Engineered Myths: ‘Metamorphoses’ at A Noise Within

Clockwise from center: Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Rafael Goldstein, Cassandra Marie Murphy.
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic.  Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories  and a coda from Ovid  to impressive stagecraft.  The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups  by Mary Zimmerman,  a brand unto herself.   Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth.  The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget.  Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme.  ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off.  The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.

Nicole Javier (top) and Rafael Goldstein (bottom).
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it.  This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel),  walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets.   The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory.  It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter.  Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits.  That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text.  It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos.  Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone,  Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx.  Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as  Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems.  The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers.  The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.

But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!”  Even if we take the pool  for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix.  This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow.   Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs.  Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape.  And we should not take any of this for granted.  Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery.  ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers.  Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do?  Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.

Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows.  There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house.  Those up front will get splashed.

Youtube Channel: A Noise Within

Metamorphoses
Based on the Myths of Ovid
Written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
for A Noise Within Theatre Company
3352 E Foothill Blvd. 
Pasadena, CA 91107

Thursdays through Sundays, closing 5 June 2022
Two performances Saturdays
Running time: Ninety minutes without intermission
Performance times vary, see the theatre’s website for details

Proof of vaccination/booster required, Masks must be worn inside the theatre

Tickets through the ANW Online Box Office
or
626.356.3100

Where do you go when you go to sleep?: ‘Wakings!’ at The Odyssey

Courtesy The Odyssey Theatre

‘Wakings!,’ Ron Sossi’s quartet of lesser-known Pinter, unknown Coover, and better-known Hesse attempts with varying success to explore ‘models of consciousness’ as Occidental eyes turn inward and then Eastward.

In ‘Rip Awake,’ Darrell Larson who excelled in pre-COVID Strindberg lets it fly as Rip Van Winkle left to figure out what and who is left of his former world.  Robert Coover, the only non-Nobelist on the bill, has written a nice although a touch too long fourth-wall breaking rant where Van Winkle limns the difficult mechanics of his awakening to soft bones, spiral toenails, and frayed mind.  It’s a meaty monologue for the ‘actor of a certain age’ and Larson rages and brawls about the stage with mountain-goat confidence.

Pinter the writer had long become Pinter, dissertation fodder by the time he wrote ‘A Kind of Alaska’ in 1982.    Deborah (Diana Cignoni), now 45, awakes after succumbing to sleeping sickness at age 16 with her devoted doctor (Ron Bottitta) and long-suffering sister (Kristina Ladegaard) attending.    Deborah is nostalgic, uncertain, and kind of a … jerk towards the few she has left and there is a small twist in why these two people still hang about her.    There is some good writing in her coming to and coming to grips with her situation but the mixing of German, Nordic, and British accents dislocates the situation.   For all the acclaim, Pinter is narrowly focussed on specific castes of British jackholes (that American audiences find endlessly fascinating) and efforts to apply him outside that milieu can run into trouble.

The bookends are less effective.  ‘Victoria Station’ another 1982 Pinter effort has taxi dispatcher Bottitta trying in vain to get driver C.J. O’Toole to pick up a fare.  The driver has, to be charitable, checked out, cruising around long gone London landmarks infatuated with a possibly dead passenger.    These Pinters are lesser-known for a reason, the malevolent craftsman behind ‘The Caretaker,’  ‘No Man’s Land,’ and ‘Betrayal’ is barely visible with scarcely a memorable line in the pair.  O’Toole returns in a non-speaking solo in the closer as Siddhartha rambling wild like Rip at first, later finding a secret of time and his enlightenment in a river.  Castmates narrate earnestly from the novel to a clichéd music track.

Yet it is still worth a look.  Self-admittedly a scratching of the surface, Sossi paradoxically succeeds even when the playlets individually stumble.   Models of consciousness aside, there is a strong resonance to a world full of bottled rage peeking out from years of isolation, relearning how to act among others, and looking for some meaning in it all.  The dispatcher’s bosses don’t care that he’s alone, overworked, and can’t get through to a disaffected employee – there’s profit to be had.  Self-centered Deborah alternately denies her condition and snarks at her long-suffering caregivers.  Rip is out for revenge against those, real or perceived, responsible for his prolonged slumber.  He turns wild and this being America, turns gun against dog and daughter imagining them to be others all the while.   The woman to my left just had to consult her phone well into the fourth act.  We live this insanity each and every day with no end in sight and even worse on the horizon.  Against all that, the Hesse is an earnest attempt at hope and release.   Whether it succeeds or not is up to each viewer.   

