Friday, May 15, 2015

Elevada (Sheila Callaghan)

A terrific romantic comedy about cancer and love, that steers away from sentimentality and veers clear of moralizing. And it's funny!

We were particularly impressed with the way the frequent scene changes were handled.  Bravo to the set, lighting, and sound designers!


Preston Montfort: An American Tragedy (Ryan Campbell)

The third installment of this year's Carlotta Festival of New Plays, Campbell's play appropriates the Greek heroic tragedy--there were nods to Euripedes' Herakles and Sophocles' Ajax--and its conventions--most pointedly the doomed hero and the chorus of naive citizens--to comment on the US's repeated global military intrusions to preserve the American way of life while destroying the lives of innocents abroad and the lives of the soldiers it sends. 

The opening monologue and the closing dialogue between Preston and his buddy, Chris, are the most powerful segments of the play. Though the lines are sometimes leaden and off key, some are lyrical: "I'm a breathing gun, a walking bomb, a knife that slithers in the night."  (Scenes involving Preston's brother Edward are tedious; his character and his scenes could be eliminated without crippling the play in any way.)

It is an ambitious play, and we look forward to seeing more of Campbell's work.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Children (Phillip Howze)

The second installment of the 2015 Carlotta Festival is a musical based on a community of homeless LGBTQ young people in NYC.  Intriguing book. Because we're not fans of musicals, I'll won't comment further. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Deer and the Lovers (Emily Zemba)

It's that time of year again: Yale's Carlotta Festival of New Plays is in full swing. Tonight, we saw the first of three and were very impressed.

The program notes were limited to a Frida Kahlo quotation and her self-portrait as a St Sebastian- arrow-pierced, antlered deer. Together, they set up expectations for a theatrical piece of feminist surrealism, expectations immediately defied by the pedestrian stage sets. Of course, the sets misled us, and Frida spoke to the heart of the matter.
Seventh-inning stretch: scene change during intermission performed by animal-masked grounds keepers
Zemba's comedy depends upon apparently absurd situations that are explained away with seemingly plausible reasons---until the rational sides is twisted into further absurdity.  Her use of language places her squarely in the school of Will Eno, with the linguistic ground constantly shifting about us. Zemba has a good ear for language, and I look forward to seeing her future work.

The first act was stronger than the second, when the timing was off and the play attempted a bit too much.


'Tis Pity She's a Whore (John Ford)

Red Bull Theater’s production of John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore presented a clear exposition and interpretation of this memorable (but seldom performed) Jacobin revenge tale of sibling incest and atheism.  This play does not explore the causes and consequences of accidental incest, that unfortunate mistake resulting when identity is misplaced and family lost through catastrophe or carelessness.  Instead, as the play makes clear from the first scene, Giovanni and Annabella move from siblings to lovers knowingly. In fact, Giovanni has already sought sanction from his confession. Rather than abandon his desires for his sister, as admonished by the friar, he forsakes his religious beliefs and accepts the mantle of the atheist.  

In this way, the way seems to be more about atheism than incest.  With many parallels to rightwing arguments made in today’s single-sex marriage debates, the play speaks forcefully about the consequences of ignoring Christianity’s bedrock principles; without the grounding of religious faith, the play threatens us with the specter of all sorts of despicable practices becoming the norm.  

Frequently, Giovanni takes on the heroic cast of Stanley Fish’s version of Milton’s Satan: the hero sent to test our values.  Just how much do we find ourselves sympathizing with the incestuous lovers? With whom are we more upset, Annabella pregnant with her brother’s child or the cuckolded husband who beats her? 

Jesse Berger’s production spreads out these issues for the audience, and there is no turning away from their brutal reality.  It's good to see his Red Bull productions moving uptown to Broadway.

A final note. Perhaps this production sees camp as another point of intersection between the Jacobian and the contemporary; otherwise, the costuming was baffling and absolutely off-putting.

Recommended. The caveats should be obvious. 

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare)

A few years back, we made a mad dash to New York, landing in a small off-off-Broadway venue—perhaps a former bank lobby turned performance area.  Mike had managed to snag two of the season’s hottest tickets, Fiasco Theater’s 7-actor production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.  Because I hadn’t read the reviews, I expect some sort of corny, madcap confusion closer to Shakespeare, Reduced than serious theater.  Instead, we encountered the most lucid and most moving full-production of the Shakespearean romance we had ever seen.

Fiasco’s newest production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, originated at Washington D.C.’s Folger Theater, and it is now at Theater for a New Audience’s Polonsky Center in Brooklyn.  Our expectations were very high, and Fiasco exceeded them. No exceptions.

From that spectacular production, I will mention a few notable moments: Julia’s tearing up of Proteus’ love letter and then piecing it back together (her delivery was a pitch perfect blend of comedy and realism); Zachary Fine’s embodiment of Crab the dog (so much work done with a black clown nose, his barely parted lips, and lively eyes); Emily Young’s saucy and justly righteous Sylvia; Valentine's closing forgiveness of Proteus (unironic and deeply plausible); and the 60+ minute talkback wherein the actors showed themselves to be as thoughtful and articulate as the production itself. 

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello (Museum of Biblical Art)

The first time I walked past (and noticed) the Museum of  Biblical Art on Broadway in the Lincoln Center district, I paused and allowed myself to imagine what “art” such an institution would house and who would wander its galleries.  I imagined a refuge for the midwestern tourist overwhelmed by Times Square a few blocks south, filled with artwork somewhere between the creationist museum dioramas tossing Brontosauri and humans into the same line of vision and the Vatican’s never-ending galleries of nineteenth-century sentimental schlock
I broke with my long-held prejudices when I read about the museum’s current exhibit, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello.  This exhibit comprises not plaster copies of “Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral,” but the the marble statuary and reliefs removed in the nineteenth century from the Duomo in order to save them from the deteriorations of weather and pollution and preserved  in its museum. A century and a half later, they have been removed from the museum while it is renovated, and its only non-Italian venue during this period is the MoBiA.
While the exhibit fills only one, rather small, gallery, the artwork held our attention for over an hour.  The exhibit was predominately sculpture by Donatello, Nanni di Banco, and Luca della Robbia, that was commissioned during the final years of the cathedral’s construction.  The most moving pieces were the monumental six—two that sat on either side of the front doors, and four that stood inside.  My favorite of these was Nanni di Banco's St. Luke, the contemplative, purposeful intellectual whose mien felt more reassuring than the near-mad ecstasy of the adjacent St. John.
It was odd to see in New York works that I did not see when I was in Florence in 2010.  It was odder to be allowed so close to them, to see how narrow front to back the imposing large pieces were.  The depth provided by the high relief of folded robes and muscular arms and torso belied the small piece of cathedral real estate granted the sculptors, speaking material terms to the  transformation they helped effect in art.  

Highly Recommended: show ends 14 June 2015, and the museum itself closes soon thereafter.

Blog Archive