Friday, September 19, 2014
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
|Lauren Shannon and Matthew Cohn (photo by Peter Sylvester)|
Casa Duse is named for the famous actress Eleonora Duse and the New Place Players are named for the house Shakespeare purchased for his family in Stratford Upon Avon in 1597. Such was his genius that over four centuries have passed and his plays are regularly studied and performed, not to mention the operas and ballets which were derived from them. It is not only his poetry in iambic pentameter that delights us but his insight into human nature.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream he addresses the follies of lovers. Theseus, Duke of Athens, (Matthew Cohn) has won Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, (Lauren Shannon) by the sword and now must woo her on the eve of their marriage.
Four young people from Athens are brought before the Duke by Egeus, Hermia's father (Matthew Augenbaugh) to resolve the issue of Hermia's disobedience. Hermia (Heather Boaz) is in love with Lysander (Aaron McDaniel) who returns her love--but papa wants her to marry Demetrius (Will Gallacher). Helena (Olivia Osol) is crazy about Demetrius who "loves her not".
What a mess! By Athenian decree, if Hermia refuses her father's orders she must enter a convent. So, the couple decide to elope and then get lost in the woods. Enter Oberon, King of the Fairies and his witty sidekick Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow (Adam Patterson) who try to solve the problem through magic and make things worse, much worse, before they make things better.
Oberon is played by Mr. Cohn and Ms. Shannon portrays Titania, the Fairy Queen. That pair is in a different stage of their relationship--not at all lovey-dovey and involved in a bitter power struggle. Magic is also used here to win the upper hand. This magic is the juice of a certain flower that makes people fall in love instantly with the first person they see when they open their eyes.
Enter a group of rustic tradesmen who wish to be chosen to present an entertainment for the Duke's wedding. Perhaps Shakespeare was inspired by the antics of his own theatrical troupe; the actors are not happy with their assigned roles. Bottom the Weaver (Emilio Tirado) is hilarious as he wants to play every role. He also gets to play a role he never anticipated as Puck transforms him into an ass and sprinkles the "love juice" on Titania's eyes.
Eventually, this being a comedy, everything works out in the end and the rustics get to produce their ridiculous play, using wonderful sock puppets, with a great deal of disdain coming from the sarcastic Philostrate, Master of Ceremonies (Adam Patterson). The Duke himself is more charitable and we can predict a happy future for all concerned.
Readers may have noticed that several actors played two parts and succeeded in portraying very different characters. The altogether splendid cast also included musicians doubling as puppeteers manipulating Indonesian-style stick puppets, gorgeously illuminated and more convincing as fairies than actors have been.
As a matter of fact, everything about this production, so effectively directed by James Ortiz (a polymath who also designed the costumes, along with Molly Siedel, and the puppets), shone with imagination and originality. The verses were beautifully spoken with fine diction and yet sustained a colloquial feel. Costuming was contemporary for the humans and exotic for the fairy kingdom. The action was highly physical which also lent a contemporary feel. There was not a whiff of staidness.
Musical Direction and Sound Design by Flavio Gaete was subtle but well chosen and effective--much of it by Mendelssohn. Mr. Gaete also appeared as Snug the Joiner and Titania's fairy Mustardseed.. Co-director Craig Bacon performed the role of Robin Starveling the Tailor. Morgan Auld was Peter Quince the Carpenter; John Wahl was Francis Flute the Bellows-mender and Tom Snout the Tinker was performed by Matthew Augenbaugh. Each and every performance was perfect in tone.
It was a rare privilege to see and hear Shakespeare up close and personal (which seems to be our theme for the week--see yesterday's review). We felt as if we were part of the court of Athens and part of the fairy kingdom. We felt as if we knew the four young lovers, so contemporary were their passions, their despair, their confusions. Never ever have we enjoyed Shakespeare more.
Should you have the opportunity to attend one of these special events, we hope you will seize the moment. You would be sure to agree with our assessment.
(c) meche kroop
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
In our ignorance of popular culture of the early 20th c., we were not even sure who Fanny Brice was when we entered the theater. By the time we left two hours later we felt as if we not only knew her but that we really really liked her. As performed by the excellent actress/singer Patricia Dell (on the Voice Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts) we got a glimpse into the life of a performer beloved by the American public-- and we witnessed how her private life was reflected in her art.
The early part of the show revealed her deep attachment to a charming father whose gambling, drinking and laziness were recreated by her long term attachment to Nicky Arnstein, a slick white-collar criminal and philanderer who went through her substantial earnings like a plague of locusts through a wheat field. Her tough-minded mother, proprietor of a saloon, broke up the family to get away from the unemployed father but was never able to talk Ms. Brice out of her self-destructive attachment to Mr. Arnstein who served a couple terms in prison.
All of these events affected Ms. Brice's performance. As a child she performed for her father who worshipped her and encouraged her talent. Ms. Dell, a woman well into middle-age, was able to convince as Fania the child. Significantly, in later life at the end of her career, she performed on the radio as a child --Baby Snooks, a character she created.
She started her career performing in amateur shows in Brooklyn, soon learning that men would take advantage of her. She moved on to burlesque and finally found a welcoming presence in Flo Ziegfield with whom she enjoyed a long association. As her relationship with Mr. Arnstein brought her increasing disappointment, her style shifted from comedy to torch songs.
The songs were of the period--Irving Berlin, Charles Warfield, Bob Carleton and Harry Carroll were some of the composers represented. Ms. Dell animated all the songs with heart and soul. "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" by Harry Carroll with lyrics by Joseph McCarthy was our personal favorite. No one would be surprised by this since the theme was "borrowed" from Chopin.
The piece was conceived, written and arranged by Chip Deffaa whose concept put Ms. Dell onstage as Ms. Brice's ghost, illuminated initially by only a ghost light. So there onstage we had a spirit sharing her life retrospectively--a most effective concept.
Musical director Kent Brown accompanied Ms. Dell on the piano. He walked the tightrope perfectly, always lending a distinct musicality to the proceedings without ever overwhelming Ms. Dell's voice.
Amie Brockway, Producing Artistic Director of The Open Eye Theater, based in Margaretville, NY, directed with a sure hand. Effective period costumes were designed by Nat Thomas with lighting by Erwin Karl.
That Ms. Dell held our attention for two hours is testament to the fine work of all concerned. It was a fascinating evening spent in the company of two talented ladies--Ms. Brice and Ms. Dell.
(c) meche kroop