Even though this is not a complete biography of Marc Chagall’s life, playwright Daniel Jamieson’s play emulates Chagall’s art. To quote the famed artist himself: “In our life is a single color, as in an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art…it is the color of love…only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.”
THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK colorfully touches upon many of the tender and passionate moments in Chagall’s life – and revolves around his love for Bella Rosenfeld, whom he married in 1915 and lived with until her death in 1944. Born in 1887 of Hassidic Jewish parents, Moishe Zakhavovich Shagal was raised in a town near Vitebsk, Belarus, whose population of 66,000 for nearly 50 percent Jewish. Although his existence through the years turned out to be gypsy-like, his love for his hometown never diminished. One of his paintings, “The Fiddler,” was even said to inspire the title of the ever-popular musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Chagall lived to the ripe old age of 97 and experienced first-hand any number of shattering world events, including World Wars I and II, the Communist Revolution in Russia, the rise of Hitler, the beginnings of the Holocaust, the post-war changes, and the tumultuous social and economic transformations as the world approached the twenty-first century. Being a Jew during these times is carefully reflected in the twists and turns of his art, with both rewards and frustrations clearly displayed. So too is the undercurrent of Jewish sound and thought brought to vivid life. As Chagall moves through different countries, his being a Jew cannot be ignored. In fact, Chagall was rescued from the Nazis and came to the U.S. on a forged passport in 1941. Chagall proves to be as colorful as his early modernist paintings.
Acrobatic multi-talented actors Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood and sensitive director Emma Rice breathe life into Chagall and Bella. Accompanied by musicians James Gow and Ian Ross, they vibrantly sing and dance their way through epochs of stress and change – but always hold onto their exquisite feelings of mutual love, an anchor which proves capable of remaining their rudder through thick and thin – while they sometimes soar in dreamlike bliss.
Director Emma Rice has a profound understanding of her principals: “The play is not biographical but reflects the relationship between Chagall and Bella.” The focus is on two people who love each other, just as Chagall would have wanted it. Sophia Clist’s scenic and costume design are intimate and reflect Chagall’s non-representational artistry. Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Simon Baker’s sound add to a story which mimics Chagall’s own art. Perhaps poetry in vibrant motion would be the best way to describe Chagall’s life as portrayed in this production. Especially since his paintings are almost recreated in real life by these two very talented actors.
THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK runs through March 11, 2018, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Bram Goldsmith Theater is located at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Tickets range from $35 to $125. For information and reservations, call 310-746-4000 or go online.