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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE smolders with fury @ 2nd Stage

THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE, by Pulitz. Prize finalist Jon Baitz (Other Desert Cities) is another acrimonious family drama.  The Geldhardt family runs a publishing business that is on the brink of bankruptcy.  Tyrannical patriach, Isaac, is a domineering, unrelenting & unloving father to Sarah, Martin & Aaron.  Only Aaron went into the family business with aspirations of pleasing his father.  Sarah is an actress in LA & Martin lives alone outside NYC, teaching & gardening.  The family is gathered (Sarah just for the day) to try and salvage the company.  It is obvious, except to Isaac that the arcane, didactic books, a majority relating to the Holocaust are what is killing the business.  Isaac is the only family member who escaped the Nazis & immigrated to the  U.S.  Aaron argues the way to save the company is by signing a contemporary novelist to sustain earnings.  The siblings spitfire & Isaac's unrelenting obstinancy renders a stalemate.  Martin remains with his father after his siblings depart  but is rebuffed when asking him to dinner.  Three years later, Isaac is in his NYC apt.  The apt. is in total disarray.  In a frenzy, Martin is straightening the place up & reminds his father a social worker is arriving.  Aaron arranged to have his father evaluated for incompetency.  Martin reminds his father that he is the only person who remains in touch with him.  Isaac taunts, "because he's weaker than the other two."  When the social worker arrives a verbal tango ensues.  Isaac's sanity is questionable but not his ferociousness.  After she departs, a deflated Isaac puts a match to his talisman; a Hitler postcard he's bared like a tattoo on his wrist.  When Martin prepares to leave Isaac  beseeches him to stay.  Baitz's play THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE is a testament to those who perished in the Holocaust.  It ignites the necessity of strength & resistance for survival and compassion to live fully. "Fury keeps you going but if it burns too long it will turn to ash."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

BELLE - The Ugly History of Slavery Told in a Beautiful Movie

The hideous practise of oppression is an indelible part of history that should not be altered or dismissed.   This year's Best Picture went deservedly to 12 YEARS a SLAVE based on the autobio. of an American slave and depicts the odious brutalities of slavery.  BELLE is also a true story about slavery's inhumanity.  As the title suggests, the film is a handsome work of art that draws you into history not by showing unflinchable acts of cruelty but through remarkable acts of courage & love.  Time changes history.  Paintings can serve as an indelible document of an era.  BELLE is a multi-layered film that addresses discrimination & the courageous dismantling of norms of injustice.  The screenplay by Misan Sagay, who is Anglo-Nigerian, stemmed from seeing the painting "Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray" (1778).  Ms. Sagay was curious about the double-portrait of  Lady Murray with a companionable hand on an unidentified African woman.  While in the background, she too is facing forward & dressed in finery.  In her quest to uncover their association which is an anomaly at this time when slavery & class hierachy were eminent,  Ms. Sagay unveils the fascinating & perhaps forgotten true story of Dido Elizabeth Bell.  Dido, the illegitimate daughter of a British admiral and an enslaved African, is raised alongside, yet beneath her cousin in the household of Lord Mansfield.  Lord Mansfield was the presiding judge who ruled on the Somersett's case finding "{slavery} so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it."  His ruling is considered the milestone for the abolishment of slavery in Britain prior to the United States. The entire cast, including Tom Wilkinson & Miranda Richardson is stellular.  The stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw who performs the title role is sensational.   We are moved along with her epiphanies and by the evolution of others.  A picture paints a thousand words.  BELLE should be the one to win this year's Oscar for Best Picture.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SNOW WHITE is the Fairest but the Ballet is too Bloody Long

