The Curtain Goes Up On Istanbul

Nature has raised its curtain. The trees are bursting with blossoms, the earth is crawling with life. Now it’s Istanbul’s turn, and the curtain goes up on May 10.

The International Istanbul Theater Festival has been held since 1989, first every year, then every other year. Instead of enumerating the names it has hosted and lamenting those we missed, let’s look ahead. For the program of this year’s 17th festival, May 10 - June 10, is jam packed. Included are nine theater and dance ensembles from abroad and close to thirty theatrical, dance and other performances as well as special shows from Turkey, all coming to Istanbul audiences for the first time.

But the festival’s pièce de résistance is ‘The Divine Comedy’ starring John Malkovich, which has already created a stir in Europe. Described as ‘a play for Baroque orchestra’, the production will be staged only once, on May 14. In the play, a stage adaptation of the true story of the Australian writer, poet, journalist and serial killer Jack Unterweger, John Malkovich plays Unterweger, who was imprisoned in 1974 and later released, earning fame for his writings but unable to give up his life of crime.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who is being remembered around the world this year in a variety of events on the 150th anniversary of his birth, is coming to 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival audiences in three different productions. ‘Uncle Vanya’, a Chekhov classic, is Theater Pera’s contribution, translated and interpreted by Nesrin Kazankaya.

‘Piano’, written by Trevor Griffiths with inspiration from Chekhov’s ‘Plathenov’, is a joint Talimhane Theater - Akbank Sanat production directed by Mehmet Ergen. Theater Oyunbaz is joining the festival with ‘The Seagull’, directed by Abdullah Cabaluz.

Among the noteworthy foreign productions of the festival, which is welcoming groups from Austria, Belgium, Britain, England, Germany, Holland and Japan, is the ‘bad boy’ of German theater, director Andreas Kriegenburg, with his interpretation of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Another German production in the festival is ‘Cinecitta Aperta’, the second part of writer and director Rene Pollesch’s off-beat Ruhr Trilogy. London’s famous Sadler’s Wells Ballet will be here as well with ‘Sutra’, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

Tadashi Suzuki, who took part in earlier festivals with his interpretations of ‘Dionysus’ and ‘Ivanov’, is in Istanbul this time with ‘Electra’. A household name in world theater, the Japanese director, writer and philosopher will also be presented with the festival’s lifetime achievement award. Another festival award recipient is the veteran actor, director and trainer of Turkish theater, Erol Keskin.

The former Bayrampaşa prison, Caddebostan Culture Center, Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, Çıplak Ayaklar Dance Studio, Garajistanbul, Haldun Taner Stage, Harbiye Muhsin Ertuğrul Stage, Kumbaracı50, Lütfi Kırdar International Conference and Exhibition Hall, Sabancı University Show Center, Salon, Semaver Kumpanya Çevre Theater, Ses Theater, Şişli Cevahir Stage, Talimhane Theater, Theater Pera, Üsküdar Tekel Stage and Üsküdar Studio Stage.