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Mauckingbird’s “Dream”

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file0580Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Aug. 20-Sept. 12, 2010
Randall Theater at Temple University

Mauckingbird Theatre Company views the classics through “a queer lens,” says co-founder and artistic director Peter Reynolds, who is (among other titles) also assistant chair of Temple’s theatre department. Mauckingbird, usually at the Adrienne, has new endeavors underway at Temple, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Temple professor Lynne Innerst joins Reynolds as co-director. One pleasure of this large scale but intimate production is casting Temple students as the mechanicals and fairies. Danielle Pinnock has a key role as Nick Bottom and Pyramis in the play within the play.

The staging also benefits from Mike Long’s video design and Chris Colucci’s invigorating sound track. The story’s been updated to Athens Academy where everyone’s texting. The Duke about to get married is a headmaster; a patron wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius. But Hermia has eyes only for Lysander, who in this production is a girl. And unlike the original, Helena, is a boy, which at first is unsettling. However, actor Patrick Joyce does so well with the role he overcomes even the confusing name. Times have changed! Mauckingbird’s mission with a few surgical incisions to the script makes it easy to see Shakespeare’s jousting love struck couples in the magic forest as two girls and two guys together and why not.

The play runs without intermission.

Unfortunately, the fairy queen and king are not so well matched as their attractive statures. Charles Illingworth’s Oberon exudes authority and compassion. Not so, Sean Thompson’s Titania who starts with a snippy attitude that ultimately undercuts the persuasion (and magic) of his better lines during Titania’s extraordinary dream scene with Bottom.

Pinnock’s Bottom overplays the comedy; the girl has promise; we’ll be seeing her again. She lights the black box.
Shakespeare’s Dream foreshadows The Tempest. He’s juggling imagination, the highs and lows of love, life, art. Bravo to Emily Letts and Erin Mulgrew; Brent Knobloch who plays Puck. Lauren Perigard’s costumes enhance the nonsense.


Written by Lesley Valdes

August 30, 2010 at 3:06 am

Red at the Golden

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Redfile0487 by John Logan
Alfred Molina (Rothko); Eddie Redmayne (Ken)
London’s Donmar Warehouse Production
Golden Theater, 45th and Broadway, NYC

Alfred Molina makes a compelling artist. In the movie Frida, he played muralist Diego Rivera. In John Logan’s Red on Broadway Molina is Mark Rothko at the top of his game, defensive about the pop artists about to kill off their Abstract Expressionist fathers. Molina and the gifted young Eddie Redmayne, Rothko’s new assistant Ken, out- perform Logan’s ambitious play. Theater is a tough way to show the drama of art. But this staging direct from London’s Donmar Warehouse does an exceptional job turning the Golden Theater into Rothko’s 1950s’ Bowery studio. Here are the life- size stretchers ready to be primed and pondered. Here, the acidic artist ready with the intellectual retorts and philosophizing. The drama is not in the staccato talk but in Neil Austin’s lighting and Adam Cork’s sound design, which uses music Rothko loved. Rothko slipping Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier onto the turntable (this is 1958). Bach plays softly while the artist fires questions at the assistant.

What do you see? “What do you feel?”

Rothko is working on the murals for Park Avenue’s Seagram’s Building, a Philip Johnson commission, the murals will go in the Seagram’s Four Seasons Restaurant. He natters about his theories, his miseries, his insistence an artist be civilized. Finally Ken has had enough: What is Rothko afraid of. Why is he putting these murals in a restaurant? The ultimate temple of consumption?

