In considering how to approach this review of Our Time, a Collage of Records from Williams, directed by Omar Sangare, Professor of Theatre, I came to the conclusion that it was imperative to concentrate not only on the title of the production, which seems neutral enough at first glance, but how it was described in the official announcement. As a co-production of the Williams Theatre Department and “Sondheim@90@Williams,” to honor the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim as an illustrious member of Williams Class of 1950[1. for which the Williams Music Department also organized a day-and-a-half symposium about the composer and his work], Our Time was presented “in celebration” of this birthday. That final phrase might lead us to expect a revue of Mr. Sondheim’s most-loved tunes with a new, student-generated book encasing them, but Our Time was nothing of the sort.
Stephen Sondheim turns 90 today. His alma mater, Williams College, chose to honor her renowned alumnus with a musical production entitled Our Time, a Collage of Records from Williams, which brings life at the college between 1946-1950 (when Sondheim was a student there) back to life. This compilation of stories, devised Ilya Khodosh, ’08, and Omar Sangare, has been chosen by current students; who, by research, selected stories to share from the stage. At the end of the show, there is also a story delivered by a video message by Stephen Sondheim, himself.
Only two of the five scheduled performances took place before the spread of the Corona virus necessitated the cancellation of further performances. Happily, they were recorded on video, and Williams can now honor its son and audiences can enjoy this musical reminiscence.
Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play…and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform.
Czesław Miłosz (proonouced Cheswav Meewosh), who died in 2004, was perhaps the best known of Polish literary men in the U.S., thanks to his 20-year tenure as a professor of Slavic languages at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley, where he carried on his work as an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and translator. While he could communicate and occasionally write in English, his poetry became familiar to American readers through translations published in magazines like The New Yorker. He became widely recognized as an ambassador from the land of exile, continually bearing the cross of his numerous emigrations. A Lithuanian Pole, he left for Warsaw under the German occupation. He received his education in Wilno (Vilnius), a city which was long a part of Poland, with many Polish associations, above all literary, since the two great nineteenth century poets, Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, like Miłosz, spent their formative years there. A diplomat of Communist Poland in the U.S. and France, he sought political asylum in 1951 and lived as an expatriate intellectual in Paris until 1960, when he emigrated to the United States and claimed citizenship in the great everywhere and nowhere of academia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. After 1989 he divided his time between Berkeley and Kraków.
Williams College professor, Omar Sangare, who is currently starring in John Guare’s “Erased” with Glenn Fitzgerald at the Atlantic Theatre Company, has been selected by the U.S. Department of State for a video project that will appear as part of President Obama’s trip to Poland in May 2011.
This series of short documentaries focuses on Polish Americans who contribute to the innovation, creativity and vibrancy of America, featuring a wealth of prominent Polish Americans who are proud of their heritage while having an impact on America’s social and cultural fabric.
There can be no doubt that Tennessee Williams was the preeminent American playwright of his time—at least for a period which, sadly, covered only eighteen years of his life, beginning with his first great Broadway success, “The Glass Menagerie” in 1944 and ending with his last great Broadway success, “The Night of the Iguana,” in 1962. Between those years Williams wrote a series of profound, deeply-affecting works, in which a heady atmosphere originating from his deep southern origins proved irresistable to New York critics and audiences, not to mention certain Hollywood producers and enough people in-between to bring him wealth and celebrity. After “Night of the Iguana,” it all ended as swiftly as it began. His later productions irritated critics and audiences with their lush language and melodrama, if it made much of an impression on them at all.
Professor Omar Sangare reimagines Tennessee Williams’ classic American play. A Streetcar Named Desire forces us to confront some of the most difficult themes in our lives; dreams, nightmares, illusions, gender dynamics, betrayal, rape, sexuality, and the ever elusive American Dream. Professor Sangare leads a dynamic ensemble of students and faculty, shining a spotlight on the essence of Williams’ characters through a distinctive and original set of performances.
Omar Sangare founded the Dialogue One Festival for solo theater in 2007 at Williams College, where he had just assumed a position as Assistant Professor of theater studies. Before that, he had built up a stellar reputation as a writer, poet, singer, and actor in his native Poland, receiving a Ph.D. from the Theater Academy in Warsaw, where he studied with the great film director, Andrzej Wajda, among others. His many talents came together in solo theater, a field in which he is well-known in Central Europe and at international festivals. He was voted Best in Acting by the New York International Fringe Festival in 1997 for his one-man drama, True Theater Critic. The same year Sangare was invited to the Jerzy Grotowski Theater in Wroclaw, Poland, where he won four prizes at the Theater Festival. The monodrama was presented in Poland, Canada, England, Ukraine, Germany, and the United States, where it recently received the Best Performance Award at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.