White Noise - June-July 2013
"White Noise" is the first play by Washington, DC artist Tom Block (www.tomblock.com). It depicts a philosophical artist who travels to Detroit for an exhibit, where he is hosted by an aging, bickering couple who are wealthy, stingy and tormented. The play painstakingly explores Block's own thought process. Its set is a 25 foot long mural by Block which is based on a 13th century Sufi tract, "The Conference of the Birds" by Attar, which also represents the psyche of the main character. The play raises questions of mysticism and the application of spirituality in our lives. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC, will present the work's New York debut June 27 to July 14. Moema Umann directs. Block is a well-known painter, human right activist and author of two books, "Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity" and "A Fatal Addiction: War in the Name of God."
When "White Noise" was presented in Washington D.C. in June 2012 by Wanderlust Theater Lab, John Barry wrote in DC Theatre Scene, "Block has used this work to painstakingly explore...the lonely world between spiritual, theoretical and artistic. In concert with his art, it's a fascinating and rewarding look at the multiple dimensions of faith, theory, and inspiration." The piece had previously had readings at the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival (2010) and the Kennedy Center's Page-to-Stage Festival (2010).
"White Noise" is realistic, almost drawing-room in style. It follows an African-American painter named Tim, whose work is based on spiritual themes, as he travels to Detroit for an art exhibit of his work. At first he is calm, mature and erudite and meets a seemingly normal cast of characters who are revealed to be quite otherwise. All are volunteers with the church arts committee where Tim is to exhibit his paintings and include a hidden poet, a woman who is psychically injured, an ex-Northrup Grumman Vice President and an oversexed woman marriage therapist. All of them tweak at Tim's interior demons. Little is said about his art, but there is an extended discussion about his struggle, his race, his sexual hang-ups and his chosen muse, Simone Weil, the World War II era French philosopher, Christian mystic, and social activist. Tim struggles with and then succumbs to his own fixations as Weil appears, scantily clad, as a figment of his imagination. Having abandoned true faith, Tim grasps for "faith in faith," and in the end finds dubious understanding, alone, in a bathroom.
The hook of the play is, Tim aspires to be a Sufi mystic. Block explains that his work, overall, deals with the intersection of mysticism and where we are today. The play forthrightly addresses questions of mysticism and the application of spirituality in our lives and it arrives at an existentialist ending. Block doesn't call himself a mystic, but say he is deeply influenced by mystical thought--Sufism primarily--and finds ways to bring it into his artwork and his life. The play's backdrop, a ten-panel collage, is based on a 13th century Sufi tract, "Conference of Birds" by Attar. After the show, the audience will be given 10 to 30 minutes to examine it.
Playwright Tom Block (www.tomblock.com) has been a visual artist for 25 years and more recently, has become a prolific nonfiction author. His first two plays were produced in D.C. this past year, with reviewers declaring that he offered "a fascinating and rewarding look at the multiple dimensions of faith, theory, and inspiration" and "If you'd like to explore where theater will be ten years from now it is probably worth a look." His first book, "Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity," was published in both English and Turkish in 2010. His second book, "A Fatal Addiction: War in the Name of God," examining the interrelationship between religion and violence, will be published this fall by Algora Publisher (www.algora.com/391/book/details.html). His art manifesto, "Prophetic Activist Art: A Handbook for a Spiritual Revolution," will be published next summer, sponsored by the Center for Human Ecology in Glasgow, Scotland (http://www.che.ac.uk). Renowned writer and environmental activist Alastair MacIntosh will be writing a preface. Block has two more books moving toward publication in the next year or so.
Block has exhibited his artwork around the United States and Europe and has spoken about his ideas at al-Azhar University (Cairo); Kandinsky in Govan Conference (Glasgow); Irish Center for Human Rights (Galway); Chief Rabbi's Office (Istanbul); Biblioteca Jaume Fauster (Barcelona); University of Calgary (Canada); Columbia University (NY); Middlebury University (VT) and dozens of other venues around North America and Europe. He was a Research Fellow at DePaul University's International Human Rights Law Institute (as an artist in residence) in 2010 and founding producer of the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival, 2010 (MD). He was recently awarded a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for painting, conferred for the same painting at that will be displayed on the set of "White Noise" at TNC.
Block was also the founding producer of the first ever Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival (April 2010) and a Research Fellow at the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University (Summer/Fall 2010), where he produced the Iraq History Project Art Festival. He has spoken about his art and ideas in universities across the USA and in Egypt. He has been awarded grants and other support from the Norman Lear Family Foundation (CA), Maryland State Arts Council (MD), Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation (NY), Sugarman Foundation (CA),Nelson Talbott Foundation (MD), Puffin Foundation (NJ), William and Mary Greve Foundation (NY), New York Foundation for the Arts (NY), Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (MD) and Amnesty International (NY). From February to April 2013, a selection of 20 works from his Human Rights Painting Project will be on view at Osilas Gallery, Concordia College, Bronxville, NY.
He writes, "It is such an honor to work with Theater for the New City, the East Village venue that has been providing wonderful support for new playwrights for more than a generation. As a Washington DC playwright, I could not be more fortunate or feel more thrilled than to work with the supportive and highly gifted members of the TNC family."
Director Moema Umann started her career in Brazil and since 2006 has been working in theater and films produced in the US. She holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Brasilia in performing arts and a Master's Degree in directing from The Actors Studio Drama School. In the summer of 2010, she was selected to be part of the Directors Lab at the Lincoln Center and The Actors Studio Playwrights and Directors Workshop. She received an award as Best Female Director at the 2010 American International Film Festival for her movie "Before Breakfast," which was also accepted at the 2011 Short Film Corner in Cannes, the Big Apple Film Festival and New Filmmakers 2012, among others. Recently her film "Noemia" received an award at Hollyshorts Festival in Los Angeles.
Cellist Desiree Miller, a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, wrote and will perform her original score for "White Noise." Choreographer is Liz Higgins, who toured nationally and internationally with Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance from 1997 to 1999 and has presented her own choreographic works throughout the US and in South America as founder of the Liz Higgins Dance Company. The actors are Daniel Abse, Carol Beaugard, Matthew Nared (as the artist), Susan O'Doherty, Emily Ward and Gabrielle Young. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.
SIMONE (Gabrielle Young)
DICK (Daniel Abse)
LILAC (Emily Ward)
JOAN (Carol Beaugard)
TIM (Matthew Nared)
SALLY (Susan O'Doherty)
DIRECTOR: Moema Umann
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Fischer
MUSICAL SCORE: Desiree Miller
SET DESIGNER: Angelica Borrero
STAGE MANAGER: Larissa Dzegar
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Alexander Bartenieff
COSTUME DESIGNER: Sylvana Carmella
CHOREOGRAPHER: Elizabeth Higgins
MEDIA: Juliano Chiquetto
PUBLIC RELATIONS: Jonathan Slaff