Red’s finest moment is the priming of a canvas with vermillion. Orchestral music pours from the artist’s turntable then an aria. The beauty of good sound design is that it doesn’t upstage the acting. A whirlwind of chaotic criss-crossing commences as the men slap their industrial size brushes over the white surface. Blood red covers faces, heads, overalls. The priming mirrors the fate of Rothko’s life- size, pulsing paintings. (Will his red be swallowed by the black that Ken suggests Mark Rothko fears?) Who will attend these murals? The Rothko Chapel is far away in time and geography. Red in New York could use more silence. But there is much to praise.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 22, 2010 at 2:32 am

More dance at PIFA

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Building on Balanchine
Pennsylvania Ballet Company
Merriam Theater
April 14-17, 2011
Review of April 16 m/

Montage a Trois (world premiere)
Jeanne Ruddy Dance
April 14-17, 2011
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Hamilton Bldg, Tuttleman Galleries
Review of April 17 m

Pennsylvania Ballet’s highlight this weekend at PIFA was Agon, the Stravinsky-Balanchine collaboration whose counterpoint is like human chess. The dance’s arguments are accentuated by the music’s austerity and the dancer’s black and white rehearsal clothes. At the Saturday matinee Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde’s long pas de deux kept my attention riveted.

Benjamin Millepied’s world premiere “This Part in Darkness” showed the company’s passion for velocity and its feel for David Lang’s intense score The live feed at the Merriam Theater did not greatly enhance the dance. It started in the lobby with a kind of “Black Swan” psychodrama and followed the dancers onstage, backstage, etc until it became intrusive. Millipied’s movement not the mirror imagery impresses. The dancers aced the dance.

At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Jeanne Ruddy’s highly interactive collaboration with her artist Elizabeth Osborne – kept audiences moving up and down the modern gallery and happily. It was the first time dance has been performed at the Hamilton. Ruddy and Osborne collaborated with video artist Ellen Fishman- Johnson who projected 16 of Osborne’s paintings on a giant screen. The paintings were presented in their original state then cleverly manipulated or faded out. Costumes were keyed well to Osborne’s palette. Dances that stick in the memory are the women’s trio for “Colorfield” and a duo for “ Visit II.” A male duet was Chaplinesque.

The music was recorded, mostly Satie, some Debussy The most striking dance suggested the joys of klezmer before seeming to exhaust even itself This time daylight – from those wonderful Tuttleman windows – was the art.
Lots more dance at PIFA.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 18, 2011 at 4:07 am

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Terminus: Abbey Theatre returns to Annenberg Center

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Photo L.V.

Terminus by Mark O’Rowe
Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s National Theatre)
Annenberg Performing Arts Center (U. of Penn)
February 16-20m, 2011
Review of Feb. 16 opening airs on WRTI, 90.1 fm, Feb. 18

A title like Terminus doesn’t suggest a happy end. As he’s’ done before Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe lets us confront grim, desperate lives over the course of one long day. Like his contemporary Connor McPherson, O’Rowe’s play Terminus at the Annenberg Center also takes a dive into the supernatural.

A mother seeks atonement, a daughter fulfillment, a serial killer spins tales. Declan Conlon plays this killer identified in the program as Character C. C thinks he’s a charmer; he’s the play’s weakest link. C has numerous chances at comedy – the killer thinks he can sing better than Betti Midler; many fall flat.

The women in Terminus are very strong. Olwen Fouere as character A, the mother out to rescue a former student is terrifically believable. A’s matter- of- fact delivery makes the story the more appealing. Her wit takes you by surprise. A’s energetic monologue compels until a point when the narrative crashes, turns to weepy sentimentality, becomes long-winded.

Something similar happens to the monologue of the young woman played by Catherine Walker, Character B. B has the most vulnerable, emotional role but an hour or so into her story’s unwinding – it begins to sound like the playwright is channeling William Blake. (Maybe The Marriage of Heaven and Hell?)

This is O’Rowe’s first play in verse.

There’s fat on the bones of these overlapping monologues, fat and gristle and it’s tiresome to chew. The rhyme scheme also adds to the redundancy.

On the positive side, there are (a few) surprises: I’ll leave you to them.

