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Archive for February 2011

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.
http://www.wrti.org/criticatlarge

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