Ballet Perljocaj's Snow White is enchanting with its magical dancing.  The narrative ballet is long in the telling,weighing down the ephemeral dancing & dazzling creativity.   The gravity defying wall choreography extravaganza by the 7 dwarfs would make Cirque de Soleil green with envy.  Unfortunately, the dwarfs clung on for far too long.  Tapped music was used in the program of  Mahler's powerful music.  I enjoyed the pas de deux performed in silence but the stentorian pounding in parts was deafening.  The highlight of the evening was the incredible dancing performed by Snow (Nagisa Shirai) & the Prince (Sergio Diaz.)  Their courtship & mournful reunion were phenomenal to behold.  French choreography Angelin Prelijocaj created exquisite partnering for the magnificient couple.  Their artistry was other worldly; their bodily movements spell binding.  I enjoyed the Queen's clever mirror dancing.  Unfortunately, her electric performances elsewhere transformed into tawdry camp.  The inventive but repetitious ensemble choreography became cumbersome.  And, the lugubrious opening of Snow's mother giving birth was laborious.  The same can be said for the huntsmen.  Their hunt lacked alacrity in capturing Snow.  The deer they stalked was so convincing it was a shame she had to die.  The 2 hour ballet is performed without an intermission which was  hard to swallow.  But, Snow & Prince were to die for.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lost Kingdoms Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture 5th-8thC @ MET-Lost on Me

This exhibit is most impressive for the artifacts that have been recovered dating back to the 5th C.  Hindu & Buddhist sculptural traditions & culture are represented covering not only 3C (5th-8thC) but a massive region of Southeast Asia.  There are close to 200 works made from copper alloy or sandstone. Most of the pieces are on loan to the MET for the 1st time from the Nat'l museums of Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar & Vietnam.  After a while they all start blend uhhhhm.  As int'l trade expanded variation in the sculptures diminished.  And, what would have leant itself to an exhibit on the fascinating enigmas of Hindu & Buddhist kingdoms only served to make the ancient relics ambiguous  & indiscernible from one another.  I was curious to know what are the 4 truths?  What were the myths or beliefs associated with the many anthropomorphic sculptures such as the Ganesh; man-elephant or Garados; man-eagles?  The exhibit is presented in serene, dimly lit galleries.  The sculptures seem benign and not intimidating.  My time would have been better spent meditating.  Namaste.

Act One at the Beaumont Theatre is One Act to Avoid

"One Act" is based on the autobiography of the same name by Moss Hart.  The play spans the years 1914-1930; from childhood to his 1st Broadway success with "Once in a Lifetime" co-written with George S. Kaufman.  Hart's family lived in a squalid 2 bedrrom tenement shared with renters to make ends meet.  His love for the theatre was embellished by his eccentric aunt who is callously tossed out by  his father.  Having left school after the 8th grade to earn money for the family, he never returns but is determined to pursue a career in the theatre.  By grit & determination, Hart writes his 1st play, a total disaster but it leads to the rare opportunity of working with the established playwright, Kaufman.  Writing is rewriting & laborious.  The arduous & dull process of writing a play is what the audience is left with for those who did not leave after the 1st act.  Tony winning actor Tony Salhoub plays Hart, and Hart Sr. & Kaufman and it all gets too confusing & convuluted.  Same is true for Tony winner Andrea Martin who plays Hart's Aunt, Kaufman's wife & a myriad of other characters that distract from the drama.  The impressive multitiered revolving set needed a break from spinning.  Hart said "theatre is a refuge from unhappiness."  I say this is one play to refuse.  

Bob Saget @ 92ndY in Conversation with John Oliver

Bob Saget whose doppelgänger, Danny Tanner, raised 3 daughters on TV & in real life while 3 generations tuned in to watch the iconic show FULL HOUSE.  Much beloved for his effeminate child rearing with the aid of the girl's handsome uncle Jessie (John Stamos) best friend Dave Coulier.  Bob's true alter ego is a stand-up comic genius with a potty moth. Saget has been doing stand-up comedy for  3 decades.  His autobiography, Dirty Daddy, has just been published & Saget came to the 92ndY to share with his "chosen people."  British politcal satirist John Oliver, best known for guest hosting the John Stewart show with his own HBO program soon to air, was on hand to compliment Bob on "the funniest book" he has ever read and to discuss humor & the thrill of making audiences laugh; "the addiction to hearing the sound of laughter."  "Arrogance, insecurity & irreverence" were a few key ingredients deemed essential for stand-up.  Life is bittersweet, filled with love & loss.  Saget's gift for bringing humor as an anecdote to grief is his weapon against despair.  Comedy is an art form that takes honing & perseverance.  I can only be grateful & filled with admiration for comedy gurus like Bob Saget & John Oliver whose rare talents make our lives better.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Most Deserving @ City Ctr is Most Deserving of Praise