Terminus, produced by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre presented by Penn’s Annenberg Center for the Arts.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 18, 2011 at 1:54 am

The (opera) Houses of Capulet & Montague

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Romeo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod
Opera Company of Philadelphia
February 11, 13m, 16, 18, 20m, 2011
Academy of Music
Review of Feb. 13m, Airs on WRTI, 90.1 Fm. Feb. 16

Turning the rival families of Romeo et Juliette into fashion houses should work a lot better than it does in the Gounod opera at the Academy of Music., the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s collaboration with director Manfried Schweigkofler of Bolzano, Italy, needs clarity. And consistency if the conceit is going to stick.

If the production confuses, the musical values are very strong, Maestro Jacques Lacombe steering orchestra and chorus and Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez as the star- crossed lovers, make this production finer than worthwhile. Some secondary roles are nicely sung –from the larger role of Taylor Stayton’s alert Tybalt to the smaller of Elena Belfiore’s energetic Stephano. Several of these are debuts, newcomers lost in the shuffle and blocking of designer Nora Veneri’s set, a design way too traditional for those accustomed to cable TV’s “Runway” feuds or fans of “The Devil Wears Prada.”

This Romeo et Juliette feels like switching channels from teen fashion to a 19th century opera the way Veneri sets the stage — for which I also blame this company’s production house, which made the set.

The design rotates a giant white stairway to imply Juliette’s bedroom, balcony, the Friar’s cell, the lovers’ tomb. It’s ugly. A hip apartment for these youth might have been suggested with or without projections. Since fashion is the concept it’s odd the stairs are never worked as runways for the designer-models parading the Houses of Capulet and Montague.

This update views Juliette as a celebrity model who wants out, Gertrude is her confidant. Paris (Siddhartha Misra) is a magazine mogul– but you’d hardly know who the poor fellow is the way he’s blocked.

Worse is the silliness that passes for wit. EG: the fight scenes: Death by hammer for Tybalt (Taylor Stayton) who wields street signs.

After the infamous sleeping potion, this production has supernumeraries race through the Academy of Music hawking newspapers with “Juliette’s suicide!”

“Newspapers! I’d prefer CNN,” the man next to me said.
I thought about “Entertainment Tonight.”

Costello and Perez (who in real life are wed, and two more of the Academy of Vocal Arts’ triumphs, convey great longing. Costello forced some high notes at the Sunday matinee but the beauty of his tenor is in the tone and nuance. Perez spun a firmly radiant soprano; all of their duets persuaded, the final love scene was heart-rending despite the ill-conceived tomb. It was steeply raked toward the stage rear: unkind to sight and projection.

The Opera Company has a well-honed chorus. Its commentaries were finely delivered. A deft touch was robing them to conceal the evening attire, varied with finesse hair to heels by costumer Richard St. Clair. Supernumeraries have not looked so good in seasons here. If only the set had not been so level – so horizontally dull – to the eye.

The students from three design schools at Drexel, Moore College, and the Philadelphia University contributed good work and modeled their fashions. Next production, the company might consider PAFA or another art school for help with the set.

Strong singing actors and musicians deserve an update that’s really up to date.

I’d like to see what Chas Rader- Scheiber could do with this concept.

This commentary was expanded from the two minute review for Temple Radio, WRTI. org.

Photo Credits: Kelly and Massa Photography

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Race (Mamet by Phila. Theatre Company)

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Race by David Mamet
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Extended Through Feb. 20, 2011
Review of Feb. 5 matinee
WRTI, 90. 1 FM., Feb. 9

If you’ve seen David Mamet’s Race on Broad Street you’ll be talking about the Philadelphia Theatre Company production. If you haven’t, the play has been extended so there’s time for more talk on a topic that’s always prickly and always worth our time. The production is a fine achievement by actors able to take on the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright.

