The Michigan Daily
Wednesday, September 16, 1992
Author Brown is in town
David Bernstein, Anna marie Stoll and Troy Sill pose in the Law Quad for "Isabella, Three Ships and a Shyster."
Satirical farce is the rule
when the gallows is a stage
by John Morgan
"You've finished the important
part of the book, which is that you
write it ... then you go out on tour."
Rosellen Brown, whose novel
"Before and After" has hit bestseller
lists and received favorable reviews
nationwide, said that she hopes suc-
cess will not affect her career. Ann
Arbor is only one of her stops on a
tour of 15 cities to promote the
novel. She teaches creative writing
at the University of Houston, and
also taught here last fall.
Previously, she has written three
other novels, two books of poetry,
and short stories. While her recent
life has become dominated by the
public reaction to her book, she in-
sists that this is not the most impor-
tant aspect of writing.
"How do I feel about it?" she
asked. "Grateful. A lot of it is luck
I really don't want it to affect my
writing. I never wrote this one with
the idea of being commercial. Get-
ting an A in 'Entertainment Weekly'
is not my ideal. That's not the way I
Brown said she found the sudden
success of her work "astounding."
"My publishers say, 'Well, what do
you expect?' They can say that if
they want to, but they're not too sure
Brown received her initial inspi-
ration for the novel when she read of
a murder trial which, proved that,
unlike husbands and wives, parents
are required to testify against their
own children in court when they
hold evidence against them. The rest
of the novel is entirely fiction.
"The details of the murder didn't
interest me particularly," she said. "I
was quite eager to make up my own
... the whole story is original. Every
bit of it is set in a real place in my
head. The town is based on one that
I know very well ... I can see it.
Real roads, real houses. That's a lit-
tle strange, but it's very set for me."
Although the book is centered
around an act of violence, Brown
did not want to focus on it. "The
review in 'Time' (criticized), 'The
murder is narrated from a distance.'
Yeah, right. We have enough of
those ... I'm interested in people's
responses, not in the action itself."
A movie based on her current
novel has already been announced,
starring Meryl Streep. Brown has
mixed feelings about this. "Usually,
you would like Hollywood to send
you money, but not humiliate you by
making a movie gut of your work,"
she said. However, she has faith in
the people who are working on the
screenplay, and says she will find
their interpretation "interesting."
Brown said that she was sur-
prised to find people stressing the
suspenseful elements of her book,
I University of Wisconsin-Platteville
"If you have built castles in the air,
your work need not be lost.
That is where they should be,
Now put the foundations under them."
and insists that writing a thriller was
not her intent. "Someone called it an
'inner mystery,' and I thought that
was good," she said.
Brown hopes that her public suc-
cess will not interfere with her own
goals as a writer. "I need to keep the
idea that I still have the right to write
whatever kind of book comes along.
My next book may be poetry, or
something unconventional, and
ROSELLEN BROWN will be reading
from "Before and After" at Lorch
Auditorium tomorrow at S p.m.
Admission is free.
by Michelle Weger
The play opens to the rhythmic
pounding of carpenters, readying
the gallows for the latest victim of
the Inquisition: an actor who's
committed heresy. (I tell you,
those cultural elite have always
been troublemakers ...) In order to
put off the impending festivities
- long enough to find someone to
pardon him, anyway - he aifti his
troop are allowed to put on a little
entertainment, using the gallows
Isabella, Three Ships,
and a Shyster
September 10, 1992
as a stage. The executioner grants
him permission to choose what-
ever subject the actor cares to
make a show of, saying, "On this
stage, censorship does not exist."
And what might a struggling,
16th-century actor traveling
through Spain dramatize? How
about the struggles of a 15th-cen-
tury traveler who finds patronage
in the Spanish monarchy, and is
himself eventually put on trial?
The ensuing farce is a tale which
borrows as much from the annals
of Marx (Groucho, et al.) as from
the annals of history.
Billed by Ann Arbor's Per-
formance Network as, "a
Columbus pageant as it was never
imagined by your grade-school
teacher, this is the first profes-
sional production in North or
South America of Dario Fo's 1963
comedy "Isabella, Three Ships
and a Shyster."
The show is a series of satirical
episodes and songs which illumi-
nate what might have gone down
in Isabella's castle to convince her
to send Columbus west to the
East. The second act finds
Columbus after three voyages be-
ing tried for swindling, sadism,
and slave-trading, made all the
worse in the eyes of the monarchy
by his failure to deliver the
promised huge quantities of gold
Smart and sardonic, "Isabella"
is a combination social commen-
tary, historical Brechtian musicale,
and 'National Lampoon Revue.
This production arrives right on
time to kick off an autumnal orgy
of films, TV specials, and fed-
erally-funded extravaganzas to
commemorate the 500th anniver-
sary of that fateful trip across the
Though written in 1963 in Fo's
native Italian, Larry Maslon's
translation to the English makes
the continental leap very well, in-
cluding comedic references to ev-
eryone from Jack Benny to Dana
Carvey. Only in this production
will you hear allusions to the
House Bank, "ethnic cleansing,"
George Bush's Dirty Harry imper-
sonations, and the Wolverines'
At the eye of this storm is the
shyster, played by David Bern-
stein (a founder of the 10-year-old
Performance Network). His por-
trayal of a condemned actor
portraying Columbus as an ir-
reverent, fast-talking adventurer is
roguishly charming. A small man
with malleable features, Bernstein
never misses a chance to mug for
the audience - this is a play after
all - or to goose, fondle, or
tweak a fellow player.
Annemarie Stoll and Troy D.
Sill bring a little more self-control
to Isabella and Ferdinand, as befits
the monarchs' station in life, but
both actors deftly show us what
makes their respective characters
tick: the glory of conquest for
Ferdinand; greed for Isabella.
In Fo's version of history,
Isabella wears the tights in this
kingdom, and Stoll's scheming
queen is almost as smart as she
thinks she is. Sill, too, never fails
to amuse, even when spouting the
insane inanities of 15th-century
Spain's code of political correct-
ness. The supporting cast of sol-
diers, monks, scholars, and ladies-
in-waiting is energetic and well-
Martin Walsh's direction is a
triumph of logistics. The
Performance Network stage is
small, and the "Isabella" cast is
large enough to be potentially
problematic. However, the the-
ater's size and Joh Broughton's
rudimentary set actually enhance
the intimacy of the production, ef-
fectively making the audience a
part of the show.
Both a serious investigation of
the motives of all involved in the
"discovery of the New World"
and a down-and-dirty yuck-fest,
the play is thought-provoking and
hilarious. Judging by audience re-
action on opening night, the
Network's timely production of
"Isabella" might become yet an-
other legend in local theater his-
ISABELLA, THREE SHIPS AND
A SHYSTER runs through Sunday,
September 27th at the Per-
formance Network. Tickets are $9,
$7 for students. Call 663-0681 for
Learn Your Way Around The World
0 Study abroad in London, England or Seville, Spain
* Courses in liberal arts and international business
* Fluency in a foreign language nll required
* Home-stays with meals
* Field trips
* Financial aid applies
April 30 for fall semester, October 20 for spring semester
For a program description and an application packet, write
Institute for Study Abroad Programs
308 Warner Hall
University of Wisconsin-Platteville
1 University Plaza
Platteville, Wisconsin 53818-3099
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