Theatre PANIK Resurrects 'The Corpse Bride'

Published: May 31st 2010
in Culture » Stage

Niki Landau
Pic: courtesy
Sarah Orenstein in The Corpse Bride
Pic: courtesy

Theatre PANIK is bringing The Corpse Bride back to its Yiddish roots. The famous folktale, which follows a young bridegroom who accidentally weds a corpse bride on the way to his bride’s village, was discovered by PANIK co-artistic director Niki Landau in 2002. Her husband, Paul Lampert, conceived of the play as a movement piece set to music. And in fitting with Theatre PANIK’s mandate of giving voice to those unheard, Landau set her version of the story in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, when anti-Semitism was rampant and Jewish brides were specifically targeted.


Landau and Lampert’s version of The Corpse Bride will also pay tribute to Yiddish theatrical tradition through rhetorical gestures and a silent film style mixed with projections displaying text, environment and scenery. Shalom Life recently spoke with Landau (who shares artistic director duties with her husband) about the vision behind her play and why Jewish themes figure so largely in the work of Theatre PANIK.


Your previous two productions for Theatre PANIK (My Name is Rachel Corrie and Territories) are politically-charged contemporary works. The Corpse Bride sounds like a departure in several ways. Do you see it this way?


The Corpse Bride is a conscious departure, but it’s not disconnected from our previous work.  After looking at the current state of things in Israel, I wanted to go back and look at a time before the Jewish people had political power. I wanted to look at what trauma does to people, specifically the trauma of the pogroms, and how it creates that need to be empowered, but then the empowerment results in a loss of innocence. Even if that innocence was never really there, even if we mythologize it, we still regard shtetl time with a kind of nostalgia, and yet we wouldn’t want the vulnerability of that time since it proved so disastrous. So it puts us in an interesting emotional dilemma, memory-wise, and I think that dilemma is reflected in our culture today.


Form-wise, also, it’s a real departure, because part of Theatre PANIK’s mandate is to present new and interesting forms of theatre.  We definitely want to keep shaking things up!


How does your version of The Corpse Bride differ from the original Yiddish folktale?


I chose to set the story in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, at a fictional moment in history when all the Jewish women of marriageable age are gone and no women, except one, have been born for sixteen years. Basically, I wanted to focus on the attacks on women in the pogroms. I also tipped my hat to the great storytellers Isaac Bashevis Singer and Shalom Aleichem in bringing out some of the humour and nostalgia of the shtetl.


Your cast is a combination of stage veterans and George Brown College theatre students. Why did you decide to cast The Corpse Bride this way?


Related articles: (stage, theatre panik, the corpse bride, niki landau, paul lampert, yiddish theatre)
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