Václav Havel: playwright, political dissident, and prisoner. Havel was known for his musings on truth and the unbreakable spirit of the individual. He championed the idea that individuals have the responsibility to take action against systems of political oppression and monopolies of power.
Produced by the Barnard Theatre Department, Shannon Sindelar’s “Some Hero” is a devised performance based on Havel’s ideas. Running from Oct. 13 to 15 at Milbank’s Minor Latham Playhouse, “Some Hero” attempts to capture the same fierce spirit which permeates Havel’s writings. However, director Sindelar’s spectacular command of mediums, lighting, sound, and projection cannot hide the fact that, for the most part, the performance is uneven. It consists of loose strands of narrative that either jar against each other or don’t come together at all.
In terms of plot, the production follows the events surrounding Leopold (Schuyler Van Amson, CC ’17), a man who faces increasing persecution and pressure to change his identity due to political papers which have displeased the government. Before audience members can understand the setting, the scene is interrupted by a cast member. Bertram (Nell Bailey, BC ’19) breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience in a stream of consciousness monologue about her reaction to the fallout of Brexit. This is the pattern for the rest of the production—a narrative about one man, which is set in the late 1980s, interwoven with tales about the experiences of the play’s cast members in 2016. Then there is a third narrative: following Václav Havel’s (Daniel Kvoras, GS ’19) writings to his wife Olga (Christina Beck, BC ’17).
The concept behind “Some Hero” is ambitious and remarkable. The playwright and dramaturgist, Christine Aucoin, BC ’18, was evidently inspired by Václav Havel’s musings on truth and virtue. Aucoin explained how, during the rehearsal process, cast members would write down personal experiences from their own lives, the results of which we see woven through the play—from experiences of being racially profiled to being alienated for challenging stereotypes during a stint in the Navy SEALs. They also discuss the blowout over a recent Spectator op-ed on the divisions between Barnard and Columbia students. These topics, which were narrated by the cast members, were intriguing, personal, and thought-provoking. They asked: How can we really make a change? As millennials, how do we break away from what is seen on the screen?
Every now and then I felt like I was witnessing the sparks of something beautiful on stage—a passion as pure and raw as Havel’s. One particular such moment was Christina Beck’s narrative, in which she speaks out about her experience with sexual assault and the college’s attempt to cover it up. Beck’s performance remains a highlight of the play. She was able to oscillate between fear, bravery, and elusiveness on a vulnerable exterior.
Overall, such glimpses of meaning and passion were few in “Some Hero.” But when those glimmers did surface, they stunned the audience with their tremendous tenderness and emotion. By the time the production was at the halfway mark, I felt more invested in these actors’ personal stories than in the pseudo-sympathetic plot of Leopold. “Some Hero” ends on a strong note, with Olga and Havel coming forward to essentially wrap up the production’s sprawling ideas. “Who are we?” Havel asks the audience, before saying, “It is I who must begin.”