In English playwright Howard Barker’s black comedy Scenes from an Execution, Galactica, a 16th-century woman painter, is commissioned by the Venetian republic to commemorate a bloody battle until her honest portrayal of the event has her condemned as an enemy of the state and imprisoned.
Director Robert Allan Ackerman, who directs the play’s U.S.-premier production, running through May 9 at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum, was drawn to the script because he found the politics in the play all too similar to those just across town in Hollywood. He was happy to discover that acclaimed British actor Juliet Stevenson (whom he directed in London in Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, and who makes her American stage debut as Barker’s foursquare heroine) detected the same parallel which is one reason she suggested the play to the Taper in the first place.Order now
Ackerman, who recently directed the PBS film Mrs. Cage, says Barker’s play calls to mind the movie industry’s proclivity for judging artistic merit on the basis of a single work, noting that “heads can roll if a film doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.” Scenes from an Execution designers Richard Macdonald (scenic concept) and Yael Pardess (sets) juxtapose contemporary “Hollywood” clothing with Venetian architecture, using stone and lattice to evoke the labyrinthine quality of the ancient city’s streets. For Ackerman, the thematic correspondences reflect the timeless struggle between the desire for fame and the need to maintain artistic integrity.
“I think those tensions can be found in almost any serious artist,” he reasons. “That’s why the play is accessible.”