Monday, March 11, 2013

Review of Souvenir Play

Souvenir is a play based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, an eccentric of the early 20th century who believes in her non-existent ability to sing.

This play was directed by Peter J Adams and the Australian premiere was created by Stephen Temperley. It was performed at Chapel Off Chapel theatre in Prahran, Victoria.

It explores the relationship between Hart(Stephen McIntyre) and Lady Flo (Helen Noonan) leading up to her final performance at Carnegie Hall. I found both characters to be well played, McIntyre interacts well with the audience, adds a sense of jazz and comedy through his piano playing and monologues. Noonan embodies the character fully through her physical language and spoken language successfully building an eccentric performance. She reached the climax of her performance in the Carnegie Hall play, embodying a Spanish-singing maraca playing role with costume to match and adding her lack of tone to the laughing opera song. They both make use of rhyme in speech and song with success. I also found their voices to be representative of their social status, with Hart having a colloquial New Yorker accent while Lady Flo has an upper-class air in her speech, inserting French phrases, reminiscent of the Anglophile American speech (influenced by British English) of the beginning of the 20th century.

There are various moments of tension in the play: firstly, by Hart being disgusted with her singing and almost leading himself away to live a separate life. Secondly, Lady Flo comes to the realisation that her performance at Carnegie Hall is being laughed at and the two characters have to find their sense of trust again. Hart, sees Lady Flo as a source of financial support and is willing to mislead her through false promises to keep her confidence up.

Another point for their interpersonal relationship is Hart's own interests in music (jazz and the songs he has written) and Lady Flo's commitment to opera and older forms of music. Lady Flo belittles it at first but as their relationship builds Lady Flo intends to use Hart's music which Hart is scared of using at first (because of his personal embarrassment) but Hart gives in and Lady Flo performs it on Carnegie Hall to a full crowd.

Although this play was overall successful I do find fault with the over-emphasis on Hart as narrator and supporting character, I do feel that they crossed the line drawing emphasis away from Lady Flo. By Hart serving as narrator and supporting actor we need to be continually drawn into Lady Flo's life and by his role as supporting actor we can't let ourselves be overdrawn into his life.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sufi Muslim Philosophers

I will be exploring the Sufi school of Islam.

Islam is a religion was founded (or as Muslims say, revealed unto the prophet Muhammed) in the 7th Century of the Common Era(CE) or the First century of the Hijra according to the Islamic calendar. This religion emphasises the teachings of Muhammed as the last prophet of Islam.

Sufism refers to the esoteric or inner practice of Islam and includes orthodox or schools upholding Islamic law and practice as well as other schools which place a greater emphasis on faith and dedication to saints.
In regards to Sufi practice I focus on several key figures: Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Suhrawardi.
Of these Rumi would be best considered an upholder of orthodox sufi practice in that he upheld the practice of Islamic law while also focusing on the esoteric/inner (batin/batiniyya in Arabic) understanding of Sufi Islam. He is famous throughout the West for his poetry and tolerance towards other faiths, a faith based on love of God and others.

Ibn Arabi upholds Neo-Platonic doctrines such as emanationism or cosmic principles (divine attributes and names) emanating from God to humanity. Ibn Arabi holds the theory of the qutb or pole, a powerful being or presence who guides humanity. He then refers to different abdals or saints who guide humanity.  Even though Lapidus considers Ibn Arabi to stand in the middle ground (orthoprax), commitment to laws with an acceptance of gnostic (developing the personal connection to deity) practices such as meditation and similar exercises. Lapidus connects this nevertheless to the popular Islamic devotion to saints, praying at saints' tombs for blessings and guidance.

Suhrawardi impresses me in two ways: firstly: his doctrine of alam al-mithal or the Imaginal world/mundus imaginalis (in Latin) a spiritual world/plane where human beings can connect to God and gain divine understanding. It is a state comparable to the dreams we have which are felt as if they were real. Secondly, Suhrawardi takes a syncretistic approach (combining beliefs from various religions) incorporating aspects of Zoroastrian thought (the pre-Islamic religion of Iran). Suhrawardi, inherited (as did Ibn Arabi) a legacy from Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 12th Century Islamic philosopher) of emanationist, Neo-Platonic understanding incorporating hierarchies of angels (two in particular) connecting humanity to God.

Note: Neoplatonism is the school of thought appearing through the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries CE. It expands on Plato's teachings regarding morality and cosmology (relating to the formation of the universe, specifically in regards to the soul, God, etc.).
Lapidus, I (2012), Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century, 2nd, Cambridge University Press.