There are doubtless easier ways to rebuild audience after a plague.  Many Manchin Democrats argue that this is the time for trivial comedy by the usual suspects.  Audiences should consider rewarding The Odyssey for going against that grain and taking this calculated risk.

Wakings!
Directed by Ron Sossi for the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Through 5 June 2022
Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm, May 25 8pm

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Box Office: 310-477-2055 ext. 2
Online ticketing through Ovationtix

 

 

Astrophysics at Ludicrous Speed: But Why? on stellar collapse

It should be no surprise that aging scientists from all fields gravitate (ha!) to astronomy as we get more interested in the grand fates of things. Fortunately there are many sites and channels to scratch that itch, giving us a perhaps too comfortable view of complex material. The life and death of stars is an example where the high level explanations of gravity versus fusion do work but where the many omitted details cause midnight befuddlement.  Where does the energy come from?  Where does it go?  Wait… how fast – Relativistic speeds?

Anonymous Youtuber “But Why?” breaks the barrier with this beautiful video on the collapse of very big stars – the kind that leave neutron stars or black holes in their wake. It isn’t all symmetric implosions and classical rebounds and the thought of a giant object collapsing 5000-km in a tenth of a second boggles the mind.  The depth of detail is breathtaking, the amount of research inspiring, and taught me much new physics that I incorrectly thought I already knew.

Youtube Channel: But Why?

 

A taste of things to come

We will all go together when we go. All suffused with an incandescent glow. — Tom Lehrer

I’m quite impressed by the leadership shown by the Executive Branch to the reprehensible situation in Ukraine.  Regrettably when dealing with psychopaths, sanctions and embargoes only go so far.  Without fusion in the sun, we wouldn’t live.  But, fusion on earth seems inevitable now.  We won’t live through that, either.

So, let us enjoy sunsets while we can.  Even the ones that look like mushroom clouds.

He who keeps cool will collect (photons): Christian Ready on the JWST instrument package

Sports Illustrated quoted this Japanese proverb back in 1975 in conjunction with Cal’s championship men’s gymnastic team of that era.  The adage abides with the James Webb Space Telescope now in its halo orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 point, its optics and instruments slowly cooling to their ultimate cryogenic temperatures, the better to collect the faint signs of heat from the early universe.  Little has been said to the public about the instruments nestled in the big box behind the 6.5-m primary mirror.  This is perhaps not surprising.  There are no secrets here, just that the real science goals and the optical engineering to meet them are fiendishly complex.  Friendly Neighborhood Astronomer Christian Ready tackles the challenge, explaining where the precious photons will go and what will happen to them once they arrive.  The comment section clamors for more detail on the MIRI cryocooler which will take the mid-Infrared Instrument’s focal plane array below 7K.  Here’s to hoping for a full video on this beast, built across the hall from me, and on which I spent a couple of weeks when the team was shorthanded.

Youtube Channel: Launchpad Astronomy

 

Four color process: Old Holland and the Zorn Palette

Anders Zorn is the most famous painter I’ve never heard of.  Active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his portraiture earned him fame and fortune all over the world.  He is equally known for using only four colors in his eponymous palette: White, black,  yellow ochre, and vermilion.

The Old Holland paint company pays tribute to Zorn in a series of videos exploring how their oils and his methods work together.  Each video is a hypnotic few minutes of a person mixing four paints with a Bob Ross-style narration by artist Lennaert Koorman.  The color arrays at the end are little works of art that would look good on any wall.  The company offers a staggering number of colors but deserves credit for showing how a limited palette and a painterly eye can capture a universe of shade and shape.  Start with the reds and explore the rest.

Youtube Channel: Old Holland Classic Colours