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Michael Hollinger
The Arden Theater
Sept 15 –Nov. 7, 2010

In his seventh world premiere for the Arden, Michael Hollinger probes deeply and quietly into the mysteries of love and writing. Ghost-Writer, Hollinger’s new play is also a gift to his wife Meghan Bellwoar, who returns the gift with an accomplished and moving performance.
Bellwoar plays Myra Babbage, devoted secretary to novelist Franklin Woolsey, a role that demands her active presence on stage for Ghost-Writer’s entire ninety minutes. Myra is interviewed by an unseen interlocutor to determine if she is channeling or mimicking the words of the novelist who died in July with a manuscript near completion. It is November, 1919, in Manhattan. Myra insists she is not writing “only typing” and that she doesn’t believe in ghosts. “What is a ghost… a vivid memory?”

Douglas Rees as Mr. Woolsey also remains on stage throughout Ghost-Writer. He has less to say but the subtleties of gesture and inflection he employs convey meaning and express a period steeped in restraint. Bellwoar and Rees are very compatible. Bellwoar catches the complexities of a young woman of the last century and the wit, irritation and lively passion. Hollinger catches the tenor of language steeped in psychological nuance, wit and word play. Language to be savored for its quiet explosions.

The interpretation is beautiful in its movement from obsession to understanding into grief. Woolsey, upright, self-critical, belatedly unlocks forbidden feelings for his amanuensis. He has come to rely on Myra’s punctilious punctuation nor can the words come without the sound of her typewriting on only her instrument. She has been “tamed” of her jiggling, she reveals, attending over the years to his relaxed attentiveness to inspiration.

Theirs is a marriage of true minds. Since he is married, there are strictures. Once they dance, once he unburdens his heart then freezes. “We kissed and kissed,” Myra tells the interviewer. Then: clarifies “We would have kissed.” This is a true romantic.

Patricia Hodges as the overlooked Mrs. Woolsey appears and sounds imperious, vain, touchingly ignored, in short, ideal for the part but opening night her swift delivery and zig-zag movements were distracting and caricatured. She may need time to relax in the role. Mrs. Woolsey is given some of the play’s sharpest insights.

And if the words aren’t his? Myra alone with Mrs. Woolsey, struggles with this question.
“Well, then it’s just you alone in a room,” Mrs. Woolsey says. That’s called being a writer.
Ghost-Writer at the Arden through Nov. 7.


Written by Lesley Valdes

September 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm


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file0543Nadia Hironaka
Matthew Suib
June 18-July 30, 2010
Locks Gallery,
600 Washington Square South, Philadelphia
July hours: Tues-Sat 10-6 pm

We watch film in a black box, art in white space. For the summer, the Locks Gallery has turned itself into a cool white box of reverse imagery for Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib’s video installations on the second floor of the Washington Square gallery.
These fascinating wall size installations are mostly white, mostly of the natural world. They also pay homage to great film. The west and south wall comprises a two-channel video installation called “Whiteout,” which borrows imagery from the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” The imagery is stark, beautiful, intentionally ambiguous. It has a sly wit. It inspires reverie of the sort Bachelard imagines in his Poetics of Space. An avalanche of snow? or sand? Sand rising, falling, a desert or moonscape? Take your pick; “Whiteout” is psychic dreamscape.

Suib and Hironaka who are married (and studied among other institutions at the University of the Arts) are interested in simulating and altering the natural world and rearranging filmic narrative, dissolving the cinematic “frame.”

“Whiteout,” has a soundtrack mixed by the artists. It is so subtle you won’t hear it unless you slow your senses down. The improvisations are performed by cellist Helena Espvall of the band Espers and Aaron Igler of Philadelphia’s Bardo Pond. Hollow fourths and fifths, low on the synthesizer; high cello lines sustained and ominous from the tape loop which repeats every 8 minutes.

The elegant Locks Gallery is 2,000 square feet upstairs: Ideally positioned for privacy and reverie are three benches to view the installations.
“The Fall” on the far east wall is a revolving projecting video image of birch woods, meant to pay homage to two Tarkovsky films, “Ivan’s Childhood” and Andrei Rublev. On the forest floor a fallen horse rolls, attempts to rise, repeats and repeats the attempt. The woods, however, are not the sacred Russian birches but a birch woods in PA, the artists’ home.

Hironaka and Suib have just completed a residency in Portland. The artists will be at the reception at the Locks Gallery Friday (7/9) at 5:30 p.m. Espvall and Igler will perform.
Downstairs, the Locks is also a beautiful white box for Thomas Chimes’s white paintings, portraits of historic and literary figures. Don’t miss them.

Written by Lesley Valdes

July 7, 2010 at 2:14 am

Sunday at the Arden

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Sunday in the Park with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Arden Theatre new production
June 2 – July 4, 2010

Arden director Terry Nolan’s got a way with Sondheim. His second time out with Sunday in the Park with George at the Arden now is a top notch. Music Director Eric Ebbenga (PRO: Ebb-an-gay) does well by the full out original orchestra and the 15-member cast of singing actors works like a true ensemble. They don’t shout or screech as happens at several houses here where the amplification is routinely over the top and (still) doesn’t disguise inferior singing.

