Tag Archives: pasadena

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

Backyard history: Southern California’s impact on astronomy

Silicon Valley has reshaped the earth, Hollywood has driven our perceptions of it, and not always for the better.  Less well known is the outsized role California has played in understanding our universe.   Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, and their astronomers have had a Copernican impact on where we stand in the grand scheme of things.  The word ‘vision’ gets bandied about a lot these days but George Ellery Hale had it in spades.  Here’s how the two observatories that housed Hubble, Humason, ShapleyZwicky, Baade, Rubin, and Schmidt came to be.

The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm.  The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast.  The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.

Youtube Channel: Palomar Observatory

Youtube Channel: Irish Astronomy

Youtube Channel: Corning Museum of Glass

 

WYSIWYG: ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at A Noise Within

“What’s it about?”
“It’s about to make me very rich”
— attr. Tom Stoppard to a friend’s question about ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’

Mortality, predestination, and free-will are beloved literary fodder.  Tom Stoppard‘s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead‘ has for some reason been held up for fifty years as an exemplar of how to bring all those themes to the stage and is a surefire draw at midsized theatres.   It is the kind of work that audiences seek when they want to be challenged and Stoppard accomplishes that in spades.  Clocking in at nearly three hours, he constantly tests their attention, patience, and good will.  One hopes that a live performance by a reputable, classically-trained ensemble can bring some structure and coherence to a dense, difficult, often self-indulgent script.  A Noise Within’s current staging stays true to the text but regrettably offers little beyond it.

R&G may have been a refreshing hipper, youthful, comedic antidote to Beckett in the mid-1960s but time has taken its toll.  The tale told by and through two idiots is frustratingly digressive and the once-fresh ploys and devices now commonplace.  The protagonists –  bewildered by probability, abused by nobility, and manipulated by artists – are irreversibly yoked to fate.   Fragments of the play-surrounding-the-play take place between lengthy philosophizing and repeated doses of forced humor containing mostly empty calories.

Stoppard perhaps intentionally left it all open to interpretation with all the smugness that only the modern artist can muster.  Director Geoff Elliott estimates he has read the play over thirty times, finding ever-deeper undercurrents of the human experience each time.  This is highly encouraging since there is ample room for directorial opinion.  Unfortunately, that license is lacking in this faithful and respectful production.   Rafael Goldstein’s contemplative Guildenstern fares far better than Kasey Mahaffey’s nitwit Rosencrantz.   What’s frustrating are the tantalizing glimpses of a through line, some sign of a trail through the dense overgrowth of insufferable look-at-me cleverness that infests so much of Stoppard.  This is solely thanks to Wesley Mann’s virtuoso turn as The Player, an apt name that has taken on different connotations in the intervening decades.   Mann imbues the pivotal role with subtle, growing menace masked by a thinning veneer of humor.   This hangdog Charon knows more and is capable of far more than he lets on  – he is Twain’s Mysterious Stranger, Bulgakov’s Mysterious Traveler, the link among the many worlds within the play and the world outside watching it.   Sadly, no sooner does momentum and interest build than the character goes off stage for a while, taking the energy with him.

The production is typically handsome in the ANW house style with stronger leads than the wan 2016 ‘Arcadia’ which, for all that, has aged somewhat better as a play.  The words are all there, the stage directions are followed, everyone yells, sulks, rails, and brawls with precision and Opening night was technically flawless.   Stoppard is about as far from an idiot as one can get but all this sound and fury may not, in fact, signify anything.

[Note: Minor rewordings made on 15 October 2018]

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Geoff Elliott
in repertory through 18 November 2018

A Noise Within Theatre
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets available online
or through the Box Office: (626)356-3100