I arrived in Amsterdam on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and walked over to the theatre, since by sheer lucky coincidence I found myself staying a block from it in a B&B, and could see the back wall of theatre from my window. The theatre is old and very beautiful, surrounded by hundreds of bicycles (main mode of transportation in Amsterdam); a large overhead photo of the production decorated the lobby, and photos of the charismatic Dutch lead were everywhere.
The staging is very simple, taking elements from the film; the coffee wagon in the film set is the principal component, and the various characters mull around it, eating and drinking throughout the performance.
Though I could not understand the language (most of the performance was in Dutch, and of course here it will be in English), having seen the film and read the script it was pretty easy to follow, I only got lost a couple of times, specially when the newscaster (a local celebrity, who will be replaced by our very own Robin Young from WBUR) was reading the local news and talking to the other characters.
When the aerialist Mam Smith makes her first appearance in the air as Marion, you can hear the audience hold its breath; it is quite magical, and her performance throughout has a sort of otherworldliness to it, even though she is not the angel (nevertheless the one with the wings…..). There are illuminated columns of sand that our angel has to pass through in order to become human – a moment that is truly breathtaking….. and his joy at the little things he feels for the first time was totally shared by the audience…. It helped that Damiel was played in Amsterdam by the young matinee idol Fedja van Huet, and the entire front row area was bought up by eager young women ready to teach him about things human, like hugging and kissing…. The American actor Bernie White played Cassiel there with great charm and even spoke some of his lines in Dutch; when he takes on Damiel on the A.R.T. stage I am sure he will bring his maturity to advantage and enchant the audience in different ways. (It was originally planned that the two actors would switch roles when coming to the US, but a conflict has developed with a filming project for Fedja and he will not be able to join us as Cassiel. The role will be played by the American actor Mark Rosenthal). All the Dutch actors speak good English, and will make the switch with no trouble when landing on our shores.
The biggest surprise in the show for me was the band, made up by the Dutch singing actress Hadewych Minis, and the American Jesse Lenat, whose music, courtesy of composer Andy Moor of the rock band EX, pretty much drove the proceedings, with Hadewych’s mother earth-like voice singing these gorgeous songs in Spanish, Dutch, and English. The performance I was at received a standing ovation, and much of the audience stayed behind and joined the cast at the lobby bar for a drink, conversation, and lots of cigarettes.
I had with me a friend from Stuttgart whose husband runs a theatre there; she was as enchanted by the production as I was, and her husband is shortly heading to Holland to catch a performance before it comes across the Atlantic – hopefully it will also have a future in Germany…. After all, that is where it all began!