Portland actress Helena de Crespo was in Ashland recently to give a one-woman, one-night performance of "Elective Affinities" by playwright David Adjmi. You may remember de Crespo's performance in the title role of "Shirley Valentine" at Oregon Stage Works in 2009.
De Crespo is performing "Elective Affinities" on tour as a fundraiser for SaveWorldArt, a Portland-based charity that fosters support for indigenous art forms threatened with extinction. On this evening, de Crespo was raising money specifically for Bassac Theatre in Northwest Cambodia.
"Elective Affinities" is a site-specific play meant to be performed in a large home for about 30 invited guests. This evening was hosted by Maurine and Stanley Mazor at their Chateau Herbe.
Guests entered through a lovely garden, then drifted into a large and well-appointed room where they were served refreshments. Then Mrs. Hauptmann (de Crespo) entered to "visit" with her "guests."
Highly coiffed and stylishly dressed, the charming Mrs. Hauptmann chatted away, gradually revealing her elitist world view. She told her guests she had selected them for preferential treatment, and that they had been spared the inhuman treatment foisted upon the rest of the human race (such as torture), about which she had no opinion. They were safe with her, she said.
It was a pleasing evening with a very pointed message. De Crespo and I visited a few hours before her performance.
EH: How did you find the Bassac Theatre?
HdC: I was being driven through Cambodia after visiting the Temple of Angkor Wat. In an open space by the side of the road, I saw this traveling theater. They were on tour. The actors were sitting on the ground. They were cooking food, and they were eating. They accepted me immediately. They showed me everything. When they realized that I was an actress, a couple of them began to cry, and then the director said, "We're starving; we don't know how to survive."
I felt overwhelmed. I got in touch with various unions. British Equity came through for me. The initial funding was for food and clothing; and then it became much more. I was able to assist them with getting a big truck for touring. We bought land, and we installed a lake so that they have fresh water and fish. Then we began building a theater.
The theater performs a form of opera; it's Bassac Opera. The structure is ancient; it goes back about 4,000 years. It tells the story of the Ramayana. When the country became Buddhist, these stories still remained at the heart of the Cambodian culture, so that when the Khmer Rouge came in, that had to go. And all of the actors were immediately killed. Only a few of them survived; one of them is the director of the Bassac Theatre. Now the company is 86 people strong. The audiences are huge, over 1,000 people. What we're working on, as well, is to get them a good sound system.
The last performance of "Elective Affinities" raised enough money to put a well in with a water pump on the property.
EH: How does the message of the play "Elective Affinities" relate to your humanitarian work with the Bassac Theatre in Cambodia?
HdC: It's the attitude of this woman (reflected in this piece of writing) that would lead to a situation like Cambodia and people being annihilated. It displays the arrogance and arbitrary cruelty of the Pol Pot regime: "If you don't like it, kill it."
For more details regarding performances of "Elective Affinities," SaveWorldArt or the Bassac Theatre, contact de Crespo by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.helenadecrespo.com/elective-affinities.html.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.