Volume 76, Number 16 | September 6 - 12, 2006

The Culture Project’s Impact Festival
September 12 – October 22
At various locations throughout New York
(212-253-7017; impactfestival.org)

Bruce Glikas

Dylan McDermott and Portia in a scene from Eve Ensler’s “The Treatment,” which premieres Tuesday, September 12 to open the Culture Project’s Impact Festival.

Performing Political, provocative Impact festival packs a punch

By Jerry Tallmer

Im-pact – n. 1. a striking together; violent contact; collision  2 the force of a collision; shock  3 the power of an event, idea, etc. to produce changes, move the feelings, etc.

—Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition

When the lights come up on Eve Ensler’s new play, “The Treatment,” on Tuesday, September 12, opening night of the Culture Project’s widespread six-week theater, film, music, dance, art work, discussion, debate, comedy, and everything else Impact Festival, we become aware of two members of the military — a man and a woman — in (says Ms. Ensler’s script) “a stark empty room that could be a modern psychiatrist’s office or a torture chamber.”

The man, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, has seen things and done things his mind has blotted out — in particular, things done to 17-year-old detainee 93847. The woman, a psychiatrist in the U.S. Army with the rank of major, has the job of trying to get the sergeant to talk about it, regurgitate it, exorcise it.

By no coincidence at all, an Impact “Concert to Close Guantanamo” — benefiting Michael Ratner’s Center for Constitutional Rights — takes place October 7 at Town Hall.

Other venues of the more than 50 events of the 42-day Festival are scattered like apple seeds all over town: the New York Public Library, Bryant Park, the Knitting Factory, the Maritime Hotel (former Covenant House, Ninth Avenue), Chelsea Piers (where Bill Clinton is to “Speak Truth to Power” and be honored October 6), Baruch College, Pace College, El Museo del Barrio, Riverside Church, Ohio Theater, and others.

“Chashama,” that performance and exhibit space at 217 East 42nd Street, will from September 28 through October 7 house an “Impact on the Gulf” multimedia art-photography-film-jazz memorandum and fundraiser for the hurricane-stricken denizens of the Mississippi-Louisiana Gulf Coast.

The Ensler opening — starring Dylan McDermott and an actress named Portia, under the direction of Leigh Silverman — takes place on the mainstage of the Culture Project itself, 45 Bleecker Street. A wide array of films, other plays, readings, cabaret, and socio-political palaver (Elizabeth Swados, for one) is slated for CP’s basement, now also known as Shinbone Alley: A Political Speakeasy. The CP lobby, too, will be wrapped, visually, into the Festival.

Another pretty provocative entry, in the belief of Culture Project founder and artistic director Allan Buchman, is “Six Characters in Search of a Plot,” a Pirandellian work of theater and dance jointly contrived by Muhammad Ahmed Zaher, a Palestinian who lives in Israel, and Billy Yalowitz, an American Jew. In it, three Israeli writers and three Palestinians come together to create a theater piece — “and of course,” says Buchman, “can’t agree on anything.”

Once upon a time, Allan Buchman spent his existence restoring 19th-century pianos “for people who couldn’t afford to play them.” Ten years ago, he started producing plays in his piano place on East 91st Street, one of the first being director Will Pomerantz’s spot-accurate adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s “Prater Violet.” (Buchman some years later traded 91st Street for Bleecker Street.)

It is Pomerantz who oversees the theatrical end of the Impact Festival, another highlight of which is a September 18 mainstage reading of Charles Grodin’s dramatization of the case of Brandon Hein, who in 1995, at age 18, was sentenced to life without parole in California for being at the scene of a killing (in a teenage scuffle over marijuana) that he did not commit. Grodin himself plays Hein’s father.

A third highlight is “Die,” Iris Bahr’s solo tour de force about a woman who takes a seat in a Tel Aviv café just before a suicide bomber walks in. A fourth: “Talking to Terrorists,” by Robin Soans, is a documentary about, in Pomerantz’s words, “some people who have fought terrorism and some people who have been part of terrorism.”

There will also be five weeks of workshops — one workshop per week — downstairs in Shinbone Alley. As follows:  “The People Speak,” by Bob Urbanati, Howard Zinn, and Anthony Arnore; “The Warrior,” a play by Jack Gilhooley about women who were in the Army in both Iraq wars; “The Veiled Monologues,” interviews of Moslem women by Adelheid Roosen; “Homeland Security,” thumbnailed by Pomerantz as “a play about a couple whose marriage is destroyed by a random security interview at an airport”; and “Atomic Farm Girl,” by C. Denby Swanson.

An equally rich roster of films, curated by Cristina Linclau, gets under way 7 p.m. September 12 at Riverside Church with “The Ground Truth,” Patricia Foulkrod’s new 78-minute documentary about certain patriotic young Americans who went to battle for their country in Iraq, and what happened to them.

Some other offerings, mostly in Shinbone Alley:  “Land of the Blind,” Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland in Robert Edwards’s political satire about dictatorship; “The Guantanamo Guidbook,” by Tim Carter and Claudia Milne, in which seven young Brits, three of them Muslims, live for 48 hours in the orange jump suits and simulated cages of that detention center; and “The Real Deal,” about John Malpede, New York performance artist who in 20 years has gone from Skid Row, Los Angeles, to heading a theater company of the homeless.

Allan Buchman was born in Meriden, Connecticut, August 14, 1945 — the eve of VJ Day. Which may be why, 61 years later, he was stirred to create an Impact Festival.

He himself recruited two of the dance entries: Liz Lehrman’s “Small Dances About Big Ideas,” and “a hybrid of politics and hip-hop” by MacArthur Grant recipient Rennie Harris.

“I just felt we’re in a time of crisis,” Buchman says.  “There’s not enough vocal activity. I mean, back in the ’60s people were out in the streets, marching. How is it that, in Paris, two Muslim boys get killed and people are marching in the streets, while here, 1,500 people are lost in New Orleans and nothing happens? I just felt it was time for us to do something.”You can do something: let Impact impact you.

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