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The Commune Sets Central Works to Music

As Central Works takes its show Red Virgin into a second week of rehearsal, the team includes two special members: a Musical Director and a Musician. The former is pianist, composer and cabaret singer Allison Lovejoy – who wrote the words and music to “The Old Melody,” an original theme for the play.[1] The latter is Diana Strong, folk musician and self-described “Accordion Babe.”[2]

Does that make you want to come and see the show?


Red Virgin is not a musical, but it will be full of musical numbers: instrumentals, solos, cabaret-style chansons, marches, dramatic readings to music, and more. In addition to the on-stage accordionist, all the cast members will sing or play an instrument, like drums, piano or guitar.

Musical numbers will include the Marseillaise (so memorably employed in the film Casablanca); “The Internationale”; the French Revolution song Ça ira (“Oh, It’ll Be All Right”); and Le Temps des Cérises (“The Time of the Cherries”) written by the communard Jean-Baptiste Clément.[3] There are also pieces by Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod and Erik Satie. All the above songs have been translated into English by Gary Graves, except for “The Internationale,” whose English lyrics were written by Billy Bragg (and used with his kind permission).


Vanessa Ramos, Stage Manager, is right to say that the numbers “sound amazing!” “It’ll Be All Right” makes you want to climb the barricades! (The cast may need a little help hitting the starting pitch “C” for that number though – we’ll see how they solve that.)

Central Works’ engagement with the music of the Commune will be great fun. Like the politics of revolution, revolutionary music “makes for good theater.” But it also has a serious purpose. In fact, the Commune’s music is fused with its politics.

Central Works is not setting the story of the Paris Commune to music. Rather, it is reenacting music as it was used (personally and politically) by the communards: to celebrate their victories; to “while away the time”; to give voice to their feelings; and to make revolution.

If war, as Hemingway remarked, is “pure emotion,” the same goes double for revolution (plus it’s a better emotion). Can we imagine the Civil Rights movement without its music? Or the peace movement of the 1960s? Arguably, the nature and quality of a movement’s music is an indication of its heart and power.


Everyone involved with Red Virgin is exploring the intersection of politics and music. Diana Strong “grew up surrounded by traditional folk music.” Galen Murphy-Hoffman, who plays the revolutionary Théophile Ferré, sends this quote from Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”

Music also makes us intimate with the communards, and one characteristic of this production is the intimate relationship that the entire Central Works team has built up with the characters in the play.

Since 1991, Central Works has been staging plays that take a stand on political changes. In Enemy Combatant (2005), the company tackled the torture debate while the Abu Ghraib scandal was unfolding. In Reduction in Force (2006), it examined how the Occupy Movement emerged during the Great Recession. So Red Virgin will not be the first time Central Works has explored the conflict between “morality” and “expediency,” or, as Murphy-Hoffman frames the question: “How does one affect real world change in the face of injustice and also stay as true as possible to your ideals and principles?”

But it is the first time Central Works is using music to bring out the emotions attached to this political dilemma.

Partly for taking steps like this, Central Works has been called “experimental and avant-garde,”[4] but I prefer the description of playwright Christopher Chen, who wrote the Central Works play The Window Age (2009)[5]: Central Works is “a gutsy theater company with a gutsy process.”[6]

[1] http://allisonlovejoy.com/bio/. She says: “I set stories to music.”

[3] http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Temps_des_cerises_%28chanson%29. Unfortunately, this revolutionary song – associated with the Commune – has been co-opted by the bourgeois market: a French clothing company called Temps des Cérises is currently selling designer jeans and have plastered billboards all over Brussels. Adolphe Thiers would be delighted. See http://www.galerieslafayette.com/b/le+temps+des+cerises.

[5] http://www.centralworks.org/season0809/window.php. The Window Age explores the advent of modernism and the rise of psychoanalysis in the aftermath of the political catastrophe of World War I.

About Citizen Libet

Vic Libet, a Bay Area dungeon master, quit his biotech PR job in 2001 to write fiction and develop games in Europe. He studied history and theater at the UC Berkeley and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently teaches and lives in Davis


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