Edition 19 April 2019, by Benjamin Roberts
Jude’s friends are faced with a dilemma. In excruciating pain, they witness him mutilate his body. They can’t help him because he won’t tell them about his horrible past. Jude and his three friends, the actor Willem, the visual artist JB, and the architect Malcolm are the main characters in Een Klein Leven (A Little Life). Their lives are anything except little.
Een Klein Leven, based on Hanya Yanaghara’s bestselling novel A Little Life, is the highlight of International Theater Amsterdam’s (ITA) 2018-2019 theater season. The theater company’s director, Ivo van Hove was the fi rst to bring the novel to stage in September last year. While most directors might have been leery about turning an 814-page novel into a theater production, Van Hove was not. In April, it will be performed again, a chance that shouldn’t be missed, as it is only performed in Amsterdam.
The story follows the lives of four friends over the span of thirty years. While they all have big lives in New York, Jude, the success lawyer, is the quiet one. He carries a dark secret that he can share with his friends, not even his partner Willem, whom he loves unconditionally. Every time after they make love, Jude retreats to the bathroom where he cuts himself with a razor blade. Despite his successful career and fact that he is loved by his friends, Jude distrusts everyone and has a low self-esteem. He was orphaned as a child and his friends are everything to him, yet he doesn’t have the strength to share his dark past with them.
During the four-hour production, Van Hove does not spare the audience Jude’s inner agony. The director masterfully transcends the heart-felt pain and suffering from the Yanafhara’s book on to the stage, and then to the audience. The various scenes of mental anguish transforming into physical distraught as Jude’s habitually mutilates himself, and Van Hove’s stage becomes stained with pools of blood and spattered with hot oil. In the role as Jude, Ramey Nasr is superbly-cast. With his large, almond-shaped eyes and sympathetic demeanor, Nasr masterfully radiates the heart-wrenching inner turmoil of Jude’s character to the audience. The amount of agony and suffering portrayed in Yanaghara’s novel was in, itself, grueling to read, but on stage Van Hove has elevated it to another level. During the four-and a half hour production, there is no lull or pause in suspension. There is no time to look away. Van Hove keeps the audience spellbound, until the very last minute.
International Theater Amsterdam (ITA)
18-28 April 2019; 6-22
December 2019; 12-22 February 2020
(Thursday evening performances have subtitles in English).