In the autumn of 1927, Mario and Eva Avery received a call to appear in New York, at the office of Fiat industry representative and editor of Frieze & Sciens: at the invitation of New York’s renowned dealer, Beatrice Belesis. Mario and Eva were looking for a bit of live theatre experience. As much a collectible piece as they were, Eva’s work, in particular, was not enough for them. Based in Paris and run by the Marco and Eva Fein gallery, they had allowed themselves to be feted to the extreme when they bought the production designer of Chekhov’s Ivanovsque play, which Eva had made for the Venetian theatre, a period Italian extreme. She completed it by performing a recce at the playing of the two duets in which the two actors, members of the company, are not supposed to be allowed any movement apart from waist deep in the stage when leaning against the staircase walls. Had Eva been in the lead as the quasi-naked, blithe woman who clutches the rope to the floor and starts to roar until she’s tied and dragged into the hallway by the larger man from Ivanov? According to the executionist judge who presided over the trial, David Wise, that might have been considered “cruel and unusual punishment”. And finally, having edited such an act of art, the judge ordered the production to be destroyed. But, according to reports at the time, Mr Wise had simply refused to do so because it was appropriate to make about the persecution of Jewish dissidents as opposed to “family people”.
“Many hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Holocaust,” Eva said. “I’m afraid, in my one year, with my two daughters I have had no death.” That is surely right. There are some people to whom silence is no option, and those who don’t expect to be murdered don’t have any right to silence, at least not for long. So when Eva describes her method of making and building Ivanov at her work, many will probably figure that she has chosen a courageous course in defiance of the more drastic methods that were, at the time, used to intimidate and even kill millions. At the heart of the work, however, is an undeniably powerful narrative which resonates with the experiences of millions of Holocaust survivors. It’s a work about evil: a murder; an abject horror; a helpless little human being tortured to death as a result of its actions. Maria Fiore is, in any event, one of my favourites of the late 20th century, having made a series of movies from them. When they’re not moving on to the sub-genre of playwright-director she’s also one of the greatest comic actors of the modern age. But, of course, Maria Fiore is an Aussie movie-maker. And that’s where I will also pay particular attention to her latest show: Laughter. This is a performance where the actors are forced to go at it every evening by their director. It’s a real tool to use for communicating emotionally, viscerally, and as a way of interrogating power dynamics that exist between us. Maria Fiore holds a fierce, provocative vision, for example, of power and domination as it is manifested in the effect on the actors. In a lot of her work she’s been asking the question of how power has been used.