A white man is accused of raping his black girlfriend. A three- member firm, consisting of one white and two black lawyers, deliberate, then take the case. The dialog is punchy- smart with scene breaks swift as Law & Order. Mamet aims for the funny bone with his ugly- slick disturbances. Jordan Lage as Jack, the white defense lawyer is a brilliant cynic. Henry, his black partner, has that been-there-done-that-weariness and suppressed anger. Ray Anthony Thomas shines in his Seer role. During the first half, Jack’s cynicism reigns. He instructs Susan, the black associate to forget about guilt with Charles (played with depth by John Preston, who reveals layer after layer of privilege, cluelessness and conscience.)

The right defense will entertain the jury, Jack says. “Distract them.”

But Jack talks three and four sides of his mouth. Challenged by Susan, suddenly he’s talking about the white man’s innocence. Do all whites stand together?

It’s a Rubik’s Cube, a friend said. You think you have the point, the point changes. Prejudice is like that. We’re complex. When the play opens, it’s hard to like any of the men. By the play’s end, there have been so many revelations, you may find these guys human. Ah, but there’s the bad apple. That surprise.

Race, the play is ugly and poignant and comic. It’s also a polemic. Mamet plays loose with some with legalities. And he doesn’t know much about a woman’s sequined dress. Mostly it’s all too real about the lies we tell ourselves. Race presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company does a good job showing our shame.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Rouse Oboe Concerto at Orchestra

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Philadelphia Orchestra, Alan Gilbert, conducting,
Richard Woodhams, oboe
Jan. 20, 21, 22, 2011
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center,
Review of Friday’s performance:
WRTI, 90.1 fm: Jan. 24

The Kimmel Center is a a pleasant place to be when snow is sprinkling although the snow was sparse and so was the audience in Verizon Hall as New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert led the Philadelphians Friday afternoon in a series that’s been dwindling for the past couple of years. This was disappointing. The orchestra program and its performance were winning as Magnus Lindberg’s Expo(2009) and Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto (2004) got their local premieres.

Lindberg penned EXPO’s nine minutes to inaugurate Gilbert’s first season at the New York Philharmonic. EXPO leaves no instrument un-tuned in its search for color or range. The Philadelphians burst into sonority, smiles, some players looking gleeful. The 44- year -old conductor, known to many from his time at the Curtis Institute, led with calm brio, helped along by Don Liuzzi’s firm tympani and Tony Orlando’s percussion. Expo is an explosive piece.

Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto also invigorates but the balances are scaled down, colors tempered, textures astute. Everything is refined as medieval tapestry. With principal Richard Woodhams as soloist, the tones were ravishing. Flourishes that sound like birdcalls, delicate interactions between the celesta, the harp and clarinet kept the ear intent t. I’ve never heard a nightingale but Dick Woodhams qualifies. In one continuous movement, Rouse manages lyricism and rhythmic bite in a concerto that should be heard again and again.

Completing the satisfying afternoon, Gilbert led Beethoven’s Sixth, a sturdier Pastoral than usual, more vigorous than gentle but pleasing for that with a grand, almost perfect storm.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 24, 2011 at 1:36 am

A Skull in Connemara

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A Skull in Connemara (Martin McDonagh)
Lantern Theater (part of the Philadelphia Irish Festival)
Jan. 19-Feb. 13, 2011 (run has been extended)
Review Airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm beginning Jan. 21

Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern Theater comes in the middle of the English-Irish playwright’s first trilogy between The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.

Like all three McDonagh plays it’s set in the village of Leenane, County Galway, where people too easily fall through the cracks: gossips, oddballs, troublemakers. The main man is old Mick, who is paid to exhume skeletons when the cemetery needs room for fresh bones. Mick, played by the stellar Stephen Novelli, has the tough task of digging up the wife some accuse him of killing.

Did he? Novelli’s over -due Lantern debut is as believable and down- at- heart as a Becket character. McDonagh, born in 1970, is heir to that master: the work has a grisly hilarity

Dirk Durosette’s design for A Skull in Connemara is one of the best I’ve seen in this venue, the interior of the Galway wood and stone cottage – abutted by open graves. Larry Fowler’s sound is a merry juxtaposition.