Sunday in the Park at the Arden is not Sondheim at the top of his game no matter that it’s the one for which he got the Pulitzer. It is a sweet musical making good points and platitudes. Given all the ones we love, you come away feeling this Sondheim doesn’t have enough music.

Jeff Coon’s the perfect lead as George Seurat he really can sing and he looks the right age and painterly

As Dot, Kristine Freilich’s singing is superb, superior to her acting. She’s a pretty woman but the mousey wig and makeup scream for a makeover. This role walks in the shadow of Bernadette Peters and Dot’s supposed to be the face George paints on every woman!

As Jules, a Seurat rival, Scott Greer is capable of stealing any scene he’s in and almost does as. Greer’s a marvel of tone and gesture. Maureen Torsney -Weir does well with the role of Seurat’s mother; later the imperious critic. Michael McKinsey makes a salty boatman. It’s a pleasure watching all these characters come to life on the Grand Jatte on the Arden stage. Sound and video designer Jorge Coiseneau ‘s hard-working projectors and laptops accomplish a feast for ear and eye. Images not of Parisians’ Seine but ours – on Kelly Drive. Sunday in the Park with George runs until 4th of July.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Havel’s Leaving

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Leaving (Vaclav Havel)
U.S. Premiere
The Wilma
May 26-June 20, 2010
It’s a big deal to get the U.S. premiere of Vaclav Havel’s first play in 20 years. It’s a big deal to get David Strathairn for the lead. “Leaving” by the former president of the Czech Republic is mild political satire rather than laugh- a- minute comedy. The writing is bittersweet, clever; the structure weak.
At The Wilma where the play runs through June 20, Strathairn plays the unseated Chancellor Vilem Rieger. Surrounded by a retinue of 15, the well-dreseed dreamer hangs on to his villa and his, cherry orchard, while his bossy blonde companion Irena manages his interviews, his wardrobe, his pantry, and the deaf butler.

One great device in Leaving is the Voice of the Author, which interrupts at theatrical uncertainties. It’s not Havel’s voice but the god like F. Murray Abraham’s. The gimmick surprise us the first and second time then doesn’t; better to fix the dull spots rather than muse on them. Leaving was begun in 1989 before Havel took office. Except the main character’s attractiveness to women and belief in democracy, there’s little in passive Vilem’s character to suggest our playwriting political hero.
Leaving is full of puns including those on his name; its allusions to Lear and Chekov will be apparent. Director Jiri Zizka well steers the ‘hububs’ that take the cast into dream sequences. If only he could snap things along. Heads were nodding the night I attended.

Kathryn Meisle makes a sassy Irena; Janis Dardaris the old mother. Peter De Laurier is a wonderful Hanus. There are two self absorbed daughters, one almost evil; a grad student on the make, a Mafioso style new prime minister. Grand doors and small permit the entrances and exits (and a delightful rain sequence) that keep the play in motion circling the indecisive Villem going nowhere. Strathairn is so fine an actor I wish this play gave him something better to do than dither. Leaving is not quite absurd enough or poignant enough though its points about loss and denial are real. Like Villem, it waffles.

Written by Lesley Valdes

May 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

The Critic

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Jen Macdonald: Oil and Acryllic on Board

Written by Lesley Valdes

May 6, 2010 at 9:50 pm

PA Ballet: Variety Pack

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Photo: Alexander Iziliev

Pa. Ballet Variety Pack
Four Works (Balanchine, Forsythe, Ochoa, Robbins)
May 5-9, 2010
Merriam Theater

Little girls in pretty dresses put you in a good mood before a Pennsylvania Ballet program begins. The ballet, which opened Wednesday night, offers a variety pack of old and new that was danced extremely well. Two company premieres are standouts: Jerome Robbins’ take on Njinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, was danced to superbly by Tyler Galster taking the part of a young dancer’s awakening in the studio. Not a motion overdone, not a muscle wasted. Julie Diana was the human nymph. Their sensitivity was set against a bold, high-contrast staging.

William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, references classical pointe work with high contrast too. The company is coming and going at odd angles, using the space akilter. Hips, knees, elbows come at you, like mechanical gears. The sense is not mechanical but like a mad tango set to Thom Willems and Leslie Stucks percussive brilliant score. Born for this dance are principals Riolama Lorenzo and Arantxa Ochoa, with limbs as flexible as herons’. They alternated in sultry duets supported by Zachary Hench. Hench who had a featured role in the Balanchine’s unfolksy Square Dance (which the company also danced beautifully; Brava, Amy Aldridge) was less successful here. His solo work had a softness in contrast to the others’. In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a blistering dance. The last vignette is magic.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for A Rose is heavy on the symbolism. A soloist in white bodysuit grips a rose in her teeth, to electronic thumping, leads the corps (men and women) wearing in red skirts. Chaotic, lifts and sculptural poses. When duos and solos arrive things lighten up but not much. The ominous figure arrives more than once accompanied by a throbbing beat. The main music helps but also hinders it is so loaded with profundity: Schubert: Adagio from the C minor Quintet.
A silver scrim falls down to make a scarlet path. Enough already. The dancing outshines the dance and staging. Pennsylvania Ballet’s variety program runs May 9, then Romeo &; Juliet!

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