed more than 35 plays around the country. He has served as artistic director of the Yale Cabaret, producing 21 shows during his tenure. He was also founding artistic director of the noted Cincinnati ensemble troupe, the IF Theater Collective, whose “Burn This” was honored for outstanding production and direction in 2001. He works with Richard Schechner in New York as associate artistic director of East Coast Artists, where he develops new international plays, including last year’s La MaMa New York premiere of Manjula Padmanabhan’s “Harvest.”

He has assisted David Esbjornson, Mark Lamos, Doug Hughes, Michael Wilson, Richard Schechner and John Tillinger at such theatres as The Public Theatre/ Shakespeare in Central Park, New York Theatre Workshop, Yale Repertory, Hartford Stage, the Guthrie Theater and Williamstown Theatre Festival. He was a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and has attended workshops by Tadashi Suzuki, Robert Lepage, Double Edge, Gardzienice, Elizabeth LeCompte, among others. He received his BS from Northwestern University, MA in Performance Studies from NYU and MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama.

The actors are Elizabeth Atkeson, Jason Lawergren, Kathryn Kates, Alexis McGuinness, Tony Naumovsky, Grant Neale, Dan Shaked, Marnye Young. Stage Manager is Adam Ganderson. Scenic Design is by Kanae Heike. Costume Design is by Alixandra Gage. Sound Design is by Sharath Patel. Composition is by Lucian Ban.

Performances are April 5 to April 22, 2007 at La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Ticket prices are $18 for general admission, students and seniors pay $13. The box office number is (212) 475-7710 and online ticketing is available at www.lamama.org.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.