Masterful is the opposing force of Mick’s nosy neighbor Maryjohnny, played by the superb Ellen Mulroney. Marryjohnny, bringing nightly weather and Bingo reports as she cadges spirits, is Mick’s true North. When they spar, the production is at its height.

Lesser forces in this production are the thick-witted bumblers who drive the action: Mairtin, a youth who taunts more than he helps the grave digger and is acted by Jake Blouch; Thomas, the pompous village cop is performed by Jered McLenigan. Both relied on odd gesture and diction than seemed necessary opening night, though the drew a lot of laughs. Catch the bizarrely moving A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern through Feb. 13.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Drama

Yannick’s Mozart Requiem

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The Philadelphia Orchestra,
Yannick Nezet-Sequin, conducting
Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem
Verizon Hall, January 7-10, 2011
Review of Saturday night’s performance airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm Jan. 11

Photo: Pete Checchia

Verizon Hall sold out for music director- designate Yannick Nezet- Seguin’s recent performances of the Mozart Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I heard Saturday night’s performance of the Requiem, which was finished by Mozart’s student, Sussymayr. The finest impressions came from the singing. A quartet of un-celebrity soloists blended well together. Soprano Lucy Crowe, who looks a Masterpiece Theater heroine, sang with ample ease and lovely fullness. The young bass-baritone, Andrew Foster-Williams, also has a beautiful limpid tone. Mezzo-soprano Birgit Remmert and tenor James Taylor completed the pliable ensemble.

David Hayes, as usual, had rehearsed the Philadelphia Singers Chorale to produce splendid sonorities following Nezet-Sequin’s markings and baton. Michael Stairs was authoritative at the organ. The 35- year -old Nezet-Seguin, who formally takes the Philadelphian Orchestra podium in the fall of 2012, has a keen interest in vocal matters. He got his start as a boy chorister in Montreal, studied choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

There were interesting placements. Nezet-Sequin put the vocal quartet stage- rear adjacent to the double basses. The violins were divided. Reducing the orchestra to roughly half the size of the chorus, may have been un-wise for the instruments did not come across with this orchestra’s customary fullness or given acoustical challenges. Bottom and top harmonies sounded of more concern than inner voices.

The Requiem, only 60 minutes long, felt longer, as movements changed to pleading and churning; the “Lacyrmosa” was particularly lugubrious. A rhythmic undercurrent was missing to the expressive whole: no gulfstream propelling this ocean of moods.

I’m in the minority: The Requiem received many standing Os.

(The Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem cannot shake – indeed enjoys -its “Amadeus” celebrity and deathbed myths. People are prepared to cheer before a note’s begun. A good thing to have this box office draw but indulge the critic for maintaining the highest standards for this orchestra!)

Nezet-Seguin excels in quiet, shimmering, transparencies: those so-called Gallic passages. Debussy’s Nocturne, “Clouds” was perfect and graced by Elizabeth Star- Masoudnia’s fluid English horn. Less satisfactory were “Festivals,” the nocturne sounding more rushed rather than impeutuous through its transitions, and “Sirens,” whose wordless singing projected heavier than one imagines such fictional creatures.

Like “Clouds,” the encore, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus floated: quiet and sublime.

During an audience meet and greet in Verizon Hall after the concert, Nezet-Seguin, answered questions. (The host was Orchestra President Allison Vulgamore.) Fresh from his triumph with the Metropolitan Opera’s Don Carlo, Nezet-Sequin gave a definitive “Yes!” to concert operas during his tenure; explained his rehearsal process for the Mozart Requiem and his theory of programming “combinations.” The parque was almost full to hear the charismatic maestro, who gives the impression of a being an open and very happy fellow.

NB: Above photo: Maestro Nezet-Seguin (left) with Principal Tympany Don Liuzzi.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm