JWST’s MIRI looks at Stephan’s Quintet. Courtesy NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute
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.
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
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
‘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.
Directed by Ron Sossi for the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Through 5 June 2022
Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm, May 25 8pm
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
As the man said after the Eagle landed: “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
The James Webb Space Telescope, largely designed, built, and tested at Space Park in Redondo Beach, has launched, raised itself from the spacecraft, deployed its 5 layer sunshield, and put its primary and secondary mirrors into place. It will take another few months for the telescope to cool in the shade and then to commission the instruments before science measurements can begin.
It has been a long and contentious wait but the magnitude of this accomplishment is worth celebrating.
Youtube Channel: Northrop Grumman
From the Sad-but-True department. Leave it to the NYT to highlight the problems LA theatres face in the aftermath of COVID and bearing the brunt of the ills of the gig economy. Uber and Lyft skate while tiny arts orgs have to conform to new wage laws while trying to reopen. Whatever Dr. Soon-Shiong may have done for the LA Times, his inaction on the sacks of filth at his arts and culture desks is unpardonable.
This animation is making the rounds of the classical music world. Pavel Hudec adds gorgeous visuals to a sparkling performance of the spiky 2nd movement of Ravel‘s A minor Piano Trio. “Journey of the Pantoum” evokes some highborn traveler from distant land but, the pantoum is no potentate, panjandrum, or padishah, only a type of poem that informs the piece.
The Sitkovetsky Trio‘s playing is otherworldly. The video coincided with the release of the album on BIS featuring the full work along with the Saint-Saëns Trio No. 2 in E minor. It is (surprisingly) available in “hardcopy” as a compact disc or as a digital download from eClassical.com in high quality formats with PDF liner notes and cover for under $10.
YouTube Channel: Pavel Hudec
On inauguration day, a large chunk of America unclenched and exhaled for the first time in four wretched, miserable years. Five if we count the rancid campaign of naked bigotry and full throated lies that preceded and presaged the disaster of 45.
We now have some sanity in the ship of state and can hope that any honeymoon lasts long enough to get people vaccinated, businesses restarted, and the arts out from under hiding. Even before COVID, anything on the finer side of life was ignored at best and ridiculed at worst under the moron of Mar-a-lago. Many of us who eagerly awaited 20 January and some sign of support to the better things woke up to surprise and not a little disappointment at the overwhelmingly pop-culture besotted inauguration that actually occurred. The shark sandwich playlist promised much and delivered nothing.
“Whether you are a country soul, a jazz enthusiast, a hip hop head, a classical sort, or just love that old-time rock and roll, music clarifies, inspires, unites, and heals.”
— Inaugural Committee CEO Tony Allen
Us “classical sorts” got jack shit, not even the ubiquitous OFFS not-him-again Yo-Yo Ma bowsynching to Copland as in 2009 although the equally overexposed Rénëê Fleming was said to have sung at one of the side events. The rest, excluding Bob Marley, was as America-centered and nobrow as anything the MAGA movement could scrape together, excepting of course getting the performance rights. The perpetually inept LA Times arts and culture department, or at least one of its representatives, thinks things are looking up. This schlemiel, a tv critic no less, views the cultural future as the wasteland of the Discovery Channel, Bravo, History, and TLC which at one time actually had some decent programming but which long ago sold out to the perpetually dropping lowest common denominator. It might get better for the arts but it is more likely that the arts will just get redefined just as science was for ‘The Science Channel.’
What galls about the 46-0 shutout is that the United States does not lack for options. Copland and Gershwin are overplayed but we have Ives, Joplin, and Gottschalk. Dvorák was inspired in Iowa, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky lived out their lives here (as did Schoenberg but let’s stay within realistic limits). Hell, John Williams or Peter Schickele could have done something if asked. And, if all of that is still too off-the-radar, there’s good ol’American John Philip Sousa transcribed by good ol’ American Vladimir Horowitz. One pianist, one piano – saves on cost and brings everyone to his or her feet. Regardez from the Hollywood Bowl in 1945.
Youtube Channel: Michael Brown
Monsaingeon’s wonderful Richter documentary features the legendary pianist accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Hugo Wolf’s ‘Feuerreiter.’ I don’t like vocal music much but the piece came to mind today and I searched for the lyrics. The first stanza is a knockout and the rest could be ripped from the front pages if front pages still existed to be ripped.
Sehet ihr am Fensterlein
Dort die rote Mütze wieder?
Nicht geheuer muß es sein,
Denn er geht schon auf und nieder.
Und auf einmal welch Gewühle
Bei der Brücke, nach dem Feld!
Horch! das Feuerglöcklein gellt:
Brennt es in der Mühle!
See, at the window
There, his red cap again?
Something must be wrong,
For he’s pacing to and fro.
And all of a sudden, what a throng
At the bridge, heading for the fields!
Listen to the fire-bell shrilling:
Behind the hill,
Behind the hill
The mill’s on fire!
— Translation by Richard Stokes
The story canters on and it doesn’t end well for our redcapped protagonist. There’s a rough (and admittedly forced) parallel in Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’ where a King-in-mind-only abdicates to eventual academe, a hapless assassin, and his own hand.
He never would have reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his secret supporters, romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing king. They rigged themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red caps, and popped up here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary police. Some of the pranksters were much younger than the King, but this did not matter since his pictures in the huts of mountain folks and in the myopic shops of hamlets, where you could buy worms, ginger bread and zhiletka blades, had not aged since his coronation. A charming cartoon touch was added on the famous occasion when from the terrace of the Kronblik Hotel, whose chairlift takes tourists to the Kron glacier, one merry mime was seen floating up, like a red moth, with a hapless, and capless, policeman riding two seats behind him in dream-slow pursuit. It gives one pleasure to add that before reaching the staging point, the false king managed to escape by climbing down one of the pylons that supported the traction cable.
Regrettably our national fire is more of the Wolf stripe. The mill burns to the ground with untold consequences to the many where Nabokov’s paler flame is shaded to only take the life of Kinbote/Botkin. We are left to wonder and fear whether a “a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” is in our futures.
Hear Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore perform it below with evocative added graphics and translation followed by a rehearsal of the same piece with Richter.
Youtube Channel: FiDiTanzer528
Youtube Channel: kadoguy