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann previous works have been performed at City Ctr for the Women's Project.  Her new play is entertainingly funny & insightful.  Trieschmann delves into human nature and the relevance of art & humanity.  This 1 act, 6 character play is packed with cutting dialogue & cunning characters.  The drama revolves around an arts committee in a small Kansas town.  The art group is voting to allocate a $20,000 art award to a local artist of minority heritage with financial needs who shows artistic promise.  Artistic talent is a subjective assessment where "beauty lies in the eye of the beholder."  There are valid arguments made that art is meant to provoke awareness and instill motivation.  This sparkling comedy reveals master manipulating, self-serving members who elect the recipient of the financial stipend.  The arts com. is overseen by Jolene (Veanne Cox) whose spiteful marriage with fellow member Ted (Daniel Pearce) is uproariously farcical.   Other board members consist of a rich widow whose husband was a major benefactor, Dwayne a dimwitted self-proclaimed artist and Liz, a young assoc. art prof. at the community college.  Liz strongly advocates for Everett, a local black artist, confined to a wheelchair whose art is made from materials he forages.  "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Everett (Ray Anthony Thomas) gives a powerhouse performance."  The Most Deserving is a crazy collage of comedy & drama that make for a work of art.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Stage Kiss with Jessica Hecht-Made me Gag

Stage Kiss starring Tony winner Jessica Hecht (View from the Bridge) is written by 2X Pulitz. Prize finalist & Tony nom. playwright (Next Room) Sarah Ruhl.  These 2 major talents left me with a sour pucker on my face with this hapless farce.  She (Hecht) plays a flustered actress auditioning for a play for which she is frazzled & unprepared.  She asks the director for a synopsis of the play.  He describes the play as "tonally slippery, funny & sad."  The play was totally silly, atonal and pathetically bad.  Despite a disastrous audition She gets cast.   Her romantic lead turns out to be a long ago love whose tempetuos love affair is rekindled during the course of rehearsals involving numerous kissing scenes (with numerous partners) that all caused me to gag.  The spineless director's only direction to his actors was to "follow your instincts."  He did however, make the very astute comment "there's no accounting for taste."  The audience howled like banshees to this droll drama.  I followed my instincts & the exit sign to depart during intermission.

Friday, April 4, 2014

AILEY II Returning Favorites ENCORE

Last night AILEY II presented Returning Favorites:  STREAMS (1970) by Ailey's Founder, Alvin Ailey and WE ('10), by Robert Battle, Ailey's Artistic Dir.  Also on the program were 2 pieces from ('12) RUSTY by Benoit-Swan Pouffer and VIRTUES by Amy Garner.  STREAM's was Alvin AIley's 1st full-length dance was not story driven. The abstract style is an ingenious exploration of movement and spatial formations whose contemporary aesthetic is remains current 4 decades later.  The fluidity & spatial connections of the dancers was exquisite.  Alvin Ailey's works are benchmarks from which today's choreographers have developed.  The romantic & graceful pas de deus WE by Robert Battle was choreographed in colloboration with music by jazz artist Sean Jones.  This piece resonates love, unity and serenity.  The porta bras connecting the dancers render tenderness & strength.  The matching lavender costumes, jazzy score & soft lighting establish a dream like quality to this lovely piece.  RUSTY is by French choreographer Pouffer, a former dancer for the Ailey Co.  RUSTY is an energetic & whimsical look at dancers; their rehearsals & auditions.  It is obvious how passionate the dancers are with their art.  The pairings establish a friendly camaraderie and respect as well as contentious competition for coveted roles.  RUSTY is a fresh, gleaming work highlighting the dancers' skills & versatalies. VIRTURES by Amy Garner, a choreographer for both ballet & B'wy, is dazzling with creativity, velocity & staging.  I have the utmost praise for her work and all the dancers in Ailey II.  I am returning to see these favorites that will continue to please.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ailey II the Next Generation of Dance @ Ailey Citigroup Theatre

Ailey II is under the adroit artistic hand of the talented Troy Powell, a longtime dancer with the Ailey Dance Theatre.  The Spring Performances of Ailey II premiered last night with 3 World Premiers by contemporary choreographers, Adam Barruch, Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Jennifer Archibald.  All 3 choreographers were on hand for the evening.  Barruch previous works have been performed @ Ailey Citigroup, Jacob's Pillow & the Julliard School.  His piece, ALCHEMIES ('13)  had an allure of  mysticism & magic.  The dancers were all clad in stylish black costumes by Jesse Dunham that embellished the sinewy movements of the dancers.  The smokey dark lighting by Aaron Copp added to the aura.  Skarpetowska was born in Poland & is currently dancing with the Lar Lubovitch Co. (Mr. Lubovitch was in the house.)  Her piece CUORE SOTTO'OLIO is choreographed to Italian composer's music by Noto & Capossela.  The piece is a pastiche of combative movements that are somewhat disjointed but her Tango style pas de deus were breathtaking & put a modern athletic twist to a very sensual dance.  The final piece on the program was WINGS by Archibald, a graduate of the Ailey School and veteran B'wy choreographer.  I was especially taken with WINGS with its flowing composition.  The dance possessed an ephemeral quality that was divine.  The loose fitting white & lavender costumes by Jermaine Terry gave a loftiness to the performers.  The entire dance company was astonishing.  Mr. Powell said how fortunate he was to work "with such amazing dancers."  It's the audience who benefit the most by seeing the stunning artistry of these beautiful dancers.

Italian Futurism 1909-44 @ the Guggenh. Reconstructing the World

The Italian Futurism Exhibit is an ambitious show spiraling up the rotunda in chronological order displaying more than 300 multi-media works.  The Italian Futurism  Movement was spear headed by Marinetti with his Manifesto.  Marinetti galvanizes a revitalization of Italy through avante-garde expression in art, design, poetry, performance, etc.  The intent of the Movement is complex although there is a kinetic & powerful energy experienced through what is presented.  The work piqued my curiosity throughout the show.  Fortunately, there are guides sporadically stationed with large orange buttons that read LET'S TALK ART.  I stopped to ask questions of 3 of these enthusiastic and knowledgable people who provided an intellectual discourse on the Movement and its historical framework.  Some of the artists represented were Balla, Pannaggi & Crali.  Look for the colorful, fractured triptych of Mussolini.  I was struck by Crali's oil painting looking down on a soldier leaping to earth "Before the Parachute Opens," and Pannaggi's painting, "Speeding Train," which exude energy & progress.  The Furturism Movement came to a shrieking halt in 1944 with the dictorial rise of Mussolini during WWII.  Marinetti & Mussolini were comrades until there was a parting of the ways.  History is constantly being revised.  Fortunately, art which survives are documents for a testament of the time in which they were created.  I encourage you to take advantage of this exhibit and engage in discourse with those ready & willing to TALK ART.

2nd Visit to Carrie Mae Weems Exhibit I Found so Much More

I had seen the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit @ the Guggenheim but I had missed an entire other room filled with her work.   Fortunately for me, I had was more vigilant and was able to see this body of work. This room from Ms. Weem's 3 Decades of Photography & Video has the indelible series of blood red daguerreotypes of "From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried" which Ms. Weems appropriated from Harvard adding her artistic interpretations for everyone to bear witness & take ownership of from history.  I eavesdropped in on an elementary class that was seated in front of Weem's photos where she shoots herself from behind (all in black or white) in various settings.  The group leader asked the youngsters what is the woman feeling in these photos?  One student said "sad," one said "bored" {perhaps akin to the attention span allotted for some children.}  "Why do you think the photographer has put herself into the photographs?"  One student answered "She wants us to put ourselves into the photograph and become a part of it." "Why would Ms. Weems want us to do that?" prodded the woman, "because it's important to be a witnesses to what we're seeing and it's not as important who is doing the looking."  The voice of this young GIRL acknowledges the significance of Carrie Mae Weems work as a document of history as well as its power to engage us (at all ages) in thought